§ Mr. Williams Wynn
was glad that the House thought that the issuing of two writs for the two places whose representation was now vacant ought to have precedence, and preference over any other business, inasmuch as it was amongst the first duties of the House to decide upon them. He was glad also that, in consequence of the suggestions made by an hon. Member on the other side of the House, he was able to make a proposal to the House which would apply to two cases affecting opposite sides of the House, so that it could not be thought that what he proposed was in the slightest degree connected with political feeling, or that he wished to give any advantage to one side or the other. All parties were equally concerned in this matter, and it was equally the duty of all to use every means in their power to enforce the law already enacted, or if their was any deficiency in the law as at present established, they should frame a better one for the punishment of bribery and corruption. Since the subject had been last mentioned, he had again read over the evidence in the Ipswich and Southampton cases, and he was confirmed in the opinion that there was not in the evidence a sufficiently extensive measure of corruption to call upon the House to take any steps for destroying suspending, or altering the elective franchise in either of the two cases. There might be evidence of suspicion, but there was no evidence of a sufficiently extensive corruption to justify the bringing in of any measure to affect the rights of those who were not mixed up or concerned in these transactions. He had ever been ready to support such measures when it was clear that the corrupt on was general, or that the proportion of the constituency connected with the corruption was so great as 816 to deprive those unconcerned of the efficient exercise of their rights. He did not think that in the present cases there were any grounds for a legislative measure; but the question was, whether in the instances which had come before them in the reports of their committees, showing it was their impression that extensive bribery did exist, an impression clearly supported by the evidence, the House would allow the matter to be passed over in silence—whether they would allow the individuals, whoever they might be, the bribers or the bribed, to go to other elections to repeat their crime, and whether such disclosures should be attended with no evil consequence whatever to the parties, but serve rather as an encouragement to them to pursue the same acts. In dealing with these cases he would take the two separately. On reading the evidence given before the Ipswich committee, he certainly found there was sufficient grounds for the opinion of the committee, that "extreme bribery prevailed at the last election for the borough of Ipswich."Of the existence of that bribery there could be little doubt; at the same time he was free to acknowledge, and before he proposed to the House that they should direct the Attorney-General to prosecute, he would state that he did see a difficulty which arose from the peculiarity of the evidence. That evidence was such as to leave no doubt of the practice of extensive bribery. Still it might be very difficult to establish individual cases. He would not, therefore, propose to take the same course as had been taken in other cases, and direct the Attorney-general to prosecute certain individuals, because it was impossible to say which it would be necessary to make use of as evidence, and also because there might be considerable reason to believe that this bribery prevailed upon one side as much as the other; and he did not wish to shut out the consideration of those cases. The committee had, of necessity stopped the hearing of this evidence: they had acted perfectly right; they could not enter upon the evidence produced to prove recriminatory charges. They must, therefore, have further inquiry and further investigation before the individuals to be prosecuted could be selected. He was quite aware of the difficulty which must attend any further investigation, because the motives to furnish the evidence must be slight; the desire must mainly proceed from party hostility, and not from a desire to further the ends of justice. This was 817 the great difficulty in all these cases, and had probably led to some of those compromises which they heard had taken place. The parties in the election cases must look to what would be the probable result of the inquiry. It might prove bribery to such an extent as would lead to the disfranchisement of the borough, by which all would equally suffer; and, at any rate, it might injure neighbours and draw down public feeling against themselves, for the public feeling was such as not to give any countenance to these inquiries; on the contrary, they generally found that the feeling of the jury and of the populace was not with those who prosecuted, but with those who were guilty of bribery. He thought, therefore, he might fairly state there were great difficulties in the case. It was said why had not the House shown itself more careful to put down bribery? The House had never been wanting in a desire to put it down during the last 150 years. It had been stated that bribery at the last election had existed to an extent never before known. The House however had frequently brought forward measures to prevent it, some of which had met with the concurrence of the other House, and he knew of no measure that could be devised more stringent than these measures which had already been passed. The bribery bill of 1729 contained enactments imposing penalties on those who gave, or who promised a reward, and on the voter who asked for a bribe, or consented to be bribed. These penalties that House had fixed at 70l., and these penalties the House of Lords, not choosing to negative the bill altogether, had altered, interfering with what were considered the peculiar privileges of the House of Commons; the other House had raised the penalty to 500l. The House had wisely determined that its own privileges, though interfered with, should not be turned against itself, and instead of avoiding the penalty of 500l. it had acceded to it. Now, this act was read publicly before the commencement of every election, and no one could say, therefore, that there was not sufficient notice of its existence. But although by the provisions which this statute contained an indemnity was granted to any persons who should prosecute to conviction in a court of law any other persons for the offence of bribery, against any of the consequences of any act of bribery in which he was himself concerned, a similar indemnity was not granted to 818 those who should give evidence of bribery before that House, or before a committee of that House. This, he believed, had proved a most efficient protection to corruption, and he sincerely hoped that a difficulty so striking might be removed; and as, for the first time, a bill had been sent down to that House from the House of Lords—a bill of protection of the privileges of the House of Commons—he for one was most willing to welcome that bill and to agree to it, so far as he approved of its principle; and he did agree with its main provisions, although in some particulars it did not receive his approbation. He for one was willing to render it applicable so far as was possible to the particular circumstances of this case. But he wished to ask, whether the House, looking at the cases of bribery which appeared from their proceedings to have occurred, and the system of bribery which had been carried on, would not institute a further inquiry into the subject, with a view to the prosecution of those who were guilty? He did not wish that any strict directions should be given to the Attorney-general, but looking only at these particular cases, he must certainly say that he thought they were instances in which it was highly probable that, on investigation, witnesses might be found such as to induce the Attorney-general to enter into proceedings against some individuals of a criminal nature. The evidence of the witnesses who had been already examined before the committee might require to be strengthened on particular points, and, therefore, while he proposed that the Attorney-general should be directed to prosecute the persons concerned in the bribery which had taken place at the late election at Ipswich, he should propose to leave a discretionary power with that learned individual, to be exercised by him after the inquiries which he should have made, in order that he might proceed in those cases only where the evidence should appear to be sufficiently strong to warrant such a step. For his own part he entertained feelings of the most sincere pain at the perjury and prevarication which appeared on the part of many of the persons who had been examined in these cases. Taking the case of Ipswich, two of the witnesses had admitted that there was evidence against the two late Members for that borough, and they said that a public speech had been made, in which it had been declared that it should 819 not be 1,000l., 2,000l., or 3,000l., which should prevent their having their seats. The committee had not in this case stated on their finding that the sitting Members knew of the bribery which had been carried on, but from the statements which had been made to that House, hon. Gentlemen could not have the least reason to doubt that that omission had arisen from the fact of the committee not being aware of the direction contained in the late act of Parliament that they should do so, and if they had made a report upon the subject, there was little doubt that they would have declared that the practices to which he had referred were known to those Gentlemen. The speech to which he had alluded had been deposed to only by two witnesses, and others were called who had denied that anything of the sort had occurred, and if such a speech had been made, there was very little doubt that it could have been proved, as it must have been heard by a great number of persons. The committee, therefore, he thought, were right in not taking this as evidence that these Gentlemen were connected with the bribery proved. Other witnesses were called whom it was perfectly impossible to believe—who were determined not to tell the truth; who said that the occurrence had taken place nearly twelve mouths ago, and whether they had received money or papers from any individual they were unable to say. Now this was what convinced him of the necessity of having such cases repeated to the House, and which also convinced him of the necessity of continuing the detention of witnesses who were taken into custody for perjury or prevarication for a longer period than they were accustomed to sanction such detention. In the present case, he thought that they had no option but to institute an additional inquiry through the medium of the Attorney-general, supplementary to the inquiry of this House before the election committee, because that committee had had no prosecutor before them, and had had no one before them interested in conducting the evidence and in endeavouring to establish a case. He apprehended that on subjects of this nature the Attorney-general was the servant, not merely of the Crown, but of the House; the House might instruct him to institute proceedings, and he therefore moved that the Attorney-general be directed to prosecute such persons as shall appear to him to have been guilty of bribery in respect of the last election for the borough of Ips- 820 wich. The right hon. Gentleman said that his motion, as he had given notice of, it, included also the case of Southampton; but. he should move that hereafter.
§ Sir Thomas Wilde
felt considerable difficulty, as he always must feel, in rising to address the House, in opposition to anything which had been urged by so distinguished a Member of that House as the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down;but he felt so strongly the difficulties which were in the way of the motion which the right hon. Gentleman had made, that notwithstanding the diffidence under which be had stated that he laboured, he was induced to intrude himself upon the notice of the House. He thought, that the House stood at this moment before the public, in rather a peculiar position, and that it would be very inexpedient that they should aggravate the peculiarity of those circumstances by taking any steps such as those which were proposed He was not aware, that any directions had been ever given to the Attorney-general, in the general form which was now proposed, and he was fortified in this belief, by the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, who had himself stated, that he believed that this proceeding was at variance with the course usually adopted. He had heard it said in that House, and he agreed in the opinion that it should be only on very strong occasions that the House should direct any prosecution to be instituted. Generally speaking, such a direction would operate to the prejudice of the defendant, but he must say, that in the present case he did not feel that any such disadvantage would arise, for, on the contrary, he firmly believed, that the very fact of the prosecution being ordered by that House, would rather induce an acquittal of the person charged. He had had some experience in reference to what had occurred, even before those discussions which had taken place in the course of the present Session of Parliament, for the House had in a former Session directed him to prosecute several persons in the St. Alban's case. Whoever had read the evidence in that case, together with the speeches from counsel, and the summing up of the learned judge, would, he was satisfied, feel convinced, that some peculiar circumstances, not arising out of the evidence, must have led to the conclusion which had been arrived. There was no doubt in his mind, that there was at present so strong an impression in the 821 country regarding the existence of bribery in the conduct of the Members of that House, that any prosecution ordered to be undertaken, unattended by some general measure directed to the suppression of the evil, would be viewed as a persecution, and as being directed in a spirit of hypocrisy, and with the object of bolstering up the system now so universally decried, rather than with a view to putting it down. He was convinced, that no one felt more than the right hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this motion, how desirable it was to sustain the honour and integrity of the House, and that it was with such an object, that the right hon. Gentleman had been induced to suggest this prosecution, but, at the same time, he would beg to ask, did any one expect that any public good would result from the prosecution proposed? So long as those proceedings were confined to a few cases —were confined to individuals of little influence — to the conviction of one or two miserable individuals, no other effect would be produced, than to excite sympathy for the persons charged, and disapprobation for the conduct of those who had selected a few individuals, in order to make a pretended show of hostility to the system of which they were the supporters. It would naturally occur to the public to inquire "if bribes be received, who give them?"and when they looked at the quarter from which the money proceeded, by which guilt was induced, and found, that that House had produced funds to seduce the people whom they afterwards prosecuted, he thought that such an inquiry might well be made. But, first of all, he thought that great practical difficulties stood in the way of the proposition now before the House. The committee who had inquired into this case had presented no individuals to the House by name as having been guilty of bribery, with such evidence as enabled the House to appreciate the probability of conviction; and they were unable, therefore, to point out any individual who should be made the object of any direction which they should give. What means had the Attorney-general to ascertain the probabilities of the case—to call witnesses before him and to examine them? What agents must he employ to effect such an object? What means had he of going or sending into those quarters where inquiries should be made, and of making such an investigation as could enable him to obtain that in- 822 formation which he required? He conceived that it was not the duty of the Attorney-general to persecute individuals —to institute prosecutions without the probability of success. In the case to which he had alluded, he stood in this position, in consequence of the orders of the House. When he examined into the evidence, upon the directions which were given to him to institute a prosecution, he was satisfied that there was no evidence upon which a conviction could be looked for. The orders of the House, however, had been given, and he had thought it right to say that the prosecution should be suspended until he could make a communication to the House upon the subject, for he did not believe that the House had issued the orders which they had given, and that they wished those orders to be carried out without a reasonable ground to expect a conviction. When the House sat again he was out of office, but he had no doubt that the prosecution subsequently instituted was not undertaken without some good reason — upon the ground of some new evidence having been obtained, or of some other circumstances which induced a belief that a conviction would be obtained. The House, before they directed a prosecution, must be convinced that there were reasonable means to induce a belief that the prosecution could be supported. But he was satisfied that the Attorney-general would not have the means in this case of getting at the evidence which was requisite. But supposing that he did possess such means—that he should devote six or nine months to the case, sending down agents to make inquiries, and receiving their report, it was after all upon that mere report that he must act. The last thing which a consul could do was to see any witnesses himself before they came into court; it was considered to be matter of the greatest consequence that this rule should be strictly attended to, because it was natural to suppose that the course of his inquiries would afford the witness the means of knowing the particular part of his evidence which was important, in reference to which, therefore, he might shape his testimony in court either favourably or unfavourably to the prosecuting party, as he might feel disposed; and therefore it was that this rule, which applied to all except witnesses whose testimony was of a scientific character, in respect of which, therefore, it might be desirable that the counsel should 823 obtain some information from him, was strictly adhered to. The Attorney-general, therefore, must act entirely upon report—he would not have any personal means of information. But if, after all, he could do that, which he said the Attorney-general could not, he begged to submit to the House, most respectfully, that considering the reference to a committee which they were about to make for the purpose of inquiry, considering the extent of the system of bribery which had been carried on, this was hardly a fit moment for them to direct such proceedings as were proposed, if they did not also manifest their desire to put down the general system by some legislative measure. The course of defence in the St. Alban's case bad been that bribery was so common in the House of Commons, that nothing but party motives could have induced that prosecution to be directed to be undertaken. Whether the jury adopted that view he would not say; but he must say that nothing could more disparage that House than such a prosecution being ordered. Speeches delivered in that House might be quoted before the jury, which would would rather excite disgust, than any desire to convict; and he thought that what had passed in the present Session even rendered such a prosecution highly inexpedient. Any one sitting in that House during the present Session must have been very much struck with the exhibition of feelings and views—which, if quoted, would tend very little to show a good feeling to be entertained by that House. What had happened? Every committee which had taken any steps with regard to this question had been charged with a vindictive spirit, and had been held up as consisting of persons of illiberal views; while every witness who was made to suffer the displeasure of the House had been regarded as an object of sympathy. If any hon. Member, influenced by the best feelings, deemed himself bound to bring forward the question of bribery, what was the consequence? He was charged with ruining the character of the House, and everything which had tended to impede or to prevent inquiry into the system which had been carried on had been viewed as matter of satisfaction, rather than anything else. If an individual Tendered himself obnoxious to the censure of the House, the greatest degree of anxiety was exhibited until he was delivered from thraldom; and a few days' or hours' con- 824 finement were abundantly sufficient punishment—nay, too much for his offence; and yet the House was to put individuals to great expense, and to the disgrace and harassment of an indictment, although it could not but be seen that the orders by which proceedings were directed could not be the result of a sincere desire that such prosecution should be carried out. He, therefore, hoped that the House would forbear directing any proceedings to be taken in the general terms of this motion, and would forbear to proceed to the cases pointed out, for until it had taken some measures to set itself right in the public mind, by showing that it was sincere, and by punishing, not those who had been guilty of receiving bribes, but those who had furnished the means of bribing, it appeared to him that no practical good could arise from such a proposition as the present, and that every circumstance connected with the subject rendered such a proposition inexpedient. Undoubtedly this was an awful moment for the country— the extent of bribery carried on rendered it fearful, for the House would remember the expression—the prediction of an eminent constitutional writer. He had said that the sign of the ruin of this country would be when the constituency was more corrupt than its representatives. He feared that that was the state of the constituency at the present time, and though he would hold up to censure those who furnished the means of corrupting the people, the disposition to receive bribes was so universal as to leave the constituency in a state very little likely to discharge its duty to the country. In such a case, the prosecution of a few cases would operate with no practical good effect—it would disparage the House rather than raise it in the public estimation, and public justice would not be advanced by the proposition being carried out.
§ The Solicitor-General
perfectly agreed with the greater part of the observations of his hon. and learned Friend who had just spoken, although he was not sure that he should resist the present motion upon the same grounds upon which his hon. and learned Friend had opposed it. It appeared to him to be somewhat extraordinary that this House should say that they would not institute a prosecution, because they thought that a prosecution by the House would have the effect of inducing the jury to acquit the person charged. He was not disposed to agree 825 in this proposition, nor in that which had been held by his hon. and learned Friend, that because bribery was, unfortunately, very general and very extensive at the last election — because they had seen many cases of this nature in that House, therefore that House should take no steps to put down the system until they brought forward some measure for that purpose. And he thought that it would be a very bad thing to hold out impunity to those who might take bribes at an election, and to say that, in the present state of the law, the House was not prepared to direct the Attorney-general to prosecute. He did not think, therefore, that he could agree to resist this motion on these grounds. There was one thing in which they must all agree — in lamenting the extensive nature of the bribery which had existed at the late election; and when his hon. and learned Friend had said that this House had shown no desire to put down this system, he hoped that that was not a true representation of the feelings of the House, for he was sure that there was no hon. Member who was not deeply interested in attaining that object; for he was satisfied that nothing was more likely to injure the constituency and every institution of this country than the general prevalence of bribery. And therefore he did not agree that it was the feeling of that House not to take steps for the prevention of that offence, but, on the contrary, he was sure that as it was the interest, so it was the wish of every hon. Member to adopt some measure to put an end to the continuance of the system which unfortunately prevailed. Now, what was the best course to be taken? With regard to this motion he entertained very serious objections to it. There had been many cases of bribery, and the course had been this. If the case was made out before the committee of the House of Commons, and there was evidence offered, fixing the guilt of that bribery on any one, the invariable practice had been for the committee to make a report, and for the House then to direct the Attorney-general to institute proceedings against that person. But the argument of the right hon. Gentleman had been this that in reading over this evidence with regard to Ipswich, which was now before the House, a great deal of evidence appeared to have been offered of acts of bribery committed by particular individuals, but the right hon. Gentleman 826 could not state himself that the witnesses were worthy of credit, or that the parties had been shown to have been guilty of any offence. But the right hon. Gentleman said, "Let the Attorney-general be directed by the House to take this report, and to investigate these cases, and that the Attorney-general shall exercise his own judgment whether these persons should be prosecuted."But the answer to this was, that the Attorney-General had no means of doing that. He could take the report as it stood, and the evidence which appeared upon the face of it, and he could form a judgment upon it whether it was sufficient to make out the charge; but if he was to examine witnesses—to investigate the matter—to make inquiries— by what means was he to do so? He had no means of compelling witnesses to come before him, or of making a proper investigation. It was true that if the House should direct the Solicitor of the Treasury to proceed to the spot, and to make inquiries, it might be done, and some good result might be expected to be produced. But that was not the motion, and besides it was not usual for the House to adopt that course. The usual course for the House to take was to find whether there was a case against any individual in the report which was made by the committee, and if it was so, to direct a prosecution; and the consequence of proceeding in any other way might be, that the Attorney-General must altogether get rid of the order of the House, or might institute a prosecution which, according to his own views was improper. He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend that it was an injudicious course for the House to take to direct a prosecution to be instituted on light grounds, or in cases where there might be a doubt as to the conviction of the parties charged, and that cases ought to be brought home to the parties charged to induce the House to interfere. He objected, therefore, to the motion that it was contrary to precedent—that it was not in accordance with the usual course—that it supposed a power to exist in the Attorney-general which he did not possess; and he hoped, therefore, that on these grounds his right hon. Friend would consent to withdraw his proposition. But he wished again to guard himself against the supposition of his offering an opposition to this motion on the grounds taken by his hon. and learned Friend. Certainly the House 827 should take every opportunity not only of expressing, but of showing a determination to do what they could to put down this system, and he, as an humble Member of that House, should be most happy to give his assistance to any measure brought forward on either side of the House—either a general legislative measure or otherwise, which might have the effect of putting down or checking this evil. He believed that any measure likely to be attended with any good result would receive the support of his hon. Friends around him, and of the majority of the House. With this feeling, at the same time, he could not support the motion of his right hon. Friend, nor could he believe that it would be attended with any good practical results.
§ Lord John Russell
felt very much the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, but it appeared to him that if the House was inclined to adopt the motion of the right hon. Gentleman, the Attorney-general must take one of the two courses which had been pointed out. The one would be to find such cases as might appear from the report of the election committee, and from the evidence, which in the present instance the right hon. Gentleman did not think was sufficiently strong to induce him to move that the Attorney-general should proceed against any particular individuals, to be likely to be sustained. The House must suppose, however, after what the right hon. Gentleman had said, which he believed to be well founded, that the Attorney-general would not be likely to succeed in any prosecution which he might undertake. It would be a great misfortune if prosecutions, directed by the authority of that House, should be found to rest on such grounds, that the Judge should say that there was not sufficient evidence to support them, or that the jury should arrive at the same conclusion, and he was sure that the House would not willingly order such prosecutions. But there was another course which the Attorney-general might take. He might apply to the Treasury, and might say that he had not sufficient means himself to direct the investigation, and he might desire that, as in some cases of some prosecutions for crimes, such as riots and so on, the solicitor of the Treasury should be directed to inquire what evidence could be produced against whatever parties there 828 might be who were supposed to be guilty of bribery. Now, he did not say that the House might not, on consideration and deliberation, think that such a course was expedient, but on the first view of the matter, he was not prepared to adopt such a line of proceeding; because they must of course suppose that the Government, and the Attorney-general, acting under the direction of the Government, could not be without some bias with respect to the great party struggles in boroughs in political elections, and it would be rather a dangerous precedent for the House to adopt, to say that an officer appointed by the Crown should determine that with respect to certain individuals there should be a prosecution, and that with respect to others, both being charged with the same offence, there should not be a prosecution, even without saying that there would be partiality in the execution of that power. Yet, if it should be found that a prosecution was directed against a Liberal attorney, or tradesman, and the Tory attorney, or tradesman, was not prosecuted, it was obvious that there might be conclusions drawn, although there were no grounds for supposing that it had been done from feelings of political partisanship. He thought, therefore, that it was inexpedient to take the course proposed. He certainly could not agree with all that had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Worcester, for he could not agree that that House should at once admit that there were any views in that House favourable to bribery, and that therefore they were unfit to direct a prosecution to be instituted. Hitherto, when any persons had been found to be guilty of bribery, he had always been ready to concur in a vote that directions should be given for a prosecution to be instituted; and there was great danger in the admission that they were not as competent as ever to direct prosecutions in such cases. But there were some grounds for saying that there had been occasions on which the House had shown some favour to parties who had been examined before committees of the House, and he must refer to what had occurred in one case, because the course which had been taken in that case had somewhat surprised him. He had been in the House when the hon. and learned Member for Woodstock had given notice of a particular motion. There had been a case with respect to a particular 829 witness, who was supposed to have refused to answer questions, and the chairman of the committee had stated to the House that the committee thought it would be advisable that he should be retained in custody until the Monday following. He had concluded that the House would agree in the opinion expressed by the committee, as they usually had done, and the hon. and learned Gentleman said that at the next meeting of the House he should move the liberation of the person referred to. It had occurred to him at the moment to ask whether, by the term "the next meeting,"the hon. and learned Gentleman meant the Monday following, this having occurred on Saturday, but he thought that to put such a question would look so much as if he suspected the hon. Gentleman of unfair dealing, that he resolved to abstain from putting it, upon the supposition that he could not mean any other day. He subsequently learned, however, that late in the night, and towards one o'clock in the morning, a motion was made that the House, instead of adjourning until Monday, should adjourn only to Saturday, and on Saturday, at two o'clock in the day, the witness, whom the committee had decided should be kept in custody until the following Monday, was liberated. Nothing, he thought, could be more gross and partial than this conduct. Many hon. Members might have left town very early on the Saturnine morning, under the impression that the House had adjourned to Monday, and thus surreptitiously, and without any notice, it had been resolved that the House should meet on the Saturday, and when the House did meet, that this witness should be discharged. If he had been on that committee, he confessed that he should have felt that the House was not prepared to support any witness who gave evidence of acts of bribery—that in this case the House had favoured bribery, and that wherever a witness refused to give evidence with regard to that offence, he might look to be screened from punishment by that House. If there had been the intention of acting fairly, due notice should have been given, and the hon. and learned Gentleman should have distinctly stated that he intended to move that the House should meet on Saturday. This would have been the course consistently with common fairness; be, therefore, thought that his hon. and learned Friend 830 was justified in saying that there was a disposition in that House to screen witnesses in particular cases. He agreed with the Solicitor-general as to the inexpediency of adopting the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Thesiger
was perfectly astonished at the course the noble Lord had thought proper to pursue, upon a totally different subject, without the slightest notice to him (Mr. Thesiger) —without giving him the least intimation. The noble Lord had thought proper to advert to the circumstances that had occurred in a former debate—a most irregular course; and, above all, a debate in which he had taken occasion to explain, as he thought, to the satisfaction of the House, his conduct with regard to the motion for the release of the witness. The noble Lord not being in his place at the time, and not having heard the explanation he had given, chose to bring forward a charge again, when, as he understood, the whole matter had been satisfactorily explained and settled. It would, therefore, be necessary for him to explain again, rather for the satisfaction of the noble Lord than that of the House, what was the course he had proposed with regard to the release of that witness. The noble Lord was mistaken in supposing, that the witness had been ordered to be imprisoned till Monday. The committee directed, that he should be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms; and they then reported to the House, that he had suppressed certain documents, which he had been served with an order to produce, and which he did not bring before the committee. The matter was adjourned on the suggestion that the warrant was illegal. He entertained a very strong notion on the subject, and he thought it his duty, therefore, to come down to the House prepared with a notice for the release of the witness, who had been, in his opinion, illegally detained. He inquired who was to move the usual adjournment of the House from Friday till Monday, and was informed by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he should make the motion. He immediately gave him notice of his intention to oppose that motion, and to move, that the House do meet on Saturday, and at the time, he believed, that the motion would be made at an early period of the evening, when the House would be full, and that he should have an opportunity of 831 bringing before the House the question whether they would detain a witness for a length of time illegally, or whether they would meet for his discharge the following day. His right hon. Friend told him, that he should not move the adjournment at the usual time, because it would interfere with a question which he was anxious to bring before the House. It was, therefore, merely by an accident, that the subject, and, of course, his motion to meet on Saturday, had been thrown back to a later period. He had given notice of his intention to every hon. Member on his side of the House. [Cheers.] Hon. Members should not cheer so soon, for he was about to add, that he had given notice to hon. Members also on the other side. His hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Cirencester, could inform the noble Lord, that he had communicated the fact to several hon. Members on the other side that it was his intention to oppose the adjournment of the House to Monday. The Chairman of committees had said, that he was aware of his intention to do so, and, therefore, he thought he was justified in saying that he had given every public notice in his power, and that every one was prepared for an opposition to the usual motion. He thought it was rather hard that the noble Lord should, at that late period, come forward to charge him with having been guilty of bringing forward the motion surreptitiously, and with unfair conduct in moving the adjournment of the House to Saturday. He thought he had justified the course he had pursued, and he had trusted the noble Lord would have been generous enough, not to have taken that opportunity of bringing a charge against him, as he might have alluded to the explanation of his conduct which he had given, or he might have received it from hon. Members on his side of the House. That being wholly beside the subject matter of the present debate, he certainly did not intend to have said a word on the present occasion, but having been so pointedly referred to by the noble Lord, he could not avoid giving this explanation. With reference to the present question, he would observe, that it struck him, that it would be very inconvenient, if the House were to direct prosecutions to be instituted for bribery on the grounds suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. He had a great objection to the House directing proceedings in such cases. He 832 did not think it correct, and he doubted whether it were a constitutional mode of proceeding. He did not think any prosecution should be instituted on light and trifling grounds. There should be the clearest evidence, that the parties, if they were placed at the bar of a court of justice would be convicted by a jury. In all cases where a jury looked upon a prosecution as being instituted from political motives, it became most objectionable. He thought, also, that it was derogatory to the dignity of the House to delegate its authority to another individual, by directing the Solicitor of the Treasury, or any party, to procure evidence against the parties concerned.
§ Lord J. Russell,
in explanation, said he was not aware, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had communicated his intention to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any other Member of the House. What he complained of was, that it had not been openly announced to the House, because he should have opposed the adjournment of the House to Saturday, and instead of leaving the House at 12 o'clock, he should have remained, and he believed many other hon. Members left the House, without being aware of the hon. and learned Gentleman's intentions.
§ Sir C. Napier
was one of the majority who supported the adjournment of the House to Saturday, and his reason was not to protect or favour a man who had been guilty of bribery, but because he had heard the Attorney-general declare, that the warrant was illegal. He thought it his duty, therefore, to support the motion. Nay, he had done more, for he had moved the immediate discharge of the witness; and in doing that he had been charged with having made the most unjustifiable motion, that had ever been submitted to that House.
was anxious to say a word with regard to the interlocutory debate that had been introduced. He begged to say, that on the Friday night, when the motion was made by his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Woodstock, his hon. and learned Friend had given an explanation, which he considered, so far as his hon. and learned Friend was concerned, perfectly satisfactory. But inasmuch as the House was then very thin, his hon. and learned Friend repeated his explanation the following day, and then also it appeared to 833 be satisfactory. He had certainly differed from his hon. and learned Friend on the motion for adjournment till Saturday, but with regard to the course his hon. and learned Friend had adopted, he thought the explanation then for the third time given was perfectly satisfactory. He was satisfied, that his hon. and learned Friend had given all the notice in his power. With regard to juries being influenced by the fact of the prosecutions having been instituted by order of that House, he doubted it very much, and he did not think they were influenced by any such feeling. As to the case to which reference had been made, the House should bear in mind that one of the witnesses had been recently confined in a lunatic asylum, and that the other was familiarly called by a name intimating an utter want of veracity. The House had no more right, in his opinion, to call in question the verdict of a jury, than to call in question the conduct of a judge, except in the regular and constitutional way. The present motion was one which called upon the Attorney-general to use the discretion, and exercise the judgment of the House of Commons; it was placing him in a position to do what was the duty of the House itself; and, although he should not shrink from the honest discharge of whatever duty might be cast upon him, he should protest against being placed in so delicate and responsible a position, unless there was some very strong case calling for it. Nothing but respect for his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Worcester, had induced him to go on with the prosecution of Swan. That prosecution had been instituted from the report of the committee laid before the House; but it had been carried on from information derived from other quarters. The House was not sitting at the time; but he was not sure whether, had the House been then sitting, he should not have felt it his duty to have come down and made a communication to it on the subject. He believed great inconvenience would arise from the House directing prosecutions to be instituted without being sure of its ground, because it would be a sort of inducement to other persons to fish for evidence against the parties selected for prosecution. He trusted, under these circumstances, his right hon. Friend would not press his motion, but withdraw it, when he could bring it forward again, 834 naming the individuals, where there was a certainty of the charge of bribery being brought home against them.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, even if the right hon. Gentleman made out a clear case of bribery, he should not support his motion. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Worcester, that the House did not stand sufficiently high in public estimation, and was not in such good dour, as to enable them to bring forward prosecutions like the present with any chance of success. In the last Session of Parliament, the House had directed that Dr. Webster, of St. Albans, should be prosecuted for bribery. What occurred? Previous to its being instituted, it was staled that a most disgraceful compromise had been entered into between the two places against which petitions had been presented—namely, Canterbury and St. Alban's; and it was arranged that the petitions in both these cases—although, had they been proceeded with, it was quite clear, from what had transpired, that the allegations would have been proved, and that neither of these hon. Members had any right to sit in that House for the remainder of the Session—it was arranged that the petitions should be withdrawn, and a most corrupt compromise had been clearly entered into, much worse than any of the cases that had been brought forward during the present Session. What was the consequence? Dr. Webster was prosecuted, but the public looking at the tainted source from whence such prosecutions emanated, considered all men so prosecuted more as martyrs than as criminals. What did the mayor of St. Alban's, Mr. Rumbold, say when the statement was made of money being brought by the man termed "Lying Adams?" By the way the Attorney-general had admitted that there was no doubt about the character of the man, but the House should have known it when it instituted the inquiry. The mayor said he was surprised at the occurrence of money being shown on the hustings, but not at hearing that bribery had been practised in town. Baron Alderson said,You were not surprised at bribery being carried on, but at its being publicly admitted?"(and the answer of the witness was) "Just so.The judge, at the conclusion of the trial, said it behoved the jury to come to a fair decision between the Crown and 835 the parties before it; but that as for a reading a lesson to any other persons besides themselves, by the decision which they should pronounce, it was extremely idle. The jury retired for three quarters of an hour, and then delivered a verdict of "Not Guilty,"which was hailed with loud and long-continued cheers. That was the result of the right hon. Gentleman's last motion for prosecuting one of the individuals who had been pronounced by a committee of that House guilty of bribery. Such motions as these were perfectly useless, and as the hon. and learned Member for Worcester had said, if they hoped to bolster up the system by such measures as these, they would signally fail. Nothing would do to secure public respect for that House but an entire remodelling its framework, and extending the class of electors by whom its Members were to be returned. He should vote against the motion, because he considered it partial and most unjust.
§ Mr. Darby
said, that two of the witnesses on the trial alluded to had not given their evidence in a satisfactory manner, and a jury might be unwilling to convict upon their testimony. They had, however, stated that they had received bribes from a certain medical gentleman, and that gentleman having corroborated their evidence to a certain point, refused to answer the question whether he had given them money lest he should criminate himself. Thus, although there was in the case sufficient to enable a committee of that House to come to a conscientious conclusion, yet there would be a difficulty when it came to a prosecution; because, if the proceedings were instituted against the two persons who had received the bribes, there would be no evidence against them but that of the medical gentleman; and if the latter were made the object of prosecution, the only testimony tending to inculpate him would be that of the two who had received the money.
§ Mr. Smythe
said, he was not cognisant of any compromise having taken place in the Canterbury case, and never was more agreeably surprised than by hearing on the morning when the petition was to have been tried, that it was abandoned. He had reason to complain of the manner in which the hon. Member for Finsbury had spoken of the gross bribery, as it was called, at Canterbury. That hon. Member would think it hard, if he accused him of 836 exercising corrupt influence in the borough of Finsbury; and yet he had as much right to make such an attack as the hon. Gentleman had.
said, that Canterbury and St. Alban's might settle their accounts as well as they could, but the worst of it was, that there had been a great deal of bribery which it would seem was not known to the Gentlemen in that House. He was sorry it was not in his power to support the motion of the right hon. Gentleman. The public were persuaded that there never had been so much corruption and bribery as at the last election; and every Gentleman who spoke in that House acknowledged that it had not been confined to either party, but had been most impartially shared by both. The right hon. Gentleman was anxious to find a remedy for the evil. There were means of facilitating the punishment of bribery, and thus preventing the practice. There had been an act passed requiring committees to inquire into charges of bribery without first establishing agency, and thus getting rid of the obstacles which had formerly existed on account of the difficulty of defining what was agency; but the House had not gone far enough. The refusal of a party to criminate himself was the great impediment to justice. Why did not the Attorney-general— no man was more competent—bring in a bill to indemnify witnesses who gave evidence before committees. He belonged to a Government which was powerful enough to carry such a measure, and while that step was not taken, however sincere, and however creditable the intentions of Gentlemen might be, the public would not give credit to them. By taking such a course, they would have men of the first rank in the country in the box, if they meddled in this dirty work, and it was impossible that such an amount of bribery should have taken place without many who were there listening to him having been deeply involved in it. If they neglected the course he pointed out they would have, in addition to the public opinion of universal bribery, a persuasion that those who condemned it were yet ready to avail themselves of its results. He opposed the motion, because he did not think it would lead to a useful result, being directed against the lower classes—the poor wretches who received bribes, and would not touch the miscreants who gave them.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, it would be right to facilitate investigation into cases of bribery so far as was consistent with justice, but it was a dangerous doctrine to lay down that those who received bribes should escape with impunity because those who administered bribes were also culpable. Where bribery was found to have long existed amongst a constituency of 300 or 400 persons, he did not think the offence was justified or palliated by the position of the parties; and if the House could select some few instances for prosecuting with success those who had been guilty of receiving bribes, he thought it would be a just punishment to the individuals, and a useful example to the constituent body at large. The hon. Gentleman opposite, it seemed, had expended 30,000l. at elections, and that large outlay might go a considerable way towards explaining the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm on the subject. The question was not without difficulty, but he owned he thought the arguments were rather against prosecuting. They bad the authority of great legal opinions against it; but, independently of that, there were other considerations which led him to think it not expedient. He objected to the Treasury taking persons opposed to them in politics and sending them to trial, which he thought would be very unjust, and would give to the counsel on the trial the ground of a powerful appeal to the jury. It would be a very unfortunate result if such proceedings should fail from the weakness of the law against bribery, or the want of power of the House of Commons to bring such offences to justice; and as he could not consent to the Treasury finding additional evidence, and as he felt the difficulty of prosecution, he thought on the whole the arguments were in favour of abstaining from it. As to the statements that there had been more extensive bribery at the last than at any former election, and that a million and a half had been expended upon it, he believed there never was a more unfounded assertion. The hon. and learned Member for Cork said, that alterations had recently been made in the law for the purpose of facilitating the proof of bribery by enabling committees to take evidence of bribery without proof of agency. Now, by whom was that measure originated? By the House of Commons; and the House of Commons went much further, and he, therefore, did not think that House could 838 be justly charged with a desire to shield persons guilty of bribery. On the eve of a general election, the House of Commons sent up to the Lords a bill which dispensed with agency, and contained other enactments which were objected to as much loo stringent. Therefore, he said, it was not just to make a charge of connivance against the present parties in that House. He should be sorry if an impression were produced in any constituent body, high or low, that that House was unwilling to prosecute in clear cases. He could never consent to forego prosecution on that ground, but as the noble Lord had given notice of a bill for facilitating inquiry, and as an hon. and learned Member had a motion for inquiry into five different cases, —as there was also a bill on the votes, having for its object the prevention of bribery, he thought, considering that these were all measures of a general tendency, they had better wait the result of the discussions upon them than institute a prosecution against individuals. He acknowledged that he came to this conclusion with reluctance and doubt, for he thought it would be very unfortunate if it were supposed that the House abstained from prosecuting in a clear case of bribery, where the parties implicated belonged to the upper classes, and it would be a very dangerous doctrine to encourage that the particular class to which the party belonged could in any degree palliate the offence. With regard to a question put to him as to the working of the present system of committees, he certainly had not had much leisure this Session to attend to the proceedings of election committees, but taking these two instances, he had never seen fairer tribunals, as shown both by their proceedings and their results. In the Ipswich case there was not a vote come to by the committee which could be impugned as being influenced by motives of partiality—which did not, on the contrary, show that party considerations had been entirely excluded —and with regard to the final resolutions, in one case the sitting Members were unseated, and declared to have been guilty by their agents of bribery. In the case of Southampton, that resolution was carried by a majority of six to one, and in the Ipswich case, the decision which unseated the sitting Members was unanimous. Judging, therefore, by the ten our of their proceedings, and by their resolutions, he 839 must say that, notwithstanding all he had heard this Session, he was not unfavorable to that jurisdiction, for he thought the committees had shown a strong desire to investigate cases of bribery, and, at least in these two cases, they had come to decisions excluding all party considerations.
§ Mr. W. O. Stanley
had given notice of a motion to suspend the writ for Southampton, on the ground that a great deal had taken place into which the committee were not able to inquire, in consequence of a witness, named Wren, having refused to give certain evidence, and respecting which it was necessary that an inquiry should be instituted.
§ Mr. Hume
believed that a sufficient number of Members to turn the majority of this House—though he would not say all—had been returned by bribery. No effectual remedy had yet been proposed, and he asked if the House were disposed to sit down quietly, with the feeling at present existing in the country that they were not disposed to check bribery. The public believed that hon. Members were averse to adopt a remedy, that they were not desirous of doing that which was necessary to purify this House, and that if they singled out a few victims for punishment their consciences were satisfied. Let there be an extension of the suffrage, let them adopt the vote by ballot, and a stringent act against bribery and corruption, then address the Queen to dissolve Parliament, and go to a new election, and the country would be satisfied.
§ Mr. Escott
thought the hon. Member for Montrose had furnished the key by which he and other hon. Members hoped to accomplish their object of altering the constitution, and that was to diminish the confidence of the public in Parliament. The reason given by the hon. Member for Worcester against prosecuting persons for bribery was, that bribery was so common. In that opinion he did not agree, but he took the same view of the question as the right hon. Gentleman and the Solicitor-general. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had stated that there were instances of Members of this House having been returned by bribery, and he would endeavor to purify the assembly and remove the stain attaching to it; but he did not think that object was to be effected by the proposition of the right hon. Member for Montgomery. Could 840 not the two committees on the Southampton and Ipswich elections tell who had been guilty of bribery. Surely nothing would be easier than to get from the committees, which had declared that the last elections for these boroughs were void on the ground of bribery, who those individuals were who had received and paid the bribes. And he wanted to know why the right hon. Gentleman, in framing the motion, had not framed it with a view to the prosecution of the individuals who must have been proved before those committees to have been guilty of bribery. If the motion had been so framed, he should have given it his support; but as it was framed in so general a way, without knowing who the Attorney-general was to prosecute, he must give it his opposition.
said, the misfortune of such a motion as this was, that it led to a discussion upon bribery in general, instead of confining their deliberations, as it ought, to the important matter before the House. For his own part, he thought it was quite useless to agitate the House on the general subject. He feared it was not so much the Members of that House as the electoral bodies who were tainted with corruption. He did believe that the constituent bodies were not sufficiently alive to the sacred character of the trust reposed in them by the act which gave them the power of electing representatives. It was the duty of the House to endeavourer to cure this fault by kindling a better feeling among the electors. This, how-ever, was scarcely the best way to set about their task. Indeed, he could not disguise from himself that the motion before them was wholly insufficient to act as a check upon bribery. If they would effect that desirable end, they must probe the very root of the system. They must set to work and repeal past laws and enact new ordinances capable to meet the practice in all its ramifications. At present the laws were all but inoperative for the prevention of bribery. Let them take an instance in point from the law against the distribution of election rib ands. It was well known that formerly immense sums were spent by candidates in giving rib ands to their Friends. Many candidates had spent as much as 800l. at a time in the distribution of these favours; or rather in taking off the old stocks of the riband manufacturers, who, it was notorious, dyed and made up their old and dirty ribands 841 for electioneering purposes. Well, a very salutary law was passed to prevent the use of these ribands, but the statute was wholly inoperative. And why? Simply because the drawer of the bill forgot to insert a provision giving costs to the prosecutor, so that no one would attempt to put down the system, because he was certain of being called upon to pay for it. Then, when they talked of bribery, what did they say of treating? Treating had been determined to be bribery in another form, but he would venture to say that there was not at the present day a committee to be collected in the House who could draw the line between the legitimate and illegitimate treating. The fact was, that bribery and treating were looked on through-out the country just as smuggling and poaching were regarded by a certain class of the population. People said, "There is no moral offence in these practices; the acts to put them down are tyrannical—let us combine to render them ineffectual."There was no Member probably in the House who had not proved these facts in the course of his own experience. If people did not want to be bribed in one way, they required to be bribed in another. Every one knew that constituents were constantly coming to Members and applying for places, or some other favour, saying, "Sir, I served you, now you must serve me."It was for the House to inculcate the salutary maxim, that a vote given in the administration of a great political trust was not to be looked on as a personal or party service. He would not undertake to say what steps they ought to take to enforce this salutary doctrine; but it was clear that something they must do. Whether they were to aim at increasing the education of the people, or to endeavourer to show, by their own conduct, that they were acting on patriotic and not on party principles, what remedial measures they were to take, he did not know, and would not attempt to determine; but he was sure, if something was not done, and that very speedily, no one would believe that they were serious in the condemnation or anxious to put a stop to the practice.
§ Mr. Wakley,
since he had sat in that House, had heard more debates on this, perhaps, than on any other subject. He was always hearing Members expressing an anxiety to put an end to such immoral practices, but he could not find what they had done to insure a practical remedy. In 842 fact, the evil arose out of that assembly itself. It was an evil of the law under which elections took place, that bribery, intimidation, and treating prevailed. Why, they began with money, and it was nothing but money throughout. They established qualifications of 300l. for one class of representatives, and 600l. for another, estimating the value of a man, in fact, not by his worth or attainments, but by his cash in hand. They carried the same principle down to the constituent bodies. They said to one, you shall have a vote because you hold a house at a rental of 10l. a-year, to another you shall not have a vote because you only pay 9l. 10s. So long as such a system continued, bribery would prevail, and let him tell them, intimidation would prevail too, so long as they refused the voter an adequate protection against those who had the power to coerce him. They knew well enough that the richer men would influence their tenants. They knew that a 50l. tenant at will must vote as his landlord desired him— that money would have its power— that wealth would have its sway, and would exercise its influence over the result of a contest. What a mockery was it, then, to say that they disliked corruption, when they knew that so long as they continued the system so long the practice would exist. He was satisfied that whilst they refused an extension of the suffrage, a re-distribution of the suffrage, and the protection of the ballot, so long would all they did be regarded as a delusion on the public, and a perfect mockery in the face of the people.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
was surprised to find, from what had fallen from the hon. Member, that he had so soon forgotten all the benefits that were to accrue from the Reform Bill of ten years since—from that glorious measure which was to make our constituencies miracles of purity—to render our elective system bright and radiant in the eyes of the whole world—which was, in fact, to change England into a perfect Utopia. With such a glorious system in operation, against what was the hon. Member vociferating? The hon. Member for Weymouth had, in his observations, furnished the House with materials for thinking, and not for acting. It would be well to ascertain distinctly what was to be considered a bribe. A bribe depended much upon the relative position of the parties offering or accepting it. In some 843 instances an invitation might be considered a bribe; in others an appointment to a commissionership, a tide-waitership, or some other office. In his opinion, bribery consisted in corrupt motive, and anything was a bribe which had the effect of inducing a man to vote against his conscience. But how was a knowledge of this to be acquired? It might not be difficult to trace a 5l. note hidden under a plate, but how were they to trace other inducements which were not of so tangible a nature? As regarded the motion before the House, he concurred with the high legal authorities who had spoken upon the subject, that to press it on would be highly inexpedient.
§ Mr. Williams Wynn
said, that as the feeling of the House seemed to be against him, he would not press the motion, notwithstanding that the committee had made their report upon good grounds, and such as warranted him in bringing the subject before the House. It had been said, that in cases like the present it would be idle to proceed against individuals, but it appeared to him that it was only by such proceedings the law could be vindicated. Where was the use of passing acts of Parliament unless means were taken to enforce them.
§ Motion withdrawn.