HC Deb 17 July 1843 vol 70 cc1207-13
Mr. Hodgson Hinde

moved, that the Speaker be directed to issue his warrant to the clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the election of a citizen to serve in Parliament for the city of Durham, in the room of Viscount Dungannon, whose election has been determined to be void.

Mr. Hume

objected to the issue of a writ until an opportunity had been afforded to hon. Members of becoming acquainted with the nature and extent of the bribery committed at the late election. The evidence taken before the committee had only been placed in the hands of Members that morning; and it was well known, that the committee had not taken more evidence than was necessary to enable them to declare the election void, and consequently the extent to which bribery had been carried by the payment of head-money had not been ascertained. He believed, that nearly all the electors who voted for the noble Lord who had just been unseated received 1l.; and he was also informed that, at the last general election, when a Whig and a Tory were returned, both the successful candidates paid half a guinea, or half a sovereign to each voter. He thought, that the House ought, by every means in its power, to discourage such practices; and the question was, whether the unseating of a Member was sufficient, or whether the House ought not to institute an inquiry to ascertain the extent of the bribery which had been carried on in this city during the last two or three general elections. The House had expressed a determination to put down bribery; and if they allowed a case of this nature to pass unnoticed, they would be open to the charge of professing to condemn bribery, while they winked at its commission. When he had gone through the evidence, he should be prepared to say whether be would move for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the case; and he hoped the hon. Member would postpone his motion for two or three days, in order that hon. Gentlemen might be enabled to make themselves acquainted with the proceedings before the committee. As the hon. Member did not accede to his suggestion, he would move that the debate be adjourned until Thursday next.

Mr. Barnard

hoped, that the issue of the writ would be postponed. He had not been able to peruse the evidence, and he understood that extensive bribery had taken place at the late election.

Mr. Hodgson Hinde

said, that if before the committee there had been any evidence of extensive bribery, he would at once have consented to a postponement; but it appeared from the minutes of evidence that only three persons admitted having received one sovereign each at the late election. If the evidence had not been placed in the hands of hon. Members that morning, he would not now have proposed the issue of a writ; but he thought, an opportunity had been afforded to hon. Gentlemen of considering whether the evidence sustained such a charge against the constituency of Durham as ought to induce them to postpone the writ. Because three individuals had received the sum of one sovereign each for their votes, the whole constituency of Durham ought not to be deprived of a representative in that House; and if the hon. Member for Montrose pressed his amendment, he would take the sense of the House on his motion.

Mr. T. Duncombe

thought, his hon. Friend, the Member for Montrose had made out no case for the suspension of the writ. The issue of the writ would not preclude future inquiry into any bribery which might have taken place at the last election. The exercise of the franchise was a right of too much importance to be suspended without strong and sufficient grounds. The noble Lord had been deprived of his seat in consequence of head-money having been paid by his agents, and he hoped that example would have a beneficial effect in the case of future elections.

Sir R. Inglis

thought, that unless there were such a primâ facie case of corruption as would induce some hon. Member to call the attention of the House to the subject, with a view to ulterior proceedings, the issue of the writ ought not, in justice to the constituency, to be delayed.

Dr. Bowring

wished to know whether, if the writ were issued to-day, any impediment would be interposed to future inquiry? The primâ facie case of corruption, judging from the evidence, was very strong. It was proved that the voters for Lord Dungannon had received head-money. Indeed, the counsel for the noble Lord did not deny the fact; but felt himself compelled to acknowledge the existence of bribery.

Sir R. Peel

said it had always appeared to him that, unless a very strong case was made out, the House ought not to exercise the power which, though unquestioned, was easily capable of abuse, of suspending the issue of a writ. He did not concur in the opinion of the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, that if an individual Member notified his intention to call the attention of the House to the proceedings at an election, that was a sufficient ground for the suspension of the writ; for he thought the intention of an individual Member ought not so materially to affect the decision of the House. He considered that if a committee appointed to investigate the subject of bribery—a committee which had opportunity of hearing the evidence, and of observing the manner and bearing of the witnesses—thought it necessary that further inquiry should take place, any recommendation emanating from them as to the suspension of the writ must have great weight with the House. He was surprised to find after the enactment of the bill introduced by the noble Lord opposite, that in this case head-money had been paid; for unquestionably the payment of head-money was bribery, and persons paying or receiving head-money were liable to all the consequences of bribery. The bill passed last session distinctly enacted that the payment of any sum of money to a voter, whether under the name of head-money or under any other name, should be deemed bribery. He thought, therefore, that it was wholly unnecessary to institute any investigation as to the cha- racter of the offence alleged to have been committed at the late Durham election, for it was clearly defined by the Legislature to be bribery. Considering then that so clear a definition of this offence had been given, and considering that the committee had not expressed any opinion in favour of the suspension of the writ, he thought it would not be advisable for the House to exercise its power, in this instance, by suspending the writ.

Mr. Wallace

hoped the hon. Member for Montrose would not persist in his opposition to the issue of the writ. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that an immense proportion of the Members of that House had been returned by similar practices to those for which Lord Dungannon had been unseated.

Mr. Brotherton

was surprised at the assertion, that at the recent election for Durham only three persons received head-money. [Mr. H. Hinde: "On the face of the evidence, only three persons received head-money."] It appeared to him from the evidence that Mr. Salkeld, clerk to the agents, had given 200 copies of the poll-book to as many voters, each of whom received a sovereign with the book.

Mr. V. Smith

said, that Salkeld was a witness on whose evidence the committee had stated they could place no reliance. The persons who had acknowledged the receipt of head-money had also stated that it had always been usual at elections in Durham to make such payments. If the issue of the writ were now agreed to, the hon. Member for Montrose would not be debarred from bringing forward the question of bribery at a future time; but he must admit, that there was some practical difficulty in the way; for while, during the suspension of a writ, a case attracted great interest and attention, immediately upon the issue of the writ that interest seemed to subside. There was at present great difficulty in obtaining proof of bribery against a Member or candidate; and it did appear strange, that after a committee had it in evidence that large sums had been paid to an election account by the successful candidate, they should declare that such an individual was not cognizant of the bribery which had taken place. When it was shown that a gentleman had paid 670l. 1s. 11d. to an election account, he thought he must have been morally cognizant of the fact of bribery, for every Gentleman who had occupied a seat in Parliament must know, that the legitimate expences of an election were far below that sum.

Mr. Liddell

believed that this was the first case in which a Member had been unseated for the payment of head-money. The practice of paying small sums as head-money, had existed in many boroughs for years, and was looked upon by the electors as payment for their loss of time. He believed the decisions of the committee in this case would have a beneficial effect in preventing the practice at future elections. He thought that the example which had been made, would have its effect on the constituency, and that the offence would not be repeated.

Lord John Russell

said, that the hon. Gentleman was hardly correct in saying, that the payment of head-money had been Constituted an offence under the late act; all that that act had done was to declare that the payment of head-money amounted to the offence of bribery, and the offence resting on such grounds was not by any means so new as was supposed. He did not think, that in the present case sufficient reasons existed for the suspension of this writ. But it was of extreme importance, that persons and voters in general should be made fully aware of the provisions of the law with respect to election committees and the offence of bribery. By the act of last Session, if any petition complaining of bribery was withdrawn, or was not bonâ fide prosecuted, the committee had the power of inquiring into the circumstances under which the petition was withdrawn, and if the House should think fit, that the inquiry should be continued, the committee might re-assemble and proceed to make further investigation, an agent being appointed by the Speaker. It was also the law, that if a petition were presented within three months after the distribution of money in such a manner as to constitute bribery, the House might appoint a committee which should have all the powers of an election committee. This was evidently a very much better mode of inquiry than any other which could be suggested. With regard to the particular case, he saw no reason why they should refuse to issue the writ.

Sir C. Burrell

was satisfied, that unless some act was passed of a more general nature than at present existed, stating the law so plainly, that no man could err except wilfully, they should never get rid of the system of the payment of head-money.

Lord Ashley

begged to refer to the extreme importance of this decision. The committee had decided that bribery was constituted by the simple fact of money having been paid after the election, totally irrespective of any promise being made to the voter before the election, or of any proof bringing home to the candidate any cognizance of the payment. But when this decision had been arrived at, the committee, he believed, had come to the unanimous conclusion that this was not a case in which any grounds whatever existed for suspending the writ. He believed, that if the decision of the committee were generally known, much would be done towards effectually checking the pernicious system of bribery which had so long existed.

Mr. Cobden

was at a loss to conceive how, when such acts had been proved, as had been shown to exist in this case, the House did not take such further steps as would show their desire to put down bribery; and how it was that the Attorney-General was not instructed to prosecute those persons who had been found to have been guilty of bribery. He hoped to see associations formed for the purpose of prosecuting criminally, both the briber and the bribed, and if the House did not take proper steps, he should have no hesitation in belonging to such an association.

Mr. B. Escott

said, the report in this case had negatived the fact, that the sitting Member was cognizant of the bribery. He maintained, that upon such a return, Lord Dungannon was not disqualified from presenting himself again before the constituency to be returned to Parliament, for he could not be made responsible for the criminal acts of his agents. The same objection might have been urged, but was not taken, in the Nottingham case.

Mr. Bernal

had also desired to call the attention of the House to this point. He thought, that it was extremely doubtful whether, after such a return as had been here made, the unseated Member might not be a second time returned. He thought that it would be most desirable that some mode should be adopted, by which a perfect knowledge of the law should be placed within the reach of every voter.

Sir George Grey

should be extremely sorry that an opinion should go abroad, such as had been expressed by the hon. Member for Winchester, and the hon. Member for Weymouth. The question to which they had alluded had been settled in the case of Mr. Harris, who had sat for Newcastle-upon-Tyne: he had been unseated upon petition, had been returned a second time, and such second return had been declared to be invalid. It would be extremely incovenient to reopen a discussion which he thought had been long decided to the satisfaction of every lawyer.

The House divided on the question, that the debate be now adjourned. Ayes 17; Noes 145;—Majority 128.

List of the AYES.
Bernal, Capt. Scholefield, J.
Blewitt, R. J. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Brotherton, J. Thorneley, T.
Dennistoun, J. Turner, E.
Ewart, W. Wallace, R.
Fielden, J. Wawn, J. T.
Hindley, C. Wood, B.
Marshall, W. TELLERS.
O'Brien, W. S. Hume, J.
Plumridge, Capt. Barnard, E. G.

[It seems sufficient to preserve of the division, the minority only.]

Main question agreed to.

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