HC Deb 01 August 1843 vol 71 cc91-8
Colonel Rushbrooke

, after a few observations which were inaudible in the gallery, moved that a new writ be issued for the borough of Sudbury.

Mr. Blackstone

expressed his regret at being obliged to interfere with his hon. Friend's motion, but a sense of duty compelled him. It was his intention to move as an amendment the motion which had formerly been submitted to the House by the hon. Member for Devonport, not now in his place—namely, for a commission to inquire on the spot as to the bribery alleged to have been committed in Sudbury. It would be recollected by the House that a bill had passed through that House to disfranchise the borough, which was founded on a report of a committee that gross, systematic, and extensive bribery prevailed in the borough. He did not state himself that gross and systematic bribery prevailed, but that was the conclusion of the committee, on which the bill for disfranchising the borough was founded. It received support from both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government saw reason to believe that the report of the committee was well founded. In his opinion, there were but few cases of bribery actually proved, and not enough to justify the disfranchisement of the borough. It appeared by the evidence, that Mr. Joseph Parkes, the agent for the petitioners said, that if he made out all his case, he should not prove above 120, or at most 160, persons guilty of bribery. But the whole number of electors was 594; so that, far from proving the case against a majority of the electors, it could not be proved against one third of them. He doubted whether bribery could be distinctly brought home to more than ten or twelve individuals. The evidence, however, satisfied the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and he gave his support to the bill for disfranchising the borough. The Lords were completely justified, he thought, from the evidence adduced before them, in dismissing the bill. It bad been then decided in that House that they should institute a more stringent inquiry into the corruption at Sudbury. He desired that there should be a body of commissioners to repair to the spot, and there examine witnesses, and collect evidence, so as to lay sufficient grounds before the House for the course it ought to adopt. The commission might lead to the disfranchisement of the borough, or to extend its limits, and admit a few farmers to the franchise. The hon. Member concluded by moving, as an amendment, that leave be given to bring in a bill to appoint a commission to enquire into the alleged bribery at Sudbury.

Sir G. Grey

rose, having supported an exactly similar motion when it was made by his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Tufnell), he wished to state some of the reasons which he thought should induce the House to support the amendment in preference to the original motion. There was no direct opposition offered to the motion of his hon. Colleague, but the right hon. Member for Montgomery, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, thought that an inquiry by a commission would not be the best course, and they recommended that an inquiry should be made into the circumstances attending the progress and abandonment of the bill in the House of Lords. That inquiry took place. The report and the evidence were now before the House, and from that hon. Gentlemen might form their own opinions. No one, he drought, could doubt that, by the consent of both parties, evidence had been withheld for the express purpose of defeating the bill, in order that they might have what was called a dry election: that was, that each party should retain one Member—that there should be no direct bribery, but that the candidates should lay down a certain sum, in order to pay the outstanding expenses, which the committee of that House had denounced as gross and systematic bribery. If the writ were to be issued, then the House would stultify itself, and would give to Sudbury a Member for each party, without the perils of an election. The hon. Gentleman who had brought forward the amendment, had scarcely dealt fairly with the evidence given before the committee, on which the disfranchisement bill was founded. Although it was true, that not above six or eight cases of direct bribery were proved, yet it was shown by the evidence that there was a stream of voters going to an inn, and into a particular room in that inn at Sudbury; that they carried tickets with them, and in that room the tickets were changed for gold. According to the evidence before the committee, that could not be connected with the agents of either party. He believed, however, if that evidence had been all carried to the bar of the House of Lords, it would have failed to substantiate the bribery, because the agents employed were persons not connected with the borough, and it was a curious matter that not a fragment of documentary evidence could be obtained. He thought, he repeated, that the House would stultify itself, and encourage bribery if it were now to issue a writ, and were not to send a commission to the spot to collect evidence. For these reasons he should support the amendment of the hon. Member for Wallingford.

Sir Robert Inglis

did not rise to question the statement of his right hon. Friend, and he agreed with him the object of the parties in abandoning the disfranchising bill was, that at the next election a member of each polical party should be returned for the borough without any conflict; still he questioned the practical result of the motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Blackstone). Seventeen months ago a committee reported strongly against the borough, and the House on that report refused to issue a writ for the borough. At the beginning of the Session a new writ was moved for by the hon. and gallant Member who now made the motion. That motion was negatived and a bill passed to disfranchise the borough, which was sent to the House of Lords. There the case broke down in one day. Subsequently the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Devonport, proposed a com- mission and another right hon. Gentleman proposed a committe to inquire into the rejection of the bill by the House of Lords. He did not say, as he had been misunderstood to say, that the mere assertion of any hon. Member that there existed bribery in a particular borough, would justify the House in refusing to issue a new writ in respect to that borough. Such a doctrine would have been contrary to all the rules of Parliament. What he stated on a late occasion, or meant to state, was that, when a vacancy had been declared, in the borough of Sudbury, for example, on the ground of bribery, and when an hon. Gentleman alleged that he had primâ facie evidence of such general corruption in that borough as would require further measures, and that on such evidence he would bring them forward, accordingly, the House would not at once under such circumstances issue the writ. But in the case of Sudbury, the process had been gone through. It was said that great corruption prevailed—hereditary corruption. But they were to look at the last election, and not go back for a century, and the evidence to prove bribery at the last election had failed. The process now proposed by his hon. Friend would not collect any evidence that would influence the House of Lords. He believed it would not advance the case a single step, and for those reasons he preferred the motion of the hon. and gallant officer to the amendment of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Gill

having been a member of the committee which sat for eight days, was convinced that there was a great deal of bribery at Sudbury. There was a stream of voters as described by the right hon. Member for Devonport, who were no doubt paid for their votes. He said it would be most unwise to issue the writ, and he should support the motion of the hon. Member for Wallingford.

Dr. Nicholl

supported the motion of the hon. Member for Wallingford. The agents had admitted that the bill had failed because they did not produce the evidence which might satisfy the House of Lords. He believed, however, that a commission sent down on the spot might collect evidence which would satisfy the judgment of the House of Lords. He did not despair, if such a commission were appointed of discovering the individuals who paid the money. He spoke, he believed, the sentiments of his Friends behind him, as well as his own, when he said he should support the amendment.

Sir Robert Peel

had given his vote on a former occasion, without hesitation, in favour of the bill for the disfranchisement of the borough of Sudbury. He found the bill was recommended by the report of a committee of that House, and the evidence taken before it, and on that evidence he had formed his own conclusion. After having read that evidence he thought it was impossible not to believe that the electors of Sudbury had been guilty of many acts of corruption which had been distinctly proved. He had acted judicially, and had formed his judgment from the evidence given before the proper tribunal. The hon. Member for Wallingford drew a different conclusion from his, but men had different minds, and he thought the evidence given before the committee justified the conclusion to which he came. But the bill failed before the House of Lords. The House was not satisfied with that, and he had supported the motion for a committee to ascertain the causes of the failure. From the report of that committee and the evidence it was impossible not to see that the cause of the failure was a compromise between the parties. He was convinced then that were they to allow of a new election, they would only promote corruption, and enable the electors again to evade the law. He feared that the result would be of the same nature as the result of former elections. The House had adopted the opinion that gross bribery and corruption had prevailed, but the evidence had not satisfied the House of Lords; and he despaired, from the nature of the subject, that the commission would be able to collect evidence to satisfy that House of the existence of gross bribery and corruption. He must say that the evidence taken before the committee to inquire into the causes of the failure of the bill had thrown some light on the transactions both in Sudbury and other boroughs. Strangers, it appeared, were employed to carry on the bribery. This was done at Stafford. In one borough these strangers were called the "men in the moon," and in another "rats". These strangers were employed in order to stifle all inquiry, and that no person connected with the borough should be implicated. The House of Commons had decided, if not unanimously, by a very great majority, that gross bribery had been practised at Sudbury; and a further inquiry might bring forward more proofs of those excesses. At the same time he was not very confident of the success of the commission. He was speaking as an individual, not as the organ of the Government, and he was stating only his own conclusions. He was not referring to the other branch of the Legislature, he was speaking as an individual Member of the House of Commons, and considering what was proper for the House of Commons. It appeared to be expected that, from a local inquiry, carried on by commissioners, great good effects would result. He very much feared that the commission would be defeated by the same artifices which had before been employed, and that it would have no better effect than other inquiries which had failed. He admitted that the borough was entitled to no favour, and he was convinced that it was right to exhaust the means of inquiry before they consented to issuing the writ. He repeated, he was not confident of success, but still he hoped that by sanctioning the motion something might be done. He was convinced that it was necessary in order to preserve the authority of Parliament that these cases of bribery should be investigated. There were demands for changes in the constitution, and he believed that he was doing more to prevent those changes and preserve the Constitution by promoting inquiry into all such cases of bribery, than by any other course he could pursue. On these grounds he should support the motion for a commission, and adopt a different conclusion from the hon. Member who moved for the issue of the writ.

Mr. Ellice

had heard with pleasure the language of the right hon. Gentleman, and although he agreed on the whole with the right hon. Gentleman, he had more hopes than him from an inquiry on the spot. He reminded the House of the conduct of the other House with respect to that bill, which had received the unanimous assent of the House of Commons. The House of Lords had acted in the same manner with regard to the borough of Stafford. In the case of Sudbury, when the bill was only a bill of indemnity for witnesses, the other House had refused to assent to it. In the case of the borough of Stafford they had refused to assent to the bill, though corruption at the last and previous elections had been fully proved, and the borough of Stafford continued to practise all its ancient bribery. He supported the motion for the commission.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that what the House of Lords had done in the case of Sudbury, they had also done in the cases of Stafford, Warwick, and Hertford. The House of Commons had partially disfranchised Hertford and Stafford by suspending the writs in 1833; but the Lords had thrown out the bills, and those boroughs had returned Members to Parliament at the general election of 1835. The House was not to follow the hon. Member for Oxford, and ought not to be bound by the opinion of the House of Lords.

Mr. Greene

observed that the House of Lords could only be bound by the evidence produced before them, and their proceedings could not be regulated by that which had been given before the House of Commons. It was admitted by the counsel, Mr. Cockburn, that he could not make out a case of general bribery.

The House divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the question.—Ayes 25; Noes 138: Majority 113.

List of the AYES.
Allix, J. P. O'Brien, A. S.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Polhill, F.
Broadley, H. Pollington, Visct.
Broadwood, H. Round, C. G.
Darby, G. Scarlett, hon. R. C.
Forman, T. S. Sheppard, T.
Hamilton, G. A. Sibthorp, Col.
Henley, J. W. Taylor, E.
Hodgson, R. Thornhill, G.
Hussey, T. Trotter, J.
Ingestre, Visct. Waddington, H. S.
Knight, F. W. TELLERS.
Mackenzie, T. Rushbrooke, Col.
Mundy, E. M. Inglis, Sir R. H.
List of the NOES.
Acton, Col. Cavendish, hon. G. H.
Adare, Visct. Christie, W. D.
Aldam, W. Clerk, Sir G.
Archbold, R. Codrington, Sir W.
Bankes, G. Colebrooke, Sir T. E.
Barclay, D. Collett, J.
Barnard, E. G. Corry, rt. hon. H.
Barrington, Visct. Cowper, hon. W. F.
Bernal, R. Cripps, W.
Blewitt, R. J. Dick, Q.
Boldero, H. G. Dickinson, F. H.
Borthwick, P. Disraeli, B.
Bowes, J. Dodd, G.
Bramston, T. W. Douglas, Sir II.
Brooke, Sir A. B. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Brotherton, J. Duncombe, T.
Buller, C. Duncombe, hon. A.
Buller, E. Duncombe, hon. O.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Ebrington, Visct.
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. Eliot, Lord
Ellice, rt. hon. E. Napier, Sir C.
Ellis, W. Neeld, J.
Escott, B. Newdigate, C. N.
Esmonde, Sir T. Nicholl. rt hon. J.
Estcourt, T. G. B. O'Brien, W. S.
Ewart, W. O'Connell, M. J.
Fielden, J. O'Conor Don
Flower, Sir J. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Follett, Sir W. W. Palmer, G.
Forster, M. Palmerston, Visct.
Fox, C. R. Patten, J. W.
Fremantle, Sir T. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Fuller, A. E. Peel, J.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Pennant. hon. Col.
Gill, T. Plumridge, Capt.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Powell, Col.
Gladstone, Capt. Power, J.
Gore, W. R. O. Pringle, A.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Protheroe, E.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Rendlesham, Lord
Greene, T. Repton, G. W. J.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Richards, R.
Harcourt, G. G. Ross, D. R.
Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H. Scholefield, J.
Hardy, J. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Hawes, B. Smith, J. A.
Heathcote, G. J. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Herbert, hon. S. Smythe, hon. G.
Hervey, Lord A. Somerset, Lord G.
Hope, hon. C. Standish, C.
Howard, hon. J. K Stanley, Lord
Howard, Lord Stuart, Lord J.
Irving, J. Stuart, W. V.
Jermyn, Earl Strutt, E.
Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E Sutton, hon. H. M.
Knight, H. G. Tancred, H. W.
Labouchere, rt. hn. H. Trelawny, J. S.
Langston, J. H. Tuite, H. M.
Lefroy, A. Vesey, hon. T.
Lemon, Sir C. Wakley, T.
Lincoln, Earl of Wall, C. B.
Lowther, J. H. Ward, H. G.
Lygon, hon. Gen. Williams, W.
Mc Geachy, F. A. Wynn, Sir W. W.
Manners, Lord J. Wyse, T.
Marsham, Visct. Yorke, H. R.
Milnes, R. M. Young, J.
Mitcalfe, H.
Mitchell, T. A. TELLERS.
Muntz, G. F. Blackstone, W. S.
Murray, C. R. S. Grey, Sir G.

Question as amended put and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in.