§ Mr. Roebuck,
having moved that the Order of the Day he read, for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the motion for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the alleged cases of Breaches of the Privileges of the House mentioned by him on Friday, said, he had a petition to present on the subject from the borough of Reading, signed by eighty electors of that borough. The petitioners referred to the circumstances related by him to the House on Friday, respecting the Heading election petition, and they declared, that they believed the charges contained in such petition were all and severally true, and that the object of mating the arrangement respecting the seats for that borough was to prevent the disclosure of the corrupt practices by which the return of Lord Chelsea and Mr. Russell had been effected. The petitioners concluded, by praying the House to appoint a committee to prosecute an inquiry into the proceedings, of which the parties to the election petition complained.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.
§ Order of the Day read.
said, that it had been his intention on Friday night to have addressed the House, after the very personal manner in which he had been attacked, by the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Roebuck), hut the adjournment, of the debate had prevented his so doing. He trusted that the House would now bear with him patiently, (more especially as he was not in the habit of obtruding himself upon the attention of the House, and as the present case was one of so peculiar a nature,) while he addressed to them a few observations in consequence of the pointed manner in which he had been alluded to, and it being a case, also, in which his personal honour was so much concerned. He rose for the purpose of appealing to the House, 272 to acquiesce in the motion, as far as his humble voice might go to insure its adoption, in order that the committee asked for might be appointed. If it should be appointed, he hoped it would be a searching one, and one, before which, others might be willing, as fairly and honestly as he was ready to do, to redeem the pledge he gave the House, when he was asked those unparliamentary questions which were put to him by the hon. and learned Member for Bath. The question put to him by the hon. and learned Member was altogether a novel one, and one which many persons entertained strong doubts as to whether the hon. and learned Gentleman had a right to put at all. He declined answering the question so put to him, and if it were repeated, he should again decline answering it; but he begged at the same time to say, that he never had declined, nor ever should decline, answering that or any other question which might be put to him by those who had authority to do so. He did not, therefore, object to the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman for a committee, but he did object, and with reason, to the manner in which he asked for it, and to the matters which he brought forward in support of it, and to the tone and gesture with which he enforced it. On the subject of the committee, then, he fully concurred with the hon. and learned Gentleman; but with respect to the grounds on which it was asked, he did not. The hon. and learned Member had charged him personally, with bribery and corruption, but what were his proofs? Did he bring forward any? No; all that he stated was, that rumours were abroad: but the hon. and learned Member, almost proverbially, surely had forgotten that rumour had been called a lying jade. The Roman poet might have reminded him of it—Tam falsi pravique tenax quâm nuncia veri.Rumours were abroad ! exclaimed the hon. and learned Gentleman. Yes! rumours were abroad. He, too, had heard of rumours, perhaps as well founded as those which the hon. and learned Gentleman had heard. He had heard, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been returned to that House without a qualification, and that on the very day that a qualification was executed for him in Loudon, he swore at Bath, that he had it. That was one rumour, about as well founded, perhaps, as that upon which the 273 hon. and learned Member had based his charge against him. Rumours ! yes, there were rumours. He had heard another rumour, too, of late. He had heard, that it was not patriotism alone, but that an evil feeling of personal hostility, also, had excited the hon. Member to his present course. Perhaps that was untrue also. But he came not down to point the finger of scorn and malevolence at the hon. and learned Member opposite, but this he must say, that the hon. and learned Member was establishing a dangerous precedent, and one which thought not to be tolerated. Though he might be justified in pointing the finger of scorn at the hon. and learned Gentleman as he had pointed it so conspicuously at him; he would abstain. It was better, that they should go before a committee regularly and fairly appointed before an honest and impartial tribunal, where these rumours might be dispersed, and the characters of those who had been impeached, might be vindicated—than to be called on to do so in that House, the arena of political discussion. The hon. and learned Member had stated, that he had told him, that he was at liberty to draw what conclusions he pleased. He did not state so; because if it answered the hon. and learned Gentleman's purpose, he might draw from his conduct false conclusions; and he would always so do, as long as he argued from false premises. The hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby) had also made a remark which he could not assent to. That hon. Member, while congratulating certain hon. Members who had got up and made solemn protestations, that they were not guilty of the charges brought against them, inferred, that those who had not so protested, had refrained from a consciousness of guilt. Now, he most strongly protested against such an inference. Because a man did not think proper to get up and make an appeal to his God and his country, was he to be judged guilty of the charges made against him? There were many circumstances which would not justify an innocent man in making such appeals; and he did, therefore, protest against any such conclusions being drawn. He trusted, that the House would grant the committee.
§ Mr. Williams Wynn
said, that having moved that the debate on this question should be adjourned, for the purpose of affording time for the House to consider more deliberately and wisely what course they ought to pursue, it might be ex- 274 pected that he should state what the effect of that consideration had been upon his mind. That was the only excuse he had for obtruding himself upon the attention of the House, at this early period of the debate. The motion which was now before the House appeared to him to be of too general and undefined a nature. There was nothing at present upon the journals of the House to be inquired into. The usual practice had been to enter upon the journals certain charges affecting certain parties, but he did not think there was any instance of appointing a committee, having, as it were, the character of a fishing committee. The circumstances which had been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman were very different with respect to the different seats which were the subject of the petitions. There had been one case mentioned in which it had been stated that a bond had been given with a conditional penalty to be enforced on the withdrawal of the petition, if the Member did not resign his seat within a certain time. In another instance it had been stated that a sum of money had been laid down. If a corrupt contract could be established, no doubt that would be a case of breach of privilege. But there might be a case in which a person not being able to support the expense of defending his seat and not wishing an investigation to go forward affecting his character during his absence, might say to his opponent, "If you wish merely to get a new election, you shall have an opportunity of going to one, for I will resign my seat." That was not a compact that could be construed into a breach of privilege. Another case stated by the hon. and learned Member was one which it seemed to him the House had no reason to complain of. It was the case of an hon. Member who had petitioned against a return, and had sufficiently established his case to prevent the sitting Member defending his seat. The Member petitioning obtained his seat, and therefore did not think he was bound to prosecute the case any farther at his own expense, he having obtained the object for which he petitioned. Of that the House certainly had no right to complain. He thought the regular course for the hon. and learned Member to pursue was, to bring forward a separate charge in each case, and upon that charge the House would determine what course it should adopt in each special case. In each case the facts and charges might be 275 taken down as the ground upon which the House acted, and it would then be entered on the journals as the evidence of that ground. He had studiously abstained from entering into the merits of the cases that had been referred to, but he thought that, the adoption of the course he had proposed would be consistent with justice, as it would be clear to every hon. Member that it would be much better that each case should be disposed of according to its own merits, than that fishing or roving committees should be appointed.
§ Mr. Ward
could assure the right hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat, that nothing was further from the desire of any person on that (the Opposition) side of the House, or of his hon. and learned Friend who had instituted this inquiry, than to seek from the House what the right hon. Gentleman had very correctly termed a "fishing," or ''roving," committee. They did not want to generalise, but there were certain allegations which his hon. and learned Friend had made, and which, he believed, could be examined and proved. They at present rested upon certain facts which had common fame for their authority, but common fame, in this instance, fell far short of the truth. He believed that his hon. and learned Friend had studiously understated his case, and that he was prepared to prove that more corrupt things had been done by the parties implicated, than what he had described to the House. But his hon. and learned Friend admitted at once, that there might be some difficulty as to the mode of proceeding, and unless the allegations, in which he had the most perfect faith, were considered to be confirmed in a great measure by certain acts of hon. Members of which the House was now cognizant, they would have a fair reason for not granting the committee. He would mention the case of Nottingham, and he would ask whether it was not true that, so clear was the evidence of the malpractices that were alleged to have taken place at that election, that the sitting Members found it impossible to defend their seats? Was it probable, was it conceivable, that one of those sitting Members, on the very evening of the day, on which a Committee of that House had affirmed his right to his seat by its report, would, if he had been able to have maintained it, have accepted the Chiltern Hundreds? The object of that hon. Gentleman's ambition was to have a seat in that House. He had stood 276 two contests for Nottingham, and there was no small proof of sincerity. Why had he withdrawn? His withdrawal was itself, under the circumstances, all the confirmation the House could require as a ground for investigating the facts, which were perfectly notorious, which he believed were perfectly capable of being proved. With regard to the gallant Major who had just addressed the House, no one could suppose, after what he had stated, that he was cognizant of what had taken place at Harwich; but still, as the reports were rife, it was necessary that the matter should undergo investigation. They had heard from his hon. Friend the Member for Bath, something about a Parliamentary Napoleon going down to Nottingham; but it appeared that there was also a Parliamentary Caesar, who had gone down to Harwich, and fairly beaten the older candidates out of the field. This Venividi-vici Gentleman had swept everything before him by the mere strength of his purse. In that town eighty-three objections had been served on one side, and sixty-four on the other, making 147 persons objected to as bribed in a Constituency consisting of 181. He did not say they had all been bribed; but they had been charged with being bribed. There was a strong prima facie case made out against them. That case was to have been investigated before a Parliamentary Committee, when, all of a sudden, the three Petitions were withdrawn, and, as they were informed, the gallant Gentleman who had just addressed the House was about to withdraw also. He could not say the day, whether the 1st of July, which would| be a fatal day to an hon. Friend of his, or the last day of the Session, which would be an equally fatal day to the noble Lord opposite; or, for the sake of variety, the month of August; but he believed that proof could be adduced before the Committee of the fact, that in the course of two or three months the House would be deprived of the gallant Gentleman's services, without any other possible plea for his withdrawal except the extreme inconvenience of allowing the allegations of the Petition to be examined into before the Committee. He firmly believed that a compromise had been entered into upon that ground, and however small a share the gallant Gentleman himself might have had in it, it was clear that there was another Gentleman who had taken care to effect a compromise in very binding 277 terms. He thought that such charges as these ought not to be made in that House without being thoroughly investigated. The House must go into them. They had been told, and he believed it most firmly to be the fact, that, there was at that moment a bond in existence, providing that a penalty of 2,000l. should be paid, unless the Constituency of a certain borough were dealt with in a particular manner, and that one of the sitting Members retired, and allowed another man to walk over the course without opposition. These things required the most searching investigation; and he believed that they were susceptible of proof before a committee. This Committee could not be called a fishing commission. It was a committee, of which the inquiries would be confined, and limited to the questions, which had been put by his hon, and learned Friend to certain Members of that House, and the allegations implied by which he pledged himself to establish. He would entreat the House, after all that had passed, to pause before they refused this inquiry. He could not conceive that anybody, having regard for the character of that House, could refuse his assent to the appointment of the Committee. Let them give such a Committee the adequate powers and authority. Let them have a bill of indemnity for the witnesses, and they might depend upon it that those, who wished to stop the rapid progress, in this country, of bribery, and corruption, at elections, would find that they never had had so good an opportunity of effecting their desires. He had no party or personal feeling in this matter. He wished to see the axe laid to the root of a system, which was undermining the morality of the land. Let them look at the boroughs that were now open to the highest bidder, to men who had no connection with the place, and of whose character Constituents had no previous knowledge. Money, ready money, was the only test of merit. It was a scandal and disgrace for any man to represent such a borough. He, therefore, called upon the House to avail itself of the present opportunity to put an end to such a system. They could proceed with perfect impartiality, for both sides of the House were equally implicated, and connected with transactions which he had no hesitation in saying were a gross breach of the privileges of the House. Money had passed from hand to hand, and negotiations 278 had been openly carried on, in which the very character of their own tribunals had been intermixed; for it was not merely with the malpractices of the constituencies that they had now to deal—not that those malpractices were sanctioned by the Committees, for the committees had no power to go on with the Investigation when the Petitions were withdrawn; but they, were, nevertheless, mal-practices in which Committees of the House were mixed up in a way most dangerous to the character of the House. He trusted, that the right hon. Baronet, the First Lord of the Treasury would not throw any obstacle in the way of the inquiry now sought for, and which inquiry it was as much his interest, as that of the House at large, to promote. He hoped that all due powers would be given to the Committee, and that they would be authorised to obtain the best evidence for the purpose of investigating the six cases which had been adduced, and of bringing the just censure of the House upon those, who might be proved to have infringed upon its privileges, and to have compromised its character.
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, it was very true that the present could not, in the common sense of the word, be called a party question, inasmuch as the allegations made by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite affected both sides of the House, and numerically as many Members had been questioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman on the one side as the other. He regretted that he had not been present on Friday, in order that the question should not have been put without opposition, at least from one individual Member. He should have endeavoured to resist such an inquiry, supported, as it had been, by the eloquence of the hon. Member for Bath, and by the gallantry of others whom he had almost compelled to court investigation. If the House should, by any chance, feel disposed to yield the point, he begged to ask, by what course of proceeding the hon. and learned Member for Bath proposed to arrive at the result he so confidently anticipated? Did he mean to make individuals criminate themselves? If he did, he hoped that the committee would be the only tribunal in the country which would consent to such a course. Did he mean to take the evidence of informers— of parties implicated? If he did, the hon. Member might so far follow the Old Bailey practice, but the hon. Member could not carry 279 it further, either to the conviction or the punishment of the parties. He (Sir Robert Inglis) had been unjustly accused of a wish to disparage the authority of the House; he did not wish to disparage its authority either in its entire capacity or in its delegated committees: but he might ask the hon. Member for Bath in what way he intended to summon his witnesses? The answer might be, by the authority of the House; but he had referred distinctly to two hon. Members on his own side of the House, whose silence he said was most convincing, and to one on the opposite side. Suppose either of those Members should refuse to answer, who was to compel them? He submitted these points, because they were practical matters on which the House must decide, before it appointed a committee. True it was that the House had shown but little scruple in sending witnesses into custody, but would it send its own members into custody? Suppose a Member, sitting on the committee, or summoned before it, refused to answer, on the common law ground that he was not bound to criminate himself, the House had but one of two alternatives— either to permit all the objects of the inquiry to be frustrated, or to violate a most important principle by compelling a man to criminate himself. The House ought to consider that there was a great difference between a committee constituted like that proposed, and an election committee. An election committee was constituted by a known statute, it could summon witnesses, whether strangers or members; but the proposed committee could not be invested with any such powers. [Mr. Roebuck: The House can give the requisite power.] He appealed to the Speaker, nay, he appealed to the hon. and learned Member himself, whether the House, without an act of Parliament, could give the power, and he entreated it not to stultify itself by appointing a committee, which could enter into no investigation, unless it were prepared to take some course which would compel witnesses to criminate themselves—to resign that protection which elsewhere they never claimed in vain. The true course would have been for the hon. and learned Member to have induced parties to prosecute their petitions before election committees, and upon the evidence thus obtained, he might have proceeded by bill, and have obtained powers which could be given in to other way. Did the hon. Member 280 mean to say, that a bill would be the result of his committee? He begged to inform the hon. Member that be would not obtain even the raw material of legislation. He might obtain allegations on one side, and contradictions on the other, but no evidence which would warrant the House in adopting any ulterior measures. For these reasons, he could not concur in the motion of the hon. and learned Member.
Mr. R. Yorke
did not rise to reply to the remarks of the hon. and experienced Baronet, but to call the attention of the House to what had fallen on a former occasion from the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government on the subject of the bribery so extensively practised. The right hon. Baronet had related that some of the worst cases of bribery, in the opinion of the right hon. Baronet, had occurred in large towns; and nothing would give the right hon. Baronet greater satisfaction than to see the exposure of the practice in those towns taken up by the House of Commons.
§ Viscount Palmerston:
I cannot allow this question to come to a division without stating the grounds on which I mean to give my vote. But in the first place, I must express my surprise at the silence of the Members of her Majesty's Government. On a question so deeply interesting to this House and to the country, it might reasonably have been expected that they should express their opinions. I should have supposed that the right hon. Baronet would have been anxious to state the course he meant to pursue, and the reasons on which he adopted that course, and to have explained what he thought was the fit proceeding with reference to the important matter which was the subject of the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. But the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues have thought fit to remain silent: no doubt they have their reasons for so doing; but I shall not shrink from stating what are my opinions and intentions. Whether my opinions be or be not in conformity with those of the majority of the House is to me a matter of much smaller moment than that I should state my strong convictions and explain the vote I mean to give. I cannot vote for the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. I understand that motion to be for a committee not to inquire into the extent to which bribery has taken place during the recent general election, but to examine into certain 281 compromises, which he alleges have been made before election committees, and by virtue of which some parties have dropped their petitions, and some Members have accepted the Chiltern Hundreds. I apprehend that the grounds on which this House ought to be called upon to appoint such a committee are, either that the compromises complained of are against statute law, or that they are breaches of the privilege of this House. That they are against statute law I am certainly not of opinion, because I see in the act constituting election committees a clause which allows parties presenting petitions to withdraw those petitions at any time they think proper. It is manifest that such a power ought to be given, because the proceeding is at the expense of private parties, who seek to establish or to disprove a private right, claimed on the one side, and disputed on the other. It would be manifest injustice, if these parties, who are prosecuting a private claim at their own expence, were not to be permitted to abandon their petitions when they think fit. Then comes the second question:— Are these compromises breaches of privilege? As at present informed, I am not aware that they are. If it be thought that they are, that is a question of sufficient importance to merit a separate consideration by the House; let that question be distinctly argued, and let us decide it. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the statements of the hon. and learned Member for Bath are correct, let the House argue and decide whether such transactions are or are not breaches of its privilege. A and B are returned for a particular place; C and D petition, and charge their opponents with bribery. A and B are told, when their case is examined by their legal advisers, that though they are themselves guiltless, yet their agents have abused their confidence; and that matters can be brought forward, which, if substantiated, will affect their seats. The parties so advised, naturally wish to avoid the annoyance and expense of a trial which must end in their defeat. The other parties are, perhaps, equally uncertain as to the result, though they hope for success; and they may be willing to come to that sort of compromise which is common in all our courts, where civil rights are tried. The compromise takes place, another election is the consequence, and the voters are again called upon to exercise their right of choice. What is there in this which 282 can be called a breach of the privileges of this House? But if any man think otherwise, let that question be argued and determined. I am quite ready to listen to argument, and, if convinced, I will vote, that it is a breach of privilege. But, as the matter stands, though these compromises may have taken place, it would be the greatest hypocrisy to say, that they have now for the first time been made, and that the practice has not been generally and notoriously prevalent; and if, as it seems to me, they are neither violations of the law, nor breaches of privilege, an inquiry into them, cannot possibly end in any punishment of the parties concerned in them. It cannot, therefore, be for that purpose that the hon. Member for Bath moves for his committee. But there is another purpose, and a legitimate one, for which the hon. and learned Member may move for a committee. He may wish to lay the groundwork for an act of Parliament, which may render such compromises, for the future, impossible. But I do not require investigation by a committee, to lead me at once to such an enactment. I am prepared to take the statement of the hon. and learned Member for granted. I am prepared to take public notoriety as the groundwork of an act of Parliament, and at once to vote for the measure which was brought forward by my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) in the year 1840. I am ready to support a bill which shall not only give leave to committees, but shall make it, if you will, even imperative upon them, to pursue an investigation into cases of bribery, although the parties in the case shall have dropped their petition. The proceeding, however, in such a case, being for the public interest, must be at the public expense; but such an expense would be well incurred if it enabled the House to put down the malpractices out of which these compromises arise, by visiting such malpractices with unvarying and certain punishment. For any legitimate purpose, I am prepared to go with the hon. and learned Member, and to vote in favour of giving election committees such additional power as would render inquiry into bribery not only imperative, but effectual. To that I would add another clause, which was contained in the bill of my noble Friend, which was thrown out in another place— I mean the clause indemnifying witnesses from any consequences resulting from their own evidence. I may be told, that this is 283 all very well, but that we have no security, that such a measure would pass into a law. Certainly, if it did pass, it would tend most materially to put an end to corrupt and disgraceful proceedings at elections, and for a proposition of that sort, I should claim the support of her Majesty's Government, not only in this House, but elsewhere. I am perfectly persuaded, that if such a measure were proposed by Ministers—and it would do them honour— or if being proposed by others, it were cordially and unanimously supported by Ministers, it would pass into law, and would, ere long, put an end to the present wholesale system of bribery and corruption which has beep even more extensive, than it has been hitherto shown to be, in the course of any of our debates. We are told by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that common report is a sufficient ground for a Parliamentary proceeding. True; but, does common report confine itself to half-a-dozen particular boroughs. I speak it with shame and grief, but I verily believe, that the extent to which bribery was carried at the last election, has exceeded anything that has yet been stated within these walls. I do not wonder at it. Two political parties were contending for a great prize, and that prize was no less than the Government of the country. That prize has been won by the party opposite. I will not take upon me to say whether these improper practices were most resorted to by those who attacked or by those who defended; but that they were most extensively employed, no man can possibly doubt. What passed in another place on the measure proposed last year by my noble Friend, was well calculated to lead to these consequences. A bill was sent up to the House of Lords, which would have given to election committees more extensive powers for the detection of bribery, and it was sent down to us again shorn and mutilated in some of its most essential provisions. And when was this done? On the eve of a general election. I say that those who so mutilated that bill, are deeply responsible for the disgraceful extent to which corrupt practices were carried at the last general election. Upon these grounds, I feel myself obliged to vote against the motion. I think it unnecessary as a groundwork for that amendment of the law, which the House, in my opinion, is bound to enact— which the House may, possibly, now decline to enact, but which, I am confident;, before the end of this Session, 284 both this House and the other will add to the statutes of the realm. But, at the same time, I am opposed to any partial investigation of the cases of half-a-dozen individuals to be selected from the herd in order to be held up to undeserved obloquy, though they have done nothing illegal in the compromises they have made, and nothing offensive to the privileges of this House. These individuals are only a few out of many, and they cannot, without gross injustice, be singled out; the evil is far more extensive, and if the inquiry be not as extensive as the evil, it had better not take place at all. These corrupt practices, I hold to be one of the most dangerous symptoms of the times, tending more than anything else, to sap the foundations of social order, and to undermine the constitution, and I hold, also, that it is the bounden duty of Parliament to provide an immediate remedy for the evil. One remedy has, indeed, been suggested, for which I should be most reluctant to vote, because even if it checked bribery, which I doubt, it would produce infinitely greater evils of another kind— I mean the vote by ballot. But if anything could induce me to vote for ballot, it would be the refusal of Government to give its cordial support to that other remedy, which I think would be a corrective of the evil of which we complain. If ever I should be induced, which I do not believe likely, to vote for a measure which, on principle, I do not approve, it. would be the refusal of Ministers to do that which I am persuaded is necessary to prevent the recurrence of such scenes as disgraced the last general election.
§ Sir R. Peel
I was not are that this was considered a question of that party nature which made it desirable that a person in my situation should indicate at the commencement of the debate the course he means to pursue. I thought that this was a question on which individual Members might be safely left to form their own judgment, and to vote without reference to the obligations of party. I did not expect that the hon. and learned Member for Bath would rise to conclude the debate, and I was perfectly ready to state in the course of it what opinions in my own individual capacity I had formed. If the noble Lord, who has just sat down, thinks the ballot objectionable in principle, and that it will only aggravate the evil of bribery, the J refusal of Government to bring in or to 285 support any particular bill, would surely be no justification of the noble Lord in voting for the ballot. I agree with him that the vote by ballot would tend to promote concealment, and to increase corruption, and when the question is brought forward and discussed I shall vote on its abstract merits; my decision for it of against it will not at all depend upon any course the noble Lord, or any other hon. Member, may pursue upon this question. If I think the ballot will aggravate the evil—if I think it will be injurious to the country, whether the noble Lord be either in or out of office, it will not have the slightest effect upon me. If, indeed, the noble Lord contemplates a retreat from his opinions upon that subject, he must rely upon some better justification than an attempt to make me and my Colleagues responsible for his inconsistency. With respect to the bill for the more effectual prevention of bribery— for the purpose of facilitating inquiry into bribery —I can only say that the noble Lord, the Member for the city of London, received from me a cordial and unhesitating support. I gave him my support when his measure was under discussion in this House; there might be some defects in the details of the enactments, but I did regret, particularly on the eve of a general election, that some attempt was not made to render the enactment effective, rather than allow the country to be involved in the bustle and excitement of a general election with no such corrective in operation. I was no party to the objections to the measure, and I think the noble Lord will confirm my statement, that when the bill was in this House it received my cordial support. As to the particular motion of the hon. and learned Member, my opinion is that the charges it contains are not sufficiently definite to authorise the appointment of a committee. It is said that "certain charges were made of corrupt practices on the trial of certain election petitions." To leave those words on the journals as a ground for instituting an inquiry would, as it seems to me, be utterly unsatisfactory. On the subject generally, I feel bound to say that I admit the fact of these compromises having been made. I believe it impossible to deny that there existed some considerable corruption. The impression of Members on all sides of the House I apprehend is, that election petitions contract no other 286 responsibility than that of defending individual rights; the parties are not bound to maintain any public principle. Such was the uniform opinion under the Grenville Act, and such it remains in the present state of the law. I cannot divest myself of the belief that compromises are sometimes made in order to avoid exposure; but, on the other hand, parties have long possessed the power of making compromises, and many have been effected which involved those engaged in no charge or suspicion of criminality. Such compromises have taken place both in recent and in earlier times: but it is plain that the moral quality of a compromise must depend upon the mode and object of the transaction. A Member not possessed of large pecuniary means may find that the defence of his seat would involve him in ruinous expenses: no subscription has been raised, and he may not choose to injure his family, by the cost of employing counsel and maintaining witnesses. These expenses are borne by the individual, not by the public, and I can readily believe that an individual, however innocent, might prefer a compromise to ruin. If you make it optional for individuals to prosecute an election petition, what right have you to find fault with the exercise of their discretion? Therefore, I say that compromises have been, and may be made, without exposing the parties to any just charge of criminality. At the same time, we all know that compromises of a very different nature may be made; but, with reference to these, I am of opinion that the hon. and learned Member for Bath ought to place distinctly upon record the nature of the charge he prefers. If a distinct charge be placed upon record, whether it be or be not a breach of privilege, it seems to me that it is for the character and honour of this House, as well as for the public interest, that that charge should undergo investigation. I took this course when an accusation was brought against an hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for the county of Cork. Complaints had been laid before an election committee which related to a pecuniary transaction supposed to be corrupt, and an inquiry was sought. A petition was presented from the electors, praying the House to institute an investigation. It seemed to me that the transaction was of a doubtful nature, I consented to the inquiry, and the House by a large majority 287 confirmed the propriety of my opinion. I did not rest upon the fact that an election committee had been or might have been appointed; but a charge being made of corrupt conduct and breach of privilege, I thought that this House did not part with its right to examine into the subject, because it had appointed a tribunal to try a controverted election, and to determine upon individual rights. The constitution of such a delegated body did not, in my judgment, divest this House of the general power, inherent in its constitution, to institute a separate inquiry into an alleged breach of privilege. To charge corruption in a distinct form was to impose upon the House, in the discharge of its duty to the public, the necessity of ascertaining its truth or falsehood. The case to which I refer was that of the hon. and learned Member for Cork and Mr. Raphael in relation to the borough of Carlow, and I did not then allege that the House had not the power to administer a remedy. The House has that power whenever a case of public abuse is brought forward, and it is fit that it should in this way exercise its constitutional functions. In the present instance I find that there are petitions from certain electors—petitions from Nottingham and Reading; and if the hon. and learned Member reduces the charge to a definite shape?— if he shows us that there is such a prima facie case of suspicion as to afford a fair presumption of a breach of privilege, I for one say, painful as it may be to me to come to that conclusion, that it is not for the credit of the House to refuse altogether to to enter into the question. The powers of the House for conducting such an inquiry are probably sufficient, and I may reserve the question whether I will compel parties to criminate themselves— whether I will deprive them of that right which every man enjoys by the laws of England. Considering the cases to be analogous, I am prepared to take the course on this occasion which I took when a charge of corruption was preferred against the hon. and learned Member for Cork. I then thought that it was due to the honour of the House to investigate such an accusation, and I think so still, if the hon. and learned Member can reduce these several charges to a tangible form. I speak only for myself individually, for this is a question rather of a judicial than of a party nature. I am prepared, on the present 288 occasion, to take the course I took in the case of Carlow, and to vote for a committee armed with the ordinary constitutional powers, to enable it successfully to conduct the investigation.
Lord J. Russell:
Sir, I certainly had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would, early in the discussion, before the hon. and learned Gentleman rose to reply, have stated the course which he meant to pursue; because reserving to myself the power of acting as I shall think fit upon the substantive motion which has been made. I own it does appear to me that the remedy which the electors of Nottingham require, which the electors of Reading require, and that which the public interest demands, is that these general charges of bribery should no longer be matter of compromise. That they are so at present the right hon. Gentleman and my noble Friend both fully admit—that they are so no one can deny; and indeed it was upon that very ground that in the year 1840 I proposed a measure by which an inquiry should be instituted. I then said, what I am ready to maintain now, that the consequence of the Grenville Act, and of other acts which have followed it of the same kind, is this, that the possession of a seat is treated, as it were, like a question of property; that two individuals, having spent large sums of money at an election, are afterwards called upon to spend other large sums in the prosecution of a petition or in defence of their seats against such petition, and that they naturally and unavoidably, in the prosecution of those cases, look to the possession of the seats for themselves, and not to the public interest, which demands protection. I think it would be the most unreasonable thing in the world that when a person, whether he be a petitioner or the sitting Member, has obtained a seat, or when an offer is made to him of a seat, he should then be required to go to the expense of 3,000l. or 4,000l. in addition to the other expenses incurred, in order to establish a case by which a borough may be disfranchised or by which bribery and corruption may be generally exposed. I do not think you could expect it, and you have not obtained it. It has always been my opinion that that is the consequence of your laws. Why, Sir, a very remarkable case occurred in the last Parliament — the case of Norwich. Every Gentleman who read the Norwich newspapers at that time must remember 289 that there hardly ever was so gross a case of bribery and corruption as that of Norwich. After the statement that a number of the electors had been bribed; that after some of the electors had received twenty guineas from one party they took twenty-five from the other; that a number of persons were sent away altogether; and that the practices were so disgraceful that they almost affected the whole county of Norfolk-—after all, the seat in this House was settled by compromise. And so with respect to two or three other cases in the last Parliament. In the present Parliament it is notorious that a much greater number of those cases have been compromised. If that is the case I think your remedy should be—your most important remedy at least should be —some law by which you can in future investigate these cases, whether the individual petitioning or the individual holding the seat consent to it or not—that when there are petitions presented complaining of bribery and corruption in any borough there should be some means of investigating it upon oath and at the public expense, with the view of discountenancing bribery and corruption. I was in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would have held out some prospect to the House that it was his intention to introduce a measure on the subject. He says very truly that he gave me good support on the former occasion, when I brought forward my measure. He was not on that occasion bound to do more than he did. But, permit me to say, on this occasion I have a right to expect more. When introduced my measure in 1834, and in 1 841, and sent it to the House of Lords, I did not expect that the majority in the House of Lords would be influenced by the manner in which it was not sent up from this House; and, perhaps, the right hon. Baronet, whatever opinion he might have expressed, would not have had sufficient influence to induce his Friends there to concur with the views expressed in this House. I therefore do not find any fault with the right hon. Baronet that these bills were either altered or defeated in the House of Lords. But, at present, if the right hon. Baronet, in vantage, the name of the Government, were to introduce a similar measure, that bill would of course be supported by his Colleagues in the House of Lords, and, so supported by the Government, I cannot doubt it would become law. That appears to me 290 the result which we could draw from these disclosures and these imputations. With respect to the motion of the hon. and learned Member now before the House, the right hon. Baronet said it was too general and indefinite. My noble Friend made a similar objection, and I must say that I entirely agree in it. If the House should appoint a committee on the present proposition I cannot tell whether great doubt might not arise as to the nature of the charges which ought to be inquired into; and whether charges of which the House has no knowledge might not be stated to be part of the charges to investigate which the committee was appointed. Therefore I cannot consent to the motion on these terms. The right hon. Baronet says if there are specific charges— if they are stated in such a manner as that they can be entered on the journals, and if they amount to a breach of privilege— he will consent to the appointment of a committee. I agree with the right hon. Baronet, that if such a statement is made, and a breach of privilege is involved, it is most desirable that a committee should be appointed. I agreed in the appointment in the case of Carlow. I thought it far better that the committee should be appointed, and the facts stated before the plexion of the transaction from what it appeared when before the House. Until I hear the statements more fully developed I do not know that I can assent to the views of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wynn). Agreeing as I do that these compromises are exceedingly injurious to the constitution of Parliament, that they tend to suppress evidence of bribery, which would otherwise be brought out, I know in what respect the entering into a bond can make such a transaction a breach of privilege. My opinion is that the great benefit to be derived from these exposures is some measure which would prevent these compromises and arrangements for the future. I hope the right hon. Baronet will undertake to bring in such a bill. If he will not, although I fear I should be doing it under a great disadvantage, yet if he will give me the benefit of his opinion, and with respect to the measure itself, if he will give it not only his individual support of the Government to which he belongs, I will undertake to introduce such a measure. But I would rather see the right 291 hon. Baronet take it into his own hands, because he would then be better able to consult his Colleagues as to its particular provisions. I should state with regard to the measure which I introduced in 1834, I was ready if there had been sufficient time to agree to considerable modifications. In whatever shape the measure may be introduced, I trust it will cause a thorough investigation to take place into those charges of bribery and corruption which may be preferred, and that these compromises will be put an end to.
Mr. M. J. O'Connell
said, he had heard the statement of the right hon. Baronet with great astonishment. He stated that in the case of the Carlow election he voted in the majority for the appointment of the committee. Any one who did not recollect the transaction would be led to imagine from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the county of Cork, or some one on his behalf, opposed the appointment of a committee in reference to the transaction in which his conduct was impeached. It really sounded so strange to him that he almost doubted the accuracy of his recollection; but on referring to the necessary documents he found that not only was there no division, but that only a very short debate took place. In spite of the report of the committee many repetitions of the calumny had been made against his right hon. and learned Friend; and he was afraid, if he had not risen on the present occasion, that at the next operative conservative dinner it would be stated that his right hon. and learned Friend opposed the motion on that occasion, whilst the right hon. Baronet assented to it. With respect to the present motion, the principal objections seemed to be against the manner in which it was worded; but thinking that the hon. and learned Member had fully established a case for inquiry he should certainly vote for the motion.
§ Sir R. Peel:
Sir, the hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood me. My reference to the Carlow case was not affected by the consideration whether it were opposed or not. The House was deciding on the principle whether or not it would institute an inquiry, and the House assented to the inquiry. I threw no imputation whatever on the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Whether he 292 opposed it or not is a matter of entire indifference. There was the allegation of a breach of privilege, and I supported the inquiry, to which the House assented. I do not know if the importance of the subject justifies me in saying a word with respect to the introduction of the bill to which the noble Lord has alluded. I think I have sufficient justification for not having undertaken to bring in such a bill; but it is a matter to which I am ready to give every attention. The noble Lord has more leisure than I have. I am ready to co-operate with him, as I did before. I feel the great importance of the subject, and if the noble Lord will undertake it, I shall be quite ready to lend him what assistance 1 can. At the same time the subject requires a great deal of consideration, and you must take care that you do not now create a new impediment to receiving complaints on the subject of bribery. If the noble Lord will undertake a measure of this description, I will zealously, notwithstanding our political differences, endeavour to co-operate with him.
§ Mr. Hume
being of opinion that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath had done himself honour and the country great benefit by his motion, was sorry to find so many objections raised against it, because the cases were so numerous. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, and the noble Lord near him, said, why not bring in a bill? and if his hon. and learned Friend had brought in a bill, they would have said, why do you not inquire before you legislate? The question was, how far they were bound to inquire. After the masterly manner in which his hon. Friend had brought forward the motion, they were bound to inquire what was the state of that House, and how individuals found their road into it. When the noble Lord who had been for twenty years a member of a Government had said that no one had ever thought of bringing on an inquiry, the House and the country ought to be the more obliged to his hon. Friend for the present motion. He (Mr. Hume) must say that the right hon. Baronet had made a fair speech. The right hon. Baronet admitted that an inquiry ought to be entered upon, and was almost prepared to support a motion for it, but that technically the cases relied on ought to be stated at large. He believed that the custom of Parliament was not in accordance with 293 the right hon. Gentleman's opinion; he believed that the general accusation of bribery was sufficient, and it did not require any statement of particulars. They had heard statements from his hon. Friend, which his hon. Friend said he was prepared to prove; the two noble Lords admitted that these practices were extensive; the right hon. Gentleman did not deny them; then why not let his hon. and learned Friend have a committee to inquire, and thus lay the ground for a further reform? Improper doings prevailed to a large extent, the scandal was openly avowed, and noble Lords said it had been common for a long time; he hoped, therefore, that the House would waive any technical objection, and allow his hon. and learned Friend to proceed, and permit the facts to be brought to light, even if his hon. and learned Friend did not assent to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, and alter the form of his motion.
said, that as it was his intention to vote for the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bath, he did not like to give a silent vote. He would not set up his own opinion against the high authority of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the county of Montgomery, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government; but for a mere technical difficulty, the motion might be postponed or brought forward again. By his vote for the motion, he expressed merely his wish that they should inquire into practices which existed. He believed that no Member, on either side of the House, would deny them. He thought, therefore, that the character of the House was committed before the country, and that it would suffer before the country if they did not fairly sift this corruption to the bottom. He had heard it said, they were ail guilty, and let him who was innocent fling the first stone, and he maintained that very few could lay their hands on their breasts, and say they were innocent; and he believed that there were many delinquents who would be delighted if these practices were more easily proved and prevented.
§ Mr. Muntz
would vote for the motion of the hon. and learned Member for the for the same reason as the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He considered the character of the House to be at stake. The public looked on the House with great 294 suspicion. They suspected that whenever bribery and corruption were found out, every means was resorted to in order to conceal it and screen the guilty parties from punishment. He sincerely wished the House would decide in favour of the motion.
§ Mr. Plumptre
agreed with the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, that this ought not to be considered as a party question. It was a question on which every individual ought to vote according to his own views; and feeling that this was a case which would affect the character of the House most grievously, he was decidedly in favour of the appointment of the committee which the hon. and learned Member had proposed.
said, I agree with my hon. Friend who has just sat down as to the impolicy and impropriety of offering any resistance to the motion of the hon. and learned Member, if the intention of such opposition be to throw any shield over the corrupt practices at elections. But the objection taken to the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman is not at all the objection which appears to have struck my hon. friend; but this was the allegation—that the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to appoint a committee for the purpose of inquiring into certain corrupt practices alleged to have taken place before certain election committees, and which are charged as a breach of the privileges of this House, and that without stating the elections to which he referred, what were the practices of which he complained, and assuming on the part of the House that certain transactions, not specified, before certain committees, not named, were, in point of fact, a breach of the privileges of the House. The motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman appears not to be clearly understood by my hon. Friend and those who immediately preceded him. It is not an inquiry into the general prevalence of bribery at elections— no such motion is contemplated. Therefore, in opposing the motion in its present form, no resistance is offered to an inquiry into the general system of bribery. But this is the allegation of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that certain transactions have taken place— that certain compromises have been entered into, which are a breach of the privileges of the Houses and it is not into the corrupt transactions themselves— not into the bribery, but into the course taken before the election com 295 mittees for the purpose of avoiding their decision that the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to inquire. I say that each of these transactions must stand on its own particular merits. There may be some which are perfectly legitimate and fair. In the case of the Lewes committee, as stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, there is no suspicion of improper dealing on one side or on the other. A petition is presented for the unseating of the two Members. One of the petitioners succeeds, and, after a certain time, he finds it doubtful whether, at the expense of great pecuniary sacrifices and great loss of time in the protracted struggle which must ensue, the other candidate will likewise be successful; and he, having obtained the verdict of the committee in his behalf, takes the seat which the committee award him, and agrees to abandon the inquiry. I understand that to have been the case. I understand the case to be, that the hon. Member for Lewes, together with a noble Viscount, not a member of this House, who were petitioners to this House, having succeeded in placing themselves in a majority, though the noble Viscount was, from a technical objection, unable to vindicate his claim, one of the members retired, and the hon. Member took the seat that belonged to him. As far as the case of Lewes has come before me, in my judgment I see nothing questionable in the transaction. Other cases are stated of much more doubt and difficulty, but this case of a compromise, by the withdrawal of a prosecution, doubtful in its success and expensive in its operation, is no new principle— is not unknown to the House— has never hitherto been considered as a breach of the privileges of the House, and has never hitherto been considered as deserving of the censure of the House. In two or three cases stated by the hon. Gentleman there is this novelty— that the committee having come to a resolution seating the Members, those Members have themselves made a compromise that, notwithstanding the verdict of the committee, it should be set aside, and they would retire from the seat. There is a further allegation in some of the cases, that for the purpose of securing the performance of this understanding and promise, by which the proceedings of the committee are to be rendered nugatory, a penal bond has been entered into, and a sum of money paid down; the effect of which is not only to secure the agreement of Parliament, but to secure further, as I hear, the allegation 296 made, that there shall he no contest on the part of those who agree in principle with the retiring party against the party who is to be seated. I know nothing of these cases, except that which has been stated, but I do not hesitate to say, that if that case can be substantiated, it is a more serious case than that of retiring to enable another person to retain his seat, or abstaining from prosecuting an inquiry. There is a further case still, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, there are cases in which all these arrangements are entered into to prevent the exposure of general bribery and corruption. It may be so, but before I agree to the motion for inquiry into allegations of this description I must have something more than mere rumour. 1 must have distinct allegations laid down and founded on certain evidence, some tangible fact alleged, and upon evidence into which the committee is to inquire, and to which the investigations of the committee are to be directed; and I object to the hon. Gentleman's motion because it does not lay down any preliminary ground, in the first instance, for the allegations, and because the allegations themselves are so vague and so general that it will appear upon the journals, when the committee comes to make their investigations, that they are ordered to inquire into certain malpractices at certain election committees, which are charged to have taken place. Under the order of reference, no Members of the committee could know what they were about to inquire into, and in appointing the Members of the committee, we know not for what we are voting, or what we are to inquire into. The question, as I said before, is not as to the mode of preventing bribery or corruption, or into the methods of screening investigation, but the object is to inquire closely into these allegations. Beyond mere rumour we have not any ground for proceeding. To-night we have had two petitions, and I certainly think the hon. Gentleman would have done much better if he had altered the form of his motion; and if, instead of presenting petitions from Nottingham and Reading, complaining of the facts, he had asked the House of Commons to appoint a committee to inquire into the allegations of those petitions. This case bears a precise analogy to the case of Carlow, and as has been truly said by the hon. Member for Montgomery, the committee is likely, from its uncertainty, to lead to no practical result and no practical conclusion. I will 297 say one word as to the case noticed by the noble Lord. No man deplores more deeply, or is prepared to censure more strongly than I am, the bribery and corruption in large towns and in small towns, and there is no Member of this House who will be prepared to go further, in applying, if he can apply, an effectual remedy; but for that purpose it is clear that an act of Parliament, and not the appointment of a committee, is requisite, and great caution is required, lest, in investigating cases of bribery, you should mix up two subjects, in themselves perfectly distinct and separate, the prosecution of individual rights, and the vindication of the character of the House. The question of the propriety of disfranchising a borough, or the general corruption prevailing in a borough on both sides, is a question entirely separate from that which is the proper subject of inquiry before an election committee— viz., whether A or B is entitled to the seat which A contends is his, and which B defends. If you were to lay down this rule, that wherever there is an allegation of bribery, the charge is not to be thrown on A, who is seeking, or on B who is endeavouring to defend the seat, but the charge on both sides is to be thrown on the public, and the public is in all cases to take on themselves the conduct of election committees—I say would come to this result, that every disappointed candidate would take the chance, at the public expense, of carrying on the inquiry to injure his political opponents, or to avenge himself in some way on the borough which rejected him, by the disclosure of cases which might not be disgraceful in themselves, but equally a ground for disfranchising the borough. You would multiply the number of petitions indefinitely; you would enormously increase the expense to which the public would be put; you would enable each person to prosecute his own private wrongs at the expense of the public, and the extent to which the investigation would be carried would be almost unlimited. I do not by any means pretend to say that where a strong primád facie case of suspicion exists, and where gross crime has occurred in any borough, that an investigation may not rightly and properly be ordered by the House into the circumstances affecting bribery; but it is desirable not to mix up the question with the question of the contested right to a seat between A and B—not to mix it up with the private interests of the parties seeking or defending the seat; and therefore I think that great 298 caution should be observed in introducing a measure authorising election committees to go beyond their proper functions (which are to decide on the validity of the claims to a seat), and thus making the candidates seeking a seat public prosecutors, or engaging the public in every case where the candidate might say that it was the interest of the public to interfere. That is my objection to the motion of the hon. Gentleman. It is not an objection to inquiry; but 1 wish that, previous to inquiry, we should have definite allegations, founded on parliamentary grounds, on which to proceed, and that the investigation, however carried on by the committee, however constituted, should be limited to those allegations, which, being once known to the House, the committee would know how to solve the difficulty.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, the matter under discussion was curtailed to a very simple question. It appeared to be the almost universal feeling of the House, that provided the inquiry were properly conducted, and fit matter for consideration were brought forward, it was the duty of that House to order the inquiry to go on. Every body admitted that a very great evil existed; and where a great evil existed, they should take care that the remedy should be efficient; at the same time they should not be too scrupulous with respect to its application. He did say, that the hon. Member for Bath had not been specific in his allegations, (and if he might use the phrase) in his indictment he had not sufficiently laid his charges. That was the suggestion of Members on both sides of the House. But let them take care that any contest about the distinctness of the speech and the indistinctness of the motion of the hon. and learned Member should not prevent them losing sight of the main object, namely, ascertaining the real facts. The hon. and learned Member had been told, that if he stated in that House what amounted to a breach of privilege, he would then have a right to make a motion for a committee of inquiry, founded on his own allegation. The noble Lord who had last spoken said he did not think sufficient grounds for such a motion had been laid. [Lord Stanley: I complained that 1 did not know what we were going to inquire into.] Then the noble Lord could not have attended to the speech of his hon. and learned Friend with that attention which his hon. 299 and learned Friend deserved. He admitted, at once, that there was a want of distinctness and specific grounds of inquiry. But if the hon, and learned Member changed the form of his motion and stated distinctly what facts he wished to have inquired into, at once the committee would be granted. And with respect to the evidence of these allegations, let this be marked, that a statement had been made by a Member of that House that he would bring forward evidence to prove these allegations. Some Gentlemen had denied the accusations which had been made, others had remained silent. It was in their discretion to remain silent; but, surely there was now a primâ facie case before the House, and there were sufficient grounds— sufficient facts for going on with the inquiry. Therefore, now they were only disputing on a matter of form— on the phraseology of the motion— in what way it ought to be framed. Why did he wish for an inquiry? His object was not a bad anxiety, to give pain to individuals. By the inquiry they were charging individuals with doing that of which many were notoriously guilty. Their object was not to abuse individuals, or hold them up before the country. His hon. and learned Friend had saidOur object is not to strike at individuals, but to get at facts, and illustrate the universal system of bribery and corruption which exists, and force the Legislature to adopt some remedy.He wanted facts; he wanted something more than charges. Let witnesses be examined and evidence taken down, and let them have such a body of evidence on the subject that there should be no doubt about it. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had alluded to the bill on this subject which had been brought into the House of Lords. Let them then get at such facts by a committee should go before the House of Lords, and before the country, and set all doubts on the question at rest.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, if he had understood the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Feel), he should not have troubled the House with more than one or two words in answer to his statement; but as he did not quite understand the right hon. Baronet, and was absent whilst the right hon. Baronet's proposition had been made to the House, he might be pardoned if he went through the view he had taken of this subject 300 somewhat more at length, and stated the way in which he wished it to be left to the House and to the country. On last Friday he had stated, that certain rumours had come to his ears respecting certain specified individuals. Those persons were named, and the allegations he made distinctly without circumlocution — for circumlocution, whatever other bad habits he might have, he did not think belonged to him. He had stated them broadly, clearly, and unequivocally, and with all their requisite distinctness. He had guarded himself against the whole of the argumentation of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire. He had said there was an argument which pressed upon him strongly, and he was prepared to evade that argument by the facts which he had laid it down. He said, he should suppose a compromise being made precisely under the circumstances he had stated; but the cases which he was about to lay before the House were not of that description. First, there was the case of Nottingham, in which money had been paid down to avoid the investigation of the committee respecting the bribery alleged to have taken place. Then there was the case of Reading, where a bond was entered into, that one of the candidates should vacate his seat after the determination of the committee. Then there were the cases of Lewes, and of Penryn, and of Harwich, where arrangements had been entered into to avoid investigation as to the bribery said to have prevailed. There was the case of Lewes, in which he had put it to his friend distinctly, whether the investigation had not been withdrawn from the committee under the strict knowledge that if the investigation went on bribery would have been proved. That was his charge;—that had been his indictment. In the charges which he had brought forward he had been extremely desirous of giving no man pain, but the system he desired to brand as deeply as he could. He would now, with all due respect for the objections of the noble Lord (Stanley) and the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, call their attention to the case of the Shepherds. They had been charged with bribery. The noble Lord was fearful lest there should appear on the journals a vague charge. What appeared in the journals of the House on the 13th of February, 1700:—The House being informed that Samuel 301 Shepherd, Esq., hath been guilty of bribery at several elections, in order to procure Members to be elected for Parliament, on which Mr. Shepherd being heard in his place, persisting in his innocency— resolved, that the matter of the charge be heard at the Bar of the House.Then, what had he stated? What was his charge? What would appear? He would now make another distinction. The right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was aware of the distinction between oral and written charges in that House A Member in his place in that House might make charges orally. He had done so. It was not his business to have it taken down. He had made the charge, and on that charge he had moved for a committee of privilege. He said that it was precisely within the proceedings, the declared proceedings, of that House. All he wished was to guard himself from the imputation of having rushed hastily into a proceeding not in accordance with the regular proceedings of that House. He was perfectly ready to adopt any mode of proceeding which should give him what he asked; and he asked the right hon. Baronet if he would grant him this, if he moved a resolution—To inquire into a charge of corruption respecting the boroughs of Reading, Nottingham, Lewes, Falmouth, and Harwich, if it were brought,Alleging the nature of the charge, which was this— that in each and all of those boroughs there had been a corrupt compromise to prevent an investigation into the bribery practised at the elections. They would mark the definition of that. He fixed the parties— he fixed the charge and the nature of it— he fixed the places; there could be no doubt about this. He did not wish to name any party, for then it might appear that he was influenced by personal motives. He wanted to avoid all appearance of personal investigation; he wanted to brand the system. Could he get that? Was that what the right hon. Baronet would admit? He distinctly stated the places into the elections for which he wished to investigate, and the charge which he brought forward was that a compromise had been made by which charges of bribery had been corruptly withdrawn from the consideration of the several committees appointed to inquire into them. He wanted to know if that was what was wanted? He wanted to know what further he could do? The 302 noble Lord said, "I must have some evidence." Evidence ! the evidence was given on the trial. Was he to try the matter first in his own person and then go before the committee? What could he do but make the charge? He had given the whole charge; surely words definitely spoken could not be misunderstood. The places he wished to be inquired into he named, and if hon. Gentlemen would, after that, alter his motion, or allow him now to make that amendment in his own motion, he was quite ready to make it. [Cheers.] He hoped that that cheer meant assent; for he must say that he was startled by some of the things which he had heard that evening. The noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) said that his charge was too narrow—that it ought to sweep the whole wide range of this marvellous corruption. Hon. Members on the other side of the House said, that a committee so appointed by his motion would have a roving commission. There was no pleasing them. He was in the unfortunate position of one man whipping another— hit them where he would he could not please them. He wanted to steer clear of both objections. He did not want a roving commission, for he named places. He did not want to scatter charges indiscriminately for he named circumstances. He asked, then, for the unanimous consent of hon. Members to his motion. But let him not be misunderstood; for the well-working of the committee it must have full powers and a bill of indemnity for that purpose should be immediately passed. For that bill of indemnity he should move in that House. They could not stir a step without it. Any lawyer knew how to draw that bill. He would, if necessary, propose it to-morrow; it could be passed in three days, and be sent up to the Lords, and become law in a week. But without these powers they could do nothing; they gave him an instrument which he could not use. He thought he knew something of this House, and he was not going to work this committee to his own shame. He knew that the whole world was looking on at the whole of these proceedings, and he was not to be frightened out of his task; and that being so, he said it was clearly understood that such were the intentions of the House (if it be the desire of the House to probe to the bottom this festering wound) to put that probe into his hands, and to the bottom of its nasti- 303 ness would he drive it. With the consent of the House he would withdraw the present motion, and alter, and state in terms the cases into which he begged leave to have the inquiry directed. He would state the charges in the terms he had already mentioned; and, having done so, he hoped to have the unanimous support of the House.
Sir T. D. Acland
said, he would not detain the House one moment, but with reference to the alteration which the hon. and learned Member was about to make in his motion, in order to specify more distinctly the cases which he and others thought fit subjects for solemn investigation, he desired to except one which appeared to him to rest upon entirely different grounds from the others— he meant the case of Lewes. In that case the party before the proper tribunal, being the best judge, both of the force of the attack, and of his own means of defence, had come to the conclusion, that he could no longer maintain the contest, and having therefore allowed the judgment of the committee to be given against him, had not attempted to vitiate that judgment. He did not understand that any charge was made against the petitioner in the Lewes case, or that the unsuccessful sitting Member had any intention of not abiding by the judgment of the tribunal to which the matter had been referred. But in the other cases to which the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman had reference he believed the parties came to the tribunal and asked its judgment, but in the mean time had entered into and accepted an agreement by which it was arranged that the judgment to be given should not be executed. This appeared to him to be a mode of dealing with a court of justice, which any court would do well, if it had the means to inquire into, and redress. He repeated, that he thought there was a distinction between the Lewes case and the rest. In one of the cases he alluded to— Nottingham— the agreement had already taken effect, and the sentence passed by the committee in the morning had been upset by the parties the same night. A similar condition had been made in the Falmouth and two other cases, for though the charge had neither been admitted or denied, yet it was understood that the same sort of arrangement had been made, and agreed to. The effect of those arrangements, was not merely 304 to conceal that which he feared the House had taken but very ineffectual means of inquiring into, viz., bribery, but to say that the judgments which have been granted shall not take effect. He thought those cases fair subjects for inquiry; but he suggested that the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to leave out of his category the case of Lewes, which stood upon entirely different grounds.
§ Original motion withdrawn.
§ Mr. Roebuck
moved the following resolution:—That a select committee be appointed to inquire whether in the case of the election petitions presented to the House from Reading, Nottingham, Harwich, Lewes, and Falmouth, there have not been corrupt compromises entered into for the purpose of withdrawing from the investigation of the committees appointed to try the merits of those several petitions, the gross bribery practised at those elections?
§ Sir G. Grey
suggested that in point of form it would be well, and certainly more regular, to set forth in the terms of the resolution that it having been stated by an hon. Member that he had heard these compromises alleged and so forth. There was another suggestion also he had to make in consequence of no committee having, in fact, been appointed to try the merits of the petition from that place, and, therefore, the terms of the motion, as it stood, would not reach that case.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, he had drawn up the motion in a hurry, as the House had seen, and therefore he hoped to be excused for any oversight. He had no objection to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman with respect to the addition of the words., "it having been stated by an hon. Member in his place that certain corrupt practices had come to his ears and so on;" neither had he any objection to add further, that he believed that statement. The hon. and learned Member drew up an amended resolution and withdrew the former motion.
§ The Speaker
then put the second amended resolution as follows:That the House having been informed by an hon. Member, that he has heard and believed that in the cases of the election petitions presented to the House from Harwich, Nottingham, Reading, Lewes, and Falmouth, certain corrupt compromises had been entered into for the purpose of avoiding investigation of the bribery alleged to have been practised at the elections for the said towns, a select committee be appointed to inquire whether 305 such compromises had been entered into, and?whether such bribery had taken place in the aforesaid towns?
§ Sir R. Peel
suggested one alteration in the terms of the motion—the words ought to be "charges of bribery."
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, the adoption of the word "charges" would prevent him (as the charges of bribery were all one side— that of the petitioners in each case) from having the inquiry as wide as he desired. His plan was to cover both sides.
said, that as a Member of the Lewes committee, he rose to request the hon. and learned Member for Bath to exclude the case of Lewes from his motion. The House would perhaps allow him to give his reasons for making that request. On the hearing of that petition, no evidence had been brought before the committee, either of bribery or any other corrupt act, and the attention of the committee had merely been directed to a scrutiny, and upon that Mr. Harford, who had been in a majority was, after several days investigation, reduced to a minority, and then had withdrawn from the contest. Upon that the committee reported Mr. Fitzroy to have been duly elected, and upon that report Mr. Fitzroy had taken his seat in that House. There had been no allegation of bribery before the committee, and he owned it appeared to him that the hon. and learned Member for Bath had not made out any case why Lewes should be included in the proposed inquiry. He hoped, therefore, the hon. and learned Member would withdraw Lewes.
§ Mr. Labouchere
was sure the hon. Member for Chippenham could not have been present when this subject was before under discussion, or he would scarcely need to be reminded how unjust and improper it would be to exclude the case of Lewes from the inquiry proposed. On a former occasion, one of the sitting Members for that borough—his hon. and learned Friend near him—stated in his place, that his belief was that the compromise with regard to Lewes was merely caused by the circumstance that if the inquiry before the election committee had been proceeded with, it must have led to the disfranchisement of that borough, so flagrant and gross had been the bribery which prevailed there at the last election. Now, he thought that the House having agreed to the principle that an inquiry into those 306 cases enumerated in the motion ought to be instituted, it appeared to him that to exclude Lewes (which was really the strongest case) would be to do a great injustice. He should only say further, that he was extremely glad the motion was "now in such a form that he was able to give it his support. He had felt with his noble friends the Member for Tiverton (Lord Palmerston) and the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), that the motion in the first instance was objectionable in point of form, and though he, in common with his noble Friends, was little desirous of shielding any party, still, the objection in point of form was so strong that he would have subjected himself to any misrepresentation rather than have voted for the motion as originally proposed. The present motion had removed his objections, and he should give it his cordial support.
§ Mr. Serjeant Murphy
said, with regard to Lewes, he was utterly indifferent whether it was or was not included in the inquiry, but at the same time he thought, after the hon. and learned Gentleman on his side of the House had challenged inquiry, the House was bound in fairness to the hon. and learned Gentleman himself to include Lewes in the investigation. The House was still more bound to do so after the statements made by the hon. Member's Colleague, that within his own knowledge bribery had prevailed at the last election. He would therefore press upon his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bath not to withdraw the case of Lewes.
Sir T. Acland
begged to observe, that the statement made the other evening with respect to Lewes had entirely escaped his mind; still he thought that there was a strong distinction between Lewes and the other cases.
§ Sir J. Walsh
said, if he understood the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that hon. and learned Member had brought forward these charges against hon. Members of this House in a great degree upon the notoriety which common report had given to the matter, and that in all the cases he was not in possession of specific and correct information. It seemed there was a general and current report, which had been substantiated to a certain extent, and the hon. and learned Gentleman had said that, if properly armed, he would probe the festering wound to 307 the bottom. And he thought, also, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated he disclaimed all party feeling, all party views in the measure he had brought forward, and therefore he conceived the hon. and learned | Gentleman must he anxious to include all cases, from whatever side of the House they might happen to come, and whoever they might happen to implicate. Now, he begged to call to the recollection of the hon. and learned Gentleman one case which had excited very great attention at the close of last year, and in which it was surmised that some compromise of this kind had taken place. He alluded to the case of Bridport. He was the last man to bring forward charges against any individual, but it did appear to him that, under all the circumstances, the case of Bridport last year ought to be included in the proposed investigation. It stood on precisely the same grounds as many of the others.
§ Mr. C. Buller
thought that those inquiries would be incomplete if so notorious a case as Bridport was omitted. As a personal friend of the only gentleman who had lost by this arrangement, and whose loss in the House they all deplored, he begged that Bridport might be included among the others.
§ Sir R. Peel
thought, that motions of this nature ought not to be made without previous notice being given by the hon. Member who wished to bring any specific case before the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had given due notice of his motion for inquiry, and, therefore, the House was competent to discuss the question of inquiry into the specific cases which had been named. If they were to take any case that any hon. Member might think fit to bring forward without notice, an indefinite number of places might be suggested, and thus the committee would be overloaded. The words of the hon. and learned Gentleman's motion having now been altered, he would say, that his objection to the motion had been a bond fide, and, he thought it, a valid one. It did seem to him, that a reference to the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, as an historical document, was not sufficient, and that it ought to appear on the journals of the House what were the grounds on which the House had resolved to institute this inquiry. He was quite ready to abide by the case of "Shepherd," which had been cited by 308 the hon. and learned Gentleman. With respect to the question of omitting the case of Lewes, he thought that the motion was now sufficiently definite; that corrupt practices had been charged, it was true, was not within the knowledge of the House; the House could not determine which was true, but they took them, in respect of all the cases, on the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but if they omitted any one of the cases they would be judging. They now took the whole on the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman. They ought, therefore, to take them all without exception, and he had only to say, that as the hon. and learned Member had adopted his suggestion, he was quite ready to assent to the motion. Still he was not quite sure whether it would not be better to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman had heard, that in the case of the Nottingham election, bribery and corruption had taken place; he was not sure whether the same imputation extended to Harwich. The hon. and learned Gentleman knew what he heard better, of course, than he did. He only wished that the hon. and learned Gentleman had taken more time to frame the motion; but as it stood he should not oppose it.
§ Mr. C. Wood,
as chairman of both the committees in which compromises had been avowed to have been made, wished to observe, that in one case the evidence seemed to have been suddenly stopped short just when it was beginning to tell. Both in the cases of Lewes and Penryn he must say that, judging by the evidence which came before them, and by that alone, the committee could only come to one conclusion, and that they had adopted.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
predicted that this inquiry, if successful, would be the deathblow of the whole system which had grown up under the several acts brought respectively in by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, by the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Williams Wynn), and by the late Mr. Grenville. He was glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman had adopted the suggestion that he had made to him. He had told the hon. and learned Gentleman that he could do nothing without a bill, and now the hon. and learned Gentleman, he was glad to find, said he would move for a bill.
§ Question agreed to.
§ Ordered, that a select committee be appointed.