HC Deb 23 May 1842 vol 63 cc601-8

Colonel Rushbrooke moved— That the Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for two burgesses to serve in the present Parliament for the borough of Ipswich, in the room of Rigby Wason and George Rennie, Esqrs., whose return had been declared void.

Colonel Mackinnon seconded the motion.

Mr. Williams Wynn

did not rise to offer any opposition to the present motion, but to call the attention of the House to the report of the committee, stating, that extensive bribery had taken place at the last election. He desired, in the first place, that this report should be read.

The following report was then read by the Clerk:— That Rigby Wason, Esq., and George Rennie, Esq., were by their agents guilty of bribery at the last election for the borough of Ipswich. That this committee are of opinion, from the evidence given before them, that extensive bribery prevailed at the last election for the borough of Ipswich, and that the issuing of a new writ for the said borough ought to be suspended until the said evidence shall have been taken into consideration by the House. That the Chairman be requested to move, that this report, together with the evidence taken before this committee, be printed and that the Speaker do not issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of two burgesses to serve in this present Parliament for the said borough of Ipswich, until the said evidence shall have been printed and submitted to the House. This report, the right hon. Gentleman continued, was sufficient to call the attention of the House to the case of Ipswich. He had certainly looked over the evidence, and it appeared to him, that whatever grounds of presumption there might be there was not any case established which would justify the adoption of any measures against the borough. Still he felt, that this was a report which ought not to rest upon the votes of the House unnoticed and unconfirmed. When the House had thought, that further evidence of corruption might be obtained, to show either that it extended to a majority of the electors, or to a great part of the constituent body, they had continued the inquiry, and had proceeded against the borough itself; or there was another course taken by proceedings against individuals, and the House had directed the Attorney-general to prosecute such persons as might appear to have been engaged in the system of bribery and corruption. It was obvious, on the report of this committee, that there were individuals against whom evidence had been given amply sufficient to justify further proceedings against them. He knew it would be said, that they were overlooking the principal offenders, and punishing only the smaller. He could only say, that wherever there should be evidence which showed a probability, that they could reach the instigators of the bribery, he would never be wanting in his support of a prosecution, but it was equally necessary to proceed against the bribed, as the bribers. He recollected, that it was said by Mr. Wyndham, that corruption frequently did not proceed from the top to the bottom, but from the bottom to the top, and be was convinced that if they seemed by their proceedings to afford an impunity to those who took bribes, as well as to the subordinate agents who gave the bribes, they would never give any direct check to this crime. It was unfortunate that in these cases there was not that general feeling against this offence which they would desire to see; the feeling was frequently as much in favour of the object of the prosecution as it was against the offence. The party prosecuted was only looked upon as a martyr, and by his own party he was never thought the worse of. Though there were heavy penalties against bribery, the question was who was to put them in force? In the Cricklade case, where there were convictions for penalties against the head offenders, and where the sitting Members were prosecuted, the individuals never were looked upon in society as discreditable, and one who held high office was advanced afterwards. There never was an instance of a party convicted of the high crime of bribery being looked upon, in any society, high or low, as discredited. If the committee had thought that there were any grounds for believing that evidence could be procured, affecting a great portion of the town, some one would have brought forward a motion for further enquiry, but as none such had been made, he would suggest that the House should give directions to the Attorney-General to prosecute the individuals who were concerned in giving or receiving bribes at the late election for Ipswich.

Sir G. Grey

was glad to hear what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, and rose merely to point out a defect in the present law. The petition from Ipswich, as in many other cases, alleged extensive bribery, &c., and prayed, not that the other candidates might be seated, but that the election might be declared void. Under those circumstances, as a matter of course, the committee determined that they could not enter into the inquiry, whether the other candidates had been guilty of bribery or not. It was a onesided inquiry, therefore; but, although enough appeared before the committee to raise a suspicion of corrupt practices on the other side, the consequence of the committee refusing to enter upon that inquiry was that the late sitting Members were disqualified from silting in the House, while their opponents, who might have been as guilty, might again stand at the new election. Had the investigation been carried on, had the committee had the power to go into the doings on the other side, it might have affected all the candidates alike. He could not sit down without expressing an ardent hope that the House would be able to devise some means for investigating to what extent bribery had been practised at the late general election and punishing the guilty.

Mr. John Parker

said, that if it pleased the House to instruct the Attorney-general to take the course recommended by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. W. Wynn), he concluded, however, that the directions would not be confined to the class of persons against whom evidence was produced before the committee: but that it would be competent for the Attorney-general to proceed against all parties who should appear to him to have been concerned, otherwise the right hon. Gentleman would be causing most unfair proceedings, as had been explained by his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey). Nothing could be more unfair than to proceed against those persons only whose names appeared in the evidence taken before the committee.

Mr. Williams Wynn

said, it certainly was not his intention or wish, as the committee had not recommended the House to renew the inquiry, and see the extent to which this bribery had proceeded; or to receive further evidence, to move for such an inquiry; but what he intended was, that the Attorney-general should, in the first place, take as his brief the report of the committee, and then, if he received evidence from other parties, so as to put on their trial persons who were not named or alluded to in the report, he thought that the general sanction of the House would be sufficient. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) had said that the two sitting Members would be disqualified, and that the other two candidates would not; but it appeared to him that bribery, commenced at the first election, held under the first writ, was evidence to be given against the same parties upon the second writ; it was not for parties, when an election was declared void, to take advantage of the bribery committed under the first writ. It was, in fact, only an election under the original writ, the first return under that writ was declared void, and though a new writ was issued, it was only one election. It appeared to him that a committee would not be doing its duty if it did not inquire under the second writ into bribery committed under the first.

Mr. B. Escott

wished to know whether the parties convicted of bribery at the last election before the committee, would be able to vote at the ensuing election, because if they could vote, the election might be carried by the very men who had been convicted of bribery before a competent tribunal.

Mr. Hume

had no doubt that the election would be carried by the very parties who were convicted of bribery. They expected so, at least, and it was upon that account he thought that the House was rather trifling with the subject. After the report that had been made, they ought to take some measures. He thought that a public prosecutor should be appointed to prosecute and disfranchise every man who should take or give bribes, before a tribunal competent for that purpose. That was the way to put an end to bribery; but he never saw the leaders on either side anxious to put an end to it; and the House itself seemed disposed to support the system. In 1822 a bill had been brought in, in which a test similar to the one which had been proposed the other day by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe) had been introduced, to be taken by Members before they took their seats. Only twenty-three Members had voted with him for that bill. The heads of both parties kept away. The leaders of both parties, both Whigs and Tories, seemed desirous of making elections as expensive as possible; and, in his opinion, nothing would be done to put down bribery until they made all parties, giving or receiving [...]ribe, incapable of voting. He asked of what use it was for committees to make reports, unless the House followed them up by some effectual measures? He thought the writ ought not to issue for fourteen days, in order to give time to the noble Lord to bring in his bill for the suppression of bribery, and see whether it would do any good. He should move as an amendment that the issue of the writ be suspended for fourteen days.

Mr. W. O. Stanley

seconded the amendment. The House ought to discountenance bribery and corruption, or they would be bringing discredit on themselves. He thought that when a committee which had sat many days made such a report, it would not tend to their credit if they merely suspended the writ for a few days; and then that a person not a Member of the committee should move the writ, and the very parties who had been bribed should be able to vote again. He would be glad to see an end to that bribery which had prevailed so extensively at the last election.

Lord J. Russell,

upon the question which had been put to the House, would support the amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), because if it were desirable to do anything, if it were advisable to institute any further inquiry, or to direct the Attorney-general to prosecute certain parties, this ought to be done at the same time that the writ was issued. If measures were to be taken, as had been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montgomery, it would be far better to decide upon them, and not to leave them to be taken till after the writ should be issued. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose seemed to suppose that the leaders of both sides thought elections ought to be as expensive as possible. He could not agree in that opinion. He believed that both parties suffered much from the expense of elections and from corruption. The hon. Gentleman said, that in 1822 the leaders of both parties were opposed to a declaration or test by Members. He was one of those who always doubted the efficacy of this test, and what had taken place lately had only tended to confirm his doubts. When Members came to questions of bribery or of corrupt practices, various interpretations would be put by different individual, upon the law, and that which one person, who had committed bribery by his agents, would have no difficulty in taking, another who was wholly free would not be induced to take. As to collateral measures, this was not the time to discuss them, but with regard to the motion then before the House, it did not appear to him advise-able that they should issue the writ in the first instance.

Sir R. Peel

must protest against the inference drawn by the hon. Gentleman, that because parties did not acquiesce in any particular motion they were the friends of bribery and corruption, and were not, therefore, anxious for their suppression. That was an unjust imputation upon the party to which he belonged, for he thought that no other party had suffered more from bribery than that party with which he coincided in opinion. He had always declared his readiness to lend himself to the utmost of his power to discountenance a practice which was undermining the influence of that House with the country. At the same time he should reserve to himself the power of determining whether any particular proposition for the prevention of the practice was consistent with justice, and with those principles upon which the law was administered; but, reserving to himself that discretion, he was ready to admit that the practice was one which naturally tended to diminish the authority of that House. His right hon. Friend had suggested that the Attorney-general ought to be directed by the House to prosecute any parties against whom there was a strong case of suspicion that they were concerned in the offence of bribery. He was inclined to concur in the suggestion. He thought, too, that if that motion was made, it ought to be concurrent with the issuing of the writ, and that the issuing of the writ ought in the meantime to be suspended. It appeared to him that the best course would be, that a notice relative to the inquiry into bribery should be given for the ear- liest day, for a motion connected with the borough of Ipswich, and that the writ for a new election ought to be suspended until the motion came on. This subject could not be in better hands than those of his right hon. Friend; and if he would give such a notice, he would vote for the suspension of the writ. He certainly admitted that the House ought to be cautious, and that the writ should not be suspended for a longer period than the necessity of the case required. They should discountenance bribery, but they should recollect that the constituent body had rights as well as they had, and the writ should only be suspended until they should see what farther steps might be taken in the matter.

Mr. Hume

would not object to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. His views would be fully answered by it, and he thought that the two measures should be concurrent. He did not mean to charge the right hon. Gentleman with acquiescing in bribery and corruption; but if the two parties had been as anxious for the suppression as he thought they ought to be, they might have concurred in some legislative measure to secure their object.

Mr. Roebuck

was glad to hear that both sides of the House were so anxious to put down bribery and corruption, and he was also glad to hear from the right, hon. Baronet that the House ought to be cautious how it suspended the writs. That being the case, he would press his particular views on the House. They had already suspended the writ for Nottingham, on the probability of an investigation; but he had previously declared that he would not be a party to any investigation, unless the committee was armed with certain powers; he would therefore suggest that means be offered for passing the Bill of Indemnity to Witnesses, that the case of Nottingham might be inquired into as soon as possible. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would comply, therefore, with a request he was about to make afterwards.

Mr. W. O. Stanley

was satisfied that the House had taken the matter up, and he was pleased with what the right hon. Gentleman had stated.

Sir C. B. Vere

was satisfied that the great body of the electors of Ipswich did not participate in these corrupt practices, but he would recommend his Colleague not now to press for issuing the writ. He was desirous—he must not omit to say— that this large population should be represented as speedily as possible.

Mr. Ward

reminded the right hon. Gentleman that there was another borough in precisely the same situation as Ipswich; he meant the borough of Southampton, in which the writ had been suspended at his suggestion. By the reports these appeared to be in a great measure parallel cases, and he suggested that the two boroughs might be included in the same motion.

Mr. Williams Wynn

did not wish to mete out a different measure of justice to one borough or another. He agreed that the report of the borough of Southampton was so very nearly similar to that of Ipswich, that the two might be taken together. He agreed also with his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel) that it was their bounden duty not to suspend any writ, except with the view to some legislative proceeding, and that they ought not to suspend any writ one hour beyond what was necessary to consider whether any legislative proceedings should be adopted; he thought that the House was assuming a dangerous power to protract the issuing of writs. There was a precedent for long suspension; in the case of the Shepherds the writ was suspended for more than one Session, although there were no legislative measures taken. It appeared to him, that this was a precedent not to be followed, but to be studiously avoided. He now clearly gave notice that, unless some hon. Gentleman moved for a further inquiry, he would on Thursday next propose that the Attorney-general should be directed to prosecute all persons concerned in bribery at Ipswich and Southampton.

Motion withdrawn.

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