§ Mr. Hume
said, that this being the day on which the suspension of the writ for the election of a Member of Parliament for the borough of Nottingham expired, he begged to move that the writ do now issue. He was the more anxious on this subject, because a misconception appeared to prevail in the public mind as to the proceedings which that House intended to take. A statement had been made, that it was the intention of the House further to suspend the issuing of the writ, and thus 70,000 persons, of whom 6,000 were voters, would be left unrepresented. If such an intention existed, he could only say that it was not on that side of the House.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
said, he had had the honour of making a similar motion last year. He quite concurred in the general principle, that the primâ facie case of a borough requiring a Member was sufficient to justify the House in issuing a writ, and that the onus lay on those who resisted it. The committee to which the House had delegated the duty of inquiring into the proceedings at the late Nottingham election having made a report unaccompanied by any recommendation for the suspension of the writ, was the House to presume that those Gentlemen had neglected something which it was their duty to perform? He would ask hon. Members whether they were now prepared, after having waited seven days to procure possession of the evidence—he would ask them, now that they had read the evidence, were they prepared to say, that Nottingham should be disfranchised? There was no other course for them to pursue than either to issue the writ, or bring in a bill to disfranchise the borough. No person had given notice of a bill for disfranchising Nottingham, and to delay the issuing of the writ any longer involved a high constitutional right as regarded that borough. If they were prepared to disfranchise the borough, then the suspension of the writ would be intelligible, but if they were not prepared to take that course, the House was not warranted in withholding from Nottingham its constitutional right. He thought, that in suspending the writ up to the present time, the House had acted unjustly, and if the hon. Member had not made this motion, he 156 would himself have done so, but, as the motion was made, he had great pleasure in seconding it.
The Earl of Lincoln
said, that it was not his intention to oppose the motion, but in consequence of what had fallen from his hon. Friend who had spoken last, he felt called upon to make a few observations. He agreed with his hon. Friend, that it was impossible, after the evidence had been printed and issued, to abstain from issuing the writ, unless it was proposed to take further steps. He would not, how. ever, agree with his hon. Friend, that the House had taken an improper course, when the subject was last before it, in suspending the issue of the writ, for the House was not then in a situation to know the extent or nature of the corruption which obtained at the Nottingham election. He believed, that under the circumstances that prevailed at former elections, he was fully justified in moving for the suspension of the writ, and he still continued to think that, in acceding to that motion, the House had pursued a wise and prudent course. He thought so, because they had presented to the House the report of the committee, which alleged that a number of individuals had been guilty of bribery at the last election, and this could not but recal to mind the proceedings before previous committees which had sat on election petitions from this borough, and also the notorious corruption which had so long characterized the elections for the borough of Nottingham. Having been an eye witness in one instance of the scenes at a former election which demoralized that town, be could speak with confidence on the subject, and not only was there most extensive and systematic bribery, but there were other most flagrant cases of corruption, such as drugging voters, systematic intimidation, and the abduction of voters by open violence; and, what was worse than all, there prevailed in Nottingham elections the most extensive practice of personating voters by men from the country, and this to the amount of hundreds. With a perfect recollection of such practices existing, be felt himself fully justified in moving for the suspension of the writ until the evidence taken before the committee was printed, that the House might have an opportunity of seeing whether or not these practices continued to prevail. He had read the evidence, and although be could not but deeply regret that bribery had again 157 taken place at the last election, being sorry to find that the election for Nottingham was not entirely pure, still he could not help recognising a marked improvement. It appeared that there was no authorised, extended, or organised system of bribery—there appeared to have been no violence, nor did it appear that there was any personation of voters, but that there were merely a few isolated, and as he believed unauthorised, cases of bribery, a state of things, which was very different from the practices which prevailed at former elections. Before he sat down, he felt bound to state to the House, that since the discussion which took place last week, with respect to issuing this writ, circumstances had come to his knowledge which afforded the most convincing proof to his mind of the perfect innocence of the hon. Gentleman who had lost his seat with respect to those cases of bribery. The circumstances which be alluded to proved, that the hon. Gentleman had not been a party to any of those acts of bribery, and also, that for a very long period after the election, he was not aware that they had been committed. Looking to the circumstances under which the acts of bribery had been committed, and looking to the manifest improvement that had taken place in the borough, and bearing in mind also the fast, that at the last election for Southampton no cases of bribery had occurred, when formerly no election took place for that town without extensive bribery, and hoping that the same result would occur in Nottingham, he felt that they would not be justified in taking further steps. The House had, no doubt, paid sufficient attention to the evidence taken before the committee to be able to form a judgment on the subject, and in addition they had the assent of six members of the committee, who were present when the matter was under discussion last week and who were at that time possessed of the information which the House then required, but now had before it, that the proceedings at the late election were not of a nature to justify their withholding the writ. Under these circumstances, he should give his cordial assent to the motion.
did not object to the issuing of the writ, but he thought that some steps should be taken against the parties who were guilty of bribery, as well as against those who received bribes. It ap- 158 peared, according to the statement of the noble Earl, that the hon. Gentleman who was unseated, did not know, either directly or indirectly, of these proceedings; that parties who were not known to a candidate, might go to a place and vote, and thus unseat a person who had been elected. If such a state of things were to be allowed, no election would be safe; and any Member who was returned, might be disqualified for that Parliament, He thought that in this, as well as in all other cases, when a committee reported that bribery had been committed, that the giver of the bribes, as well as the receiver, should not be allowed to escape with impunity.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
had proposed, in the case of the Ipswich election last year, when four or five persons had been named as having been guilty of bribery, the same course that was now proposed by the gallant Member opposite, although not with the same ability; but every Member opposite, on that occasion, objected to the adoption of such a course. With respect to Ipswich, the Members had three or four times over been recently unseated for bribery; and it appeared that in almost every one of these elections, the same parties were reported as having been guilty of bribery. The right hon. Baronet opposed the adoption of the course suggested in the Ipswich case, although he cheered the gallant Colonel when he made the suggestion. He thought that the proposition of the gallant Member was a very just one, as he had thought when the Ipswich case was under consideration, at which time the House did not seem to take the same view of the question that it did now. As for the individual cases of bribery stated in the report of the Nottingham committee, he would remind the House that they were not nearly equal to the cases which occurred at Ipswich. In the present case, he did not complain of the decision of the committee with respect to the election, and which decision, according to the report, was determined by the casting vote of the chairman; for he thought, after the evidence given, that it could not consistently come to arty other decision than to unseat Mr. Walter. But he must add, that of all the trumpery oases of bribery for a Gentleman to lose his seat, he had never heard of one more trumpery than the case of Nottingham. The House must have seen a letter of the Duke of Newcastle respecting this election, of rather a remarkable character. That noble Duke was fully entitled to be spoken of with 159 every possible respect, for he knew that he was beloved in his own neighbourhood. That noble Duke in his letter, condemns what he terms the proceedings of a democratic section of the House, who had, as he alleged, attempted to disfranchise Nottingham. Now, if any persons had undertaken to do anything of the kind, it was not the democratical or radical section of the House, but it emanated from the nearest relative of the noble Duke and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The noble Duke wrote this letter, sympathising with Mr. Walter on the loss of his seat, and expressing the deep interest which he took in that Gentleman's success. In that letter the noble Duke said—I have the honour to have been enrolled an honorary freeman of Nottingham; and though I have never sought to exercise the right, yet I cannot, without extraordinary alarm and very heartfelt sorrow, see myself and others deprived of our privileges for a single unnecessary hour. It is in contemplation, I understand, to suspend the issue of a new writ, and thus a great and very important manufacturing and commercial borough town, containing 70,000 inhabitants, and 6,000 voters, is to be temporarily deprived of one of its representatives, solely, it is presumed, because twenty-seven men have been proved to have taken each a few shillings from unaccredited agents, and entirely, as admitted, without your knowledge or sanction.Now he thought that the noble Duke and the public should know, when he found fault with the proceedings of that House, that the proceeding did not originate with the democratic or radical section of that House, but from the noble Duke's own near relative, and from the right hon. Baronet and other Members opposite.
§ Sir R. Peel
said that his recollection of the motion of the hon. Member last year, with respect to certain electors of Ipswich, was not in conformity with the description just given by him Mr. T. Duncombe had moved for leave to bring in a bill to disfranchise them.] But the gallant Officer's proposition was that the parties should be prosecuted. The course of proceeding, therefore, was essentially different. He recollected when a proposition was made for the prosecution of those who had been reported to the House of having been guilty of bribery at the Southampton election, the hon. Member objected to the motion, and designated it as a paltry proceeding. The suggestion of his gallant Friend was a fair question for consideration; and he certainly did not recollect any such motion having been made with respect to the Ipswich
§ Mr. Cochrane
could not help feeling, after hearing the declaration from the noble Lord on the part of Mr. Walter, that he was in no way, either directly or indirectly, a party to the bribery, that it was a most hard case upon that Gentleman that he should not be able to stand at the next election. If it were consistent with the rules of the House, he would at once move that that Gentleman be enabled to stand.
§ Mr. Hogg
said, he readily admitted that the conduct of every person who had acted in a judicial capacity ought to be open to public examination and to reprehension, if it were merited. He should have remained silent if it had not been for the observations of his hon. Friend, who spoke as if the committee had decided that one or two casual cases of bribery, originating, perhaps, in the folly of a friend or in the malice of an enemy, were sufficient to unseat a Member of that House. He would not now enter into the evidence; but, if an occasion or necessity for entering into it occurred, he should be prepared to do so, and at the same time to state the view which he took of the law upon the subject. For himself he must say, that his vote upon the committee had been given under a deep and an awful sense of the duty imposed on him by the House and of the obligation under which he acted; but, he must also distinctly state, that no cases of casual bribery would influence his mind as a member of a committee of that House. If he saw isolated or casual cases of bribery, however numerous, unless, indeed, they were to such an extent as to render ignorance of them on the part of the candidate absolutely impossible, no number of such isolated cases should influence his judgment. Whether he were right or wrong in the view he took of the evidence in this case, the impression on his mind had been and still was, that the evidence showed an organised system of bribery—showed that the acts of bribery were not individual and isolated, that the actors were not casual persons springing up in one direction and another, and acting without concert, but were parts of an organised system regulated by a committee which was in communication with the subordinate agents by whom the bribery was committed, and upon that committee sat the agent of Mr. Walter. The committee stated, that acts of bribery were not brought 161 home to Mr. Walter, and they certainly were not, but they were brought home to the committee with which Mr. Walter was identified. It had been said, that a candidate might pursue his canvass perfectly free from the possibility of imputation, and that however blameless himself he might be compromised by the acts of his committee or agent. This might be a hardship, but he believed it to be the law. in this case, the committee formed the sole instrumentality for carrying on the election, and it did not appear that Mr. Walter himself had ever canvassed. He seemed unfortunately, and perhaps unconscious of the danger, to have given himself entirely up to his committee. Whether he were right or wrong in the view he took of the evidence, that was the impression upon his mind. He should, indeed, be sorry were the House to suppose that he and the members of the committee had unseated Mr. Walter for any isolated acts of bribery, or had acted on the notion that the election might be declared void because some casual bribery had taken place. No such thing. They were fully aware, that bribery might exist, and the election be good; but here the bribery had been brought home to the committee and the agents of Mr. Walter, and he had therefore only to say, that the determination to which the committee had come was conscientious, and for himself as chairman he must add peculiarly painful.
Lord J. Russell
was extremely glad to hear the statement of the hon. Member for Beverly. Whatever little weight might attach to his opinion, he confessed that his reading of the evidence had produced in his mind much of the impression which that hon. Member, acting as Chairman, and with full means of judging of the witnesses, and of what they stated, had just declared to be the result of his unbiassed and honest conviction. He must say that he thought it a great advantage conferred by the act of the right hon. Baronet opposite, who had acceded to his (Lord J. Russell's) amendment, that the committee, composed most probably of persons whose pursuits did not adapt them for the consideration of legal subjects, should have acting with them a Gentleman like the hon. Member for Beverly, whose knowledge and pursuits in the course of his life enabled him to discriminate between that which was merely loose evidence of bribery committed by indiviuals 162 who had no connexion with the candidate or his representatives, and evidence which went to prove that an organized system of bribery had been carried on by the candidate's agents. He entertained not the least doubt that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, with his knowledge, his capacity, and his means of judging, had given his conscientious opinion to the committee of which he was Chairman, whether that opinion were in favour of his own political party or not. This he regarded as a great advantage, because, as he bad frequently stated, former committees of that House whether composed of eleven or thirteen Gentlemen, had fallen into error not from any wish or determination to act with partiality and injustice, but because, from being unable to discriminate as to the character of the evidence or the arguments of the lawyers who spoke so ably and eloquently before them—being consequently in doubt, and unable to form a decided judgement on the question, they gave their votes according to the bias of their political sentiments. This arose, not from any determination to do wrong, but from the natural consequence of having the tribunal composed of unfit judges. He would not oppose the issue of the writ in this case, although he thought the House had acted judiciously in suspending its judgment for a time, after what had formerly taken place with respect to Nottingham. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, that the onus lay with them who opposed the issuing of the writ, and that in the absence of any grounds for opposing it that House should not prevent its being issued. He would now take the opportunity of saying a very few words respecting an impression that prevailed on a former occasion, and which was expressed last year by the hon. Member for Montrose, who stated that there was no disposition in that House, and especially in the leaders of the different parties in it, to take effectual means by law for the suppression of bribery and corruption at elections. He then declared that that impression, whether as regarded one party or the other, was totally unfounded; and he now thought that under the alterations which had been made in the law both in reference to bribery, the means of bribing, bribery without privity or agency in the first instance, and the constitution of committees, the House 163 had shown by the manner in which its committees had discharged their duty in the Ipswich and Southampton cases last year, and in the Athlone and Nottingham cases this year,—had clearly shown that there was no indisposition on the part of the House, either by legislation, or by the application of the law when made, to discourage bribery and corruption at elections. If hereafter it should appear that elections had been carried by bribery on the part of the agents and committees of the Members he thought it would be the fault of the inhabitants of the towns where those Members were elected if no representations were made to that House by which such practices could be brought to a course of investigation. As far as concerned that House and Parliament, they had done their duty, and if those practices were resolutely denounced and brought before select committees of that House, he had no doubt that the practice of bribery would receive such a severe check as would very soon lead to its complete extinction. They were told that those persons who committed bribery at Nottingham had not been authorised by the late Member for that borough; but when those persons saw that the consequence of their conduct would be to unseat the candidate whom they wished to see chosen, to destroy his chance of being fairly elected, depend upon it, they would not indulge again in similar practices. Then it was said, that persons having no connection with a candidate might unseat him by acts of bribery intended to be brought against him, and that, consequently, no candidate was safe from such acts committed by strangers. He totally disbelieved that a committee would unseat a Member on such grounds, and he saw no proof of it in the present or any other instance. He conceived, therefore, that they might be satisfied with the existing state of the law, and if that law were resolutely put in force, it would be seen that they were willing to discourage bribery, and thus remove that great stain from the present system of representation.
must take leave respectfully to differ from his noble Friend. What had fallen from the hon. Member for Beverley had given him, and he believed a great many other hon. Members, a very different idea of the case before the House from that which they had previously entertained. He 164 was sure his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hogg) would excuse him for saying, that if such as his hon. Friend stated that evening had been his impression, it was his hon. Friend's duty to have furnished a special report to the House. But this was the inconvenience of the manner in which decisions were come to up-stairs—this was the vice of the system,—that there never had been, and never would be a contested election followed by a select committee, in which what occurred above-stairs would not find its way below, and be discussed over and over again without giving any satisfaction either in or out of the House. If such had been the impression of the majority of the Nottingham committee, it did surprise him that a special report had not been presented to the House. If, as had been stated by the chairman of the committee, a regularly organised system of bribery had prevailed to a great extent, he would ask whether it was with Mr. Walter's knowledge or not, if that was a system which ought to be endured, or for which no remedy was to be proposed? He maintained it was a case, looking to the statement of the chairman, which ought to have been specially reported. He thought that the noble Lord opposite had acted perfectly right in moving the suspension of the writ; but, as no special report had been made, he believed they could not, under the act, now move for a new committee to investigate this organised system of bribery. This question brought to his mind circumstances and views of great importance—he meant in reference to Mr. Walter's not being able to stand again for Nottingham. The fleeting reminiscences of law which he still retained rather confused him, but he remembered the vexata questio of whether a person in that situation could offer himself again as a candidate; and he would ask the right hon. Baronet opposite, as a framer of the law, what could possibly be meant by saying that the committee were bound to report whether the bribery or corruption had been committed with or without the knowledge or privity of the candidate? What was the use of those words? Why encumber the law with such a ridiculous surplusage as that, if, when told that the bribery and corruption had been committed without the knowledge or privity of the candidate, there was no earthly difference in the result? He confessed that those words did appear to him to furnish some ground for supposing that in law it was not quite clear that the same 165 party might not offer himself again as a candidate. He remembered his having been on an election committee, out of which some circumstances grew which induced one of the parties to consult several lawyers on the subject, but he did not obtain from them an unanimous opinion. It was not plain to him that the law was a useful one on the subject; and he did not see why, in 1843, with their professed regard for clearness of legal principles, and for greater lucidity when they came to bring those principles into action—he did not see why they should not pass a declaratory act or law, instead of keeping that mysterious sentence in the act, by which a committee up-stairs was to go through the ridiculous form of stating whether bribery had been committed with or without the consent of the party, the result being the same in either case. He could not agree with his noble Friend in what he had stated. He did not think they could look forward to such a pure election millenium as his noble Friend anticipated; that persons would become so purified in heart and mind as to abstain in future from all acts of bribery. On the contrary, he thought they would continue to find on these occasions either injudicious friends or judicious enemies, resorting to these practices for their own sinister purposes, and that by such means, Members of that House would very frequently be deprived of their seats unjustly, improperly, and unfairly.
§ Mr. Disraeli
was understood to ask, when the debates on this subject were to terminate? He had hoped that the conscientious decision come to up-stairs after several days' labour would have been sufficiently satisfactory. After what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Beverley and others, he must say that he was not at all ashamed of the opinion he had arrived at as a Member of the committee; and he was certainly astonished to hear from that hon. and learned Member that there had prevailed at the last election for Nottingham a very extensive and organised system of bribery; for he remembered that after several ineffectual attempts to arrive at a conclusion, and when at length, it was settled that they were to represent that the seat was vacant, and to prepare and introduce into their report a list of those who were guilty of corrupt practices he prayed the chairman to put in the largest sums or the report would appear ridiculous. It seemed that 5l. was the 166 largest sum, but then it was only promised, the party bribed having actually received but 10s. Now, not only were the sums ridiculously small, but the corruption, such as it was, had been carried on by persons who had never been brought to light at all. Nothing beyond constructive agency had been shown; and he was therefore surprised to hear that the agency had been organised and wide-spread. He would not address himself to the point of law which had been raised, but he hoped that the Gentleman who had left them would have the opportunity of again appearing before the constituency of Nottingham, to solicit their unbiassed and unbought votes. In arriving at the conclusion which he had done upstairs, he was influenced in that decision by conscientious feelings, and by the objection which they all entertained to the extensive corruption which had heretofore shown itself at Nottingham in very extensive ramifications. The result which he had arrived at, after seven or eight days' laborious investigation was, that that corruption had almost entirely disappeared; and that at the last election, it was of a most doubtful and unauthentic character, and such as must necessarily have led any one to feel that a great change had been effected in the town, and that the constituency had never before deported themselves in a manner which entitled them to so much respect.
§ Sir G. Grey
said, that as to the eligibility of Mr. Walter to sit again, one hon. Member had treated the question as if it were a new one; while the hon. Member opposite thought he might make a motion to set aside the statute. The question was decided last session. A similar report was made in the case of Newcastle-under-Lyme, when Mr. Harris was unseated. A doubt being suggested on the subject, he understood that Mr. Harris took a legal opinion, but what it was he did not know. Mr. Harris, however, went down again as a candidate, thinking that the clause in the act would release him from his ineligibility, on the ground of having been unseated. He obtained a majority at the election, and a public notice was given of his ineligibility. He was unseated again, and the hon. Member (Mr. Colquhoun) now sat for Newcastle-under-Lyme, not by the voice of the majority, but by virtue of the decision, that the statutory enactment was not touched by the subsequent clause, that that clause did not vary with the terms of the original act, that a Member reported 167 by a committee to be guilty of bribery and treating by his agents, should not be eligible to stand again. It was for the House to say, whether it would direct the Attorney-general to prosecute, or whether some measures ought not to be taken against the guilty parties.
§ Mr. Hogg
in explanation said, that he had spoken of an organized system of bribery, as leaning upon the question of agency. Under the act, the election committee was bound to report to the House, whether or not the sitting Member was aware of the bribery practised; and they were also bound to report to the House the names of the parties bribed. In the present instance the committee only reported the names of the parties who had appeared before the committee, and had spoken on their oaths to receiving these bribes; and though many others were implicated, yet the committee thought, that before they reported the names of persons to the House, those persons should have an opportunity of rebutting whatever charges might be made against them.
Mr. S. Wortley
said, the more clear the point of law in this case was, the greater was the injustice towards the candidate. The fact was, this penalty, to which the candidate was liable (disqualification to sit for a particular place), was adapted to a state of the law which no longer existed in reference to a case like the present. He was not sorry that the discussion on the issuing of the writ for Nottingham had given rise to an expression of opinion on the operation of the law on this point, for no greater injustice could be inflicted on parties than that which had been inflicted on the late Member for Nottingham under the operation of the law by which he had been disqualified. Under the previously existing law, it was necessary, in order to unseat a Member for bribery after a contested election, that the bribery should be first brought home by distinct proof of agency. So long as that proof was required, it was just, and fair, and expedient that this part of the penalty of bribery should attach to the sitting Member, and that he should not only be unseated, out of a regard for the rights of the electors, but should also suffer a penalty. But the law was now altered. They might now unseat a Member without bringing bribery home by previous proof of agency, and without fixing on the sitting Member the stain of the bribery committed. After making this 168 alteration in the law, whether necessary or not, which rendered the proof of bribery infinitely easier, they should, at the same time, have taken care to effect an alteration also in that part of the law which attached to the sitting Member the penalty he alluded to. The hon. Gentleman, the Chairman of the Nottingham Election Committee said, the bribery at Nottingham brought before the committee was part of an organised system, but he had not gone so far as to say that he attached any participation in that bribery to the late sitting Member. If that were the case, the view which the hon. Member took of the last election at Nottingham, ought to have induced him to have proposed to the committee to make a report to this House in order that the House might be enabled to take further steps with respect to the offending part of the constituency. But the offence at Nottingham had not been committed with the participation of Mr. Walter, and he said, with respect to Mr. Walter, or any other Gentleman similarly situated, that it was the height of injustice (though, in order to secure the rights of the electors, he might be removed from his seat pro hâc vice), that he should be debarred from the opportunity of being returned to the House as the representative of Nottingham. He made these remarks because he had a strong feeling on the operation of this law, and he conceived, that in the present case as well as in other previous cases, injustice had been done, and he thought, that the House, when it proceeded to legislate in such a manner as to prevent the offence of bribery by stringent provisions, ought to have taken a fair survey of the whole state of the law, and ought so to have arranged it, that injustice might not be done in the case of individuals. If these alterations in the law only rendered parties liable to penalty, who were themselves conscious of the commission of bribery, he should have no objection to such a result, but the House should bear in mind, that if in establishing facilities for the detection of bribery they did not protect innocent persons, they might make a contested election so dangerous, that no man would expose himself to the chance of a contest; at the same time, it would place parties in the power of their adversaries, and the result most probably would be some evasion of the law by the combination of the 169 different parties at an election, rendering it difficult to put any possible check on bribery. These were points which Gentlemen legislating on the subject would do well to consider, and he could not help thinking the honest zeal, expressed by, persons of all parties, to take steps effectually to suppress corrupt practices, might sometimes make them strain after an impossible execution of the law, and thereby indirectly assist in increasing those practices which they wished to extirpate.
Mr. E. Ellice
, as one of those who last week voted in favour of the issue of the writ, could not allow the present discussion to terminate, without saying a few words in reference to that vote. He had no hesitation in saying, that if he had heard on that occasion but one half of what he had heard that night, he should not have thought it consistent with his duty to support the issue of that writ at that time; but he voted as he had done, on the sanction, as he regarded it, of the committee's report, because he considered it would be useless for the House to appoint committees, unless they were prepared, when those committees presented their reports, to show that they had confidence in the decisions to which such committees had come. They, at that time, had it, not only on the authority of the report, but on that of every Member of the committee who addressed the House on that occasion, that there had been no regular system of bribery, which was deserving of a special report. It was stated, as he understood it at the time, that they had 'only arrived at certain isolated cases of bribery, sufficient, under the present law, to overturn the election, but not presenting such an organized system as to warrant a special report. He had been more surprised than he could well describe at hearing that night from the hon. and learned Chairman of the committee, that there had been proved to the committee to have been in Nottingham an organized committee, in which sat Mr. Walter's two acknowledged agents, carrying on the election on the behalf of Mr. Walter, and committing acts of bribery in promotion of Mr. Walter's election; and that, in fact, there was shown to have been an extensive system of bribery proceeding directly from this organized committee, in which Mr. Walter's two acknowledged agents constantly sat and acted; Mr. Walter, it was true, not interfering or participating personally in these acts of bribery. He must repeat, that if he had, on the former occa- 170 sion, heard but half as much as he had heard that night, he should have voted against the issue of the writ, at all events, until the evidence was printed; and even now, he should vote for issuing the writ with considerable reluctance, because it appeared to him that, considering the facts which had come out respecting the constituency of Nottingham in this and former elections, there was ample ground for instituting a strict inquiry into the whole state of things in connection with the elective franchise in that borough.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that on the principle which it seemed was now to be acted upon, a gentleman would not be able to give an unfortunate creature whom he found on a bed of sickness, surrounded by a starving family, 5s. to relieve him from the pressure of want, if it should happen to be at or near election time, lest the feeling of benevolence should he wrested by political opponents into an act of corruption, and be condemned for the act, as for an act of bribery, to lose his seat, and be disqualified to sit in that Parliament.
§ Lord J. Manners moved, that the debate be adjourned till to-morrow, in order to give an opportunity to the hon. Member for Bridport to introduce his proposed motion for leave to bring in a bill to enable Mr. Walter to sit again, if elected, in the present Parliament.
§ Mr. Muntz
said, he had voted on the former occasion to suspend the writ, and he had done so under a strong feeling of suspicion that the facts were, as they now turned out to he, and that suspicion he conceived from what fell from the hon. and learned Member for Beverley himself. That hon. and learned Gentleman on that occasion, after stating the twenty-seven cases of bribery which were proved, added that these were not the only cases of bribery; that the bribery, in point of fact, had been much more extensive. There was one argument thrown out that night by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, of a rather extraordinary description; the hon. Gentleman appeared to consider that the smallness of a bribe was an excuse for the bribee, but it seemed to him (Mr. Muntz) that it was, on the contrary, an aggrava- 171 tion of the crime. Surely, a man was much less excusable, if there were any degree of excuse in the matter, who suffered himself to be bribed by 10s., than he who had 10l. given him as a consideration. It had been said in the course of the debate, that these things might be expected not to occur again in Nottingham or else where; but it seemed to him that such an expectation would be most groundless. How, indeed, could they imagine, it would be otherwise? When bribery was clearly proved what steps did the House take? He was aware of no prosecution, or intended prosecution, on the part of the Government for past offences—of no disfranchisement, or intended disfranchisement, of even the most notoriously corrupt constituency. After all that now and on former occasions had been distinctly proved against Nottingham—quite sufficient, in all conscience, to warrant the disfranchisement of that borough—no approach to such a well-merited punishment was made. What were the public, then, to think? They would think, as they in point of fact did think, that neither party in the House had really any wish to put an end to bribery; for they considered, that if there were in the House any genuine and general desire to destroy this abomination, it could easily be destroyed.
§ Mr. Cochrane
begged to state, after what had been proposed by his noble Friend, that it was his intention to move to-morrow for leave to bring in a bill to enable Mr. Walter to stand again for Nottingham or elsewhere in the present Parliament.
Mr. V. Stuart
, as a Member of the committee, would maintain that no sufficient bribery had been proved to warrant the committee in taking the step which several hon. Gentlemen so strongly insisted upon. He should like to ask hon. Gentlemen, who were so loud in their complaint that no special report had been made, whether they had read the evidence. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, there had been shown to be an organized system. What was meant by this expression? He would admit, in connection with the other Members of the committee, that it had been shown there was a committee appointed, acting for Mr. Walter, and that in that committee there were persons holding the situation of agents for Mr. Walter. But he would ask hon. Gentlemen would they disfranchise a constituency, because in it an agent, two agents, any number of agents, had gone down among them, and endeavoured to 172 bribe, and had actually bribed a certain number of electors? In the case of Nottingham, there had been very likely bribery to the full extent which was deemed necessary by the parties committing it; but this was no reason why a whole constituency should be disfranchised. The committee, as they stated, knew that there had been bribery, but there was no sort of evidence before them that it had been so extensive as to make it right to deprive the town of the right of returning another Member to that House. He considered it very hard that the committee should be attacked in this manner.
said, he was a new Member, and therefore not very well acquainted with the mode of proceeding in the House; but it seemed to him that the case now before them was clear enough. There was an election complained of—a committee appointed to inquire into the complaint—a report of the committee that bribery and corruption had taken place—the Member complained of unseated and disfranchised; and what else was wanted. Why should they impugn the committee, and their report in this way? If they were not satisfied with committees up stairs, let them inquire into these matters themselves, in committees of the whole House. As it was, he should oppose any adjournment.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
should also oppose an adjournment of the debate. Until the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beverley, there was not a question in the mind of any one hon. Gentleman as to the issuing of the writ; and with reference to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he must observe, with all respect to him, that he spoke on this occasion as an individual Member merely, and no longer as chairman of the committee. What his hon. and learned Friend might, while at the head of the committee, have prevailed upon them to recommend to the House was another question. It did not, however, appear that the hon. and learned Gentleman had even then proposed any resolution as to disfranchisement of the borough, or even as to delaying the issue of the writ; and this was clear, that even if the hon. and learned Member had, of the three other Members of the committee who had addressed the House on the subject, not one of them had concurred with their late chairman. If, indeed, the committee had declared, in the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that an organised and extensive system of 173 bribery had prevailed throughout the whole town of Nottingham, he could then have understood the suspension of the writ, and even the disfranchisement of the borough itself; but no such statement had been made by the committee—no such recommendation had been given; and as to what had been said that evening, the hon. and learned Member for Beverley came forward only with the same authority as any other individual Member of the House, and could no longer be held to represent the mind of the committee. He objected to the adjournment of debates as a general principle, but more especially he should object to the adjournment of that debate, unless absolute cause were shown against the issuing of a writ. In the present case, before the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, at all events, not a single voice would have been raised to dissent from the issue of the writ. Certainly no such intimation had been made, and he therefore hoped the hon. Member for Montrose would not withdraw his motion; but whether or no, he would not concur in that withdrawal. Let the question be decided now; they had been more than two hours discussing it, and the evidence before the House was quite sufficient to enable hon. Gentlemen to collect a general conclusion from it. That conclusion to his mind clearly was, that there had been no such general and systematic organization of bribery in the borough as to justify the House in taking any ulterior measures; and if they were not going to adopt ulterior measures, there was obviously no other rational course for them than to proceed to issue the writ. The majority of the late Member for Nottingham was eighty-four, while the utmost extent of those votes which were shown to have been affected by bribery was twenty-seven. The House, therefore, would best do its duty to the country by issuing the writ forthwith.
§ Sir T. Wilde
said, that all that had passed this evening had made a different impression on his mind from that which it appeared to have produced on the minds of other hon. Members. It occurred to him that the statement which had been made by the hon. and learned chairman of the committee by no means led to the conclusion at which some hon. Members had arrived,—namely, the propriety of adjourning the debate. As he had understood the hon. and learned Member, he had given pertinent and cogent reasons to justify the conclusion to which the 174 committee had come, but not in the least to the conclusion that Nottingham ought to be disfranchised, or the debate adjourned. The question has arisen, as he had understood the hon. and learned Member, as to whether the cases of bribery were isolated instances—not cases brought into such connexion with the sitting Member or his agents, as ought to affect his seat? In explanation of this, the hon. and learned Member said it appeared to him, that there had not been that extensive, organized system of bribery, which called upon the committee to make a special report, but that the bribery which had been practised was the result of a system organized for extensive bribery by a committee upon which the agents for the sitting Member sat. That was a just conclusion to this extent—that there was no ground for supposing that the Member had been unseated for casual bribery practised by persons who had charge of the conduct of the election for the sitting Member. In other words, that in connexion with those selected by the sitting Member, those to whom he had deputed the charge of conducting the election, a system of bribery had been brought home, and then said the committee, "We cannot permit the hon. Member to retain the benefit of the bribery adopted by the agents appointed by him." If an hon. Member could retain his seat under such circumstances, an extensive license would be given to bribery, because a variety of modes might be adopted by which the agency might be difficult of proof. But on the second question he must observe, that Parliament ought only to disfranchise a place for bribery—not where a committee had arranged a system by which they proposed to act extensively—but where the inhabitants of the place were parties to that organization. If it were the fault of the inhabitants, then the Legislature ought to punish them by disfranchisement; but here it was the fault of the agents of the Member, appointed and sanctioned by his authority, and acting by means of that committee. He therefore repeated, that the conclusion was just, so far as to unseat the sitting Member, but unjust if applied to affect the right of the inhabitants to return Members to represent them in Parliament. If, therefore, he had understood the hon. and learned Member for Beverley correctly, there existed no necessity for an adjournment of the present debate. With respect to the object of the adjournment being for 175 the purpose of moving for leave to bring in a bill to enable Mr. Walter to stand again for the town of Nottingham, that motion could be made just as well after the writ was issued as before. Therefore there was no occasion for the consideration at present of any other question but this—did it appear by the report of the election committee that such a number of the inhabitants of Nottingham had been parties to the bribery as to lay a fair ground for its disfranchisement? Now, he believed all were agreed that there was not such a number as laid a fair ground for that course, and, therefore, it would be unjust and unconstitutional to withhold the writ.
§ Mr. Cripps
expressed a hope that the writ would be allowed to issue. He had voted on the last occasion against the writ being issued, because he wished to read the evidence. He had done so, and he was sure nobody who had read it could vote for the further suspension of the writ. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) in thinking, that the insignificance of the amount of the bribe increased the guilt of the parties implicated, because, if so, the old lines became applicable:—My wound is great, because it is so small;Then it were greater were it none at all.
§ Mr. Aglionby
said, that on the former night he had seconded the motion for the issuing of the writ, in opposition to the motion of the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Lincoln), and he had done so because he then thought no sufficient ground had been laid for the suspension of the privilege of sending Members to Parliament by the town of Nottingham; but had he then heard as strong a statement as that which had been made to-night by the hon. and learned Chairman, he should have joined with those who thought the writ ought to be suspended until the evidence taken by the committee was laid before the House. That day, however, was now passed, and the question was now, whether the writ should not be suspended for one day more? Now, he did not think the proposition which had been announced by the hon. Member for Bridport—namely, to move for leave to bring in a bill to enable Mr. Walter to stand again for Nottingham, afforded a sufficient ground for adjournment, because he did not suppose the House would give its sanction to such a bill—which would be an ex post facto law, setting aside the decision of the committee, 176 and setting aside the law the committee had administered. If he thought such a measure would be likely at all to be entertained, it might weigh as a reason with him for consenting to adjourn the debate; but then he must say, that the hon. Member who had expressed his intention to move for the introduction of such a bill, ought to have given notice to that effect, so that hon. Members might have been prepared, when they came down to-day, to meet it. On the other point, he did not think the debate ought to be adjourned unless some hon. Member, on the strength of the statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hogg), or on the evidence which had been laid on the Table, stated that he had come to the conclusion, that ulterior proceedings ought to be adopted, and the borough disfranchised. If any hon. Member gave notice of such a motion for to-morrow, he should be inclined to agree to the adjournment of the debate. As, however, no hon. Member had given notice of such an intention, and as he did not see the proposition of the hon. Member for Bridport could be effectual or carried out, he confessed that he wished no further suspension of the right of the large and populous borough of Nottingham, to be fully represented in the House.
§ Sir R. Peel
had come down to the House, after giving as much consideration as he was able to the report of the committee, and to the evidence taken before it, prepared to give his vote in favour of the motion for issuing the writ, and he confessed, that he had not heard anything in the course of the present debate, which induced him to withdraw from that intention. Considering the extent of the constituency of Nottingham—considering also the extent to which it appeared bribery had prevailed at the last election—considering also the speech of his hon. and learned Friend who had acted as chairman of the committee, he did not think there were sufficient grounds laid, for the House to suspend for any longer period the issue of the writ. The town of Nottingham comprised 60,000 inhabitants, and had 6,000 electors, and although it appeared, that acts of bribery had been brought home to somewhere about twenty-seven individuals, as reported by the committee, still he could not think that any further investigation would lead to the disfranchisement of the borough, or to any material alteration in the constitution of its constituency; and believing that the onus of proof for con- 177 tinuing the suspension of the writ, lay upon those who moved its suspension, he was induced not to withhold the issuing of the writ on the ground that an organized system of bribery had generally prevailed. Then came the question, should he consent to withhold the writ, in order that the late Member might be enabled, by the passing of an act of Parliament, to stand again? Now, he did not think that at all a legitimate reason for suspending the issue of the writ. There were two grounds on which the suspension of the writ had been urged—one by the hon. Member for Montrose, who had moved that the writ should issue, and yet had since stated he was in favour of the amendment, and thus would vote against his own motion. The hon. Member for Montrose, though he had been seconded by his hon. Friend below him (Sir R. Inglis),—a circumstance which raised the presumption, that party feeling did not operate on this occasion—had since cast off his hon. Friend as though the hon. Member were ashamed of his seconder. One ground urged for the suspension of the writ was the suspicion of an extensive and organised system of bribery. On that suspicion he did not think the House would be warranted in suspending the writ. What then was the House to do? It had not been recommended to the House by the committee, or in the speech of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hogg) who had very unnecessarily entered upon a vindication of his own character. The character of his hon. and learned Friend stood too high to require that vindication. Few Members of that House possessed greater intellectual powers, and not one had a higher character. He could assure his hon. Friend, that of his conduct no vindication whatever was necessary. But the committee had not, in point of fact, recommended to the House either the suspension of the writ, or any further proceedings; and it appeared that many other hon. Members had read the evidence which had been laid upon the Table of the House, and the conclusion to which they had come was, that the evidence presented no sufficient grounds for the disfranchisement of the town of Nottingham. With respect then, to the remaining point—namely, the suspension of the writ until the late Member was enabled by a law to be passed to offer himself again to the constituency of Nottingham, he was of opinion that this did not present sufficient or satisfactory grounds for that purpose. He did not think that sufficient 178 grounds could be laid, even for the introduction of such a bill. Hon. Members laboured under a great mistake with regard to the law passed last session; and when the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bernal) appealed to him, and asked him how he could reconcile to himself such enactments, he begged to say that he was not the author of the bill—it was the bill of the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, and which it had become his (Sir R. Peel's) duty to carry through. But what had been the old system, and the old law with reference to this point? Why, that any man who by him self, or by agents acting in his behalf, should be guilty of bribery, was incapacitated from sitting during that Parliament for that place. Such was the law laid down by the Act of George 2nd, and extended by the 29th of George 3rd; and the principle of the ancient law was, that bribery by himself or his agents incapacitated a man from sitting for the place in which that bribery had been practised, for the then existing Parliament. And what had been the report of this last Nottingham Election Committee? The committee reported,That John Walter, Esq., was, through his agents, guilty of bribery and treating at the last election for the borough of Nottingham.That was the report of the committee, and the statutes of George 2nd and of George 3rd provided that he, who by himself or by his agents, was guilty of bribery, should be incapacitated from sitting for that place in the same Parliament. In short, the Member returned was subjected to that penalty on account of the acts of his agents. Now he (Sir R. Peel) did not hesitate in stating his firm belief, that Mr. Walter was not cognizant of the acts of those who proved to be his agents—he believed these acts had been as much a matter of surprise to Mr. Walter as they were to any hon. Member of the House; but it was important to hold out to these local committees, that the fact of their bribing will peril the seat of the candidate on whose behalf they have recourse to such practices; and that though it might be quite true their candidate was wholly unconscious of the acts of those who had charge of the election for him, yet he believed the Legislature would never effectually prevent bribery, unless it was made known to these local committees that the consequences of their illegal acts would extend further than themselves, and that; their candidate must bear the penalties. That was the old law; 179 Mr. Walter was not labouring under any peculiar hardships in consequence of the new statute; and therefore there was no ground for a special act to enable Mr. Walter again to present himself as a candidate at Nottingham. On the double ground that no sufficient reasons had been offered for the disfranchisement of Nottingham, and that it would not be consistent with the principle of ancient law to pass a bill in favour of the particular individual affected in this instance, he must resist the proposition for the adjournment of this debate.
§ Mr. Hogg
, in explanation, said, that the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford had stated, he had been influenced in the vote he had given by the strong statement of the chairman of the committee, that an organized system of bribery had pervaded the whole of Nottingham at the last election. He (Mr. Hogg) begged to say most distinctly, that he had made no such statement. His hon. Friend (Colonel Wood) had spoken of a few isolated cases of bribery proceeding from persons who were unconnected with the candidate; and who had acted indiscreetly as friends or maliciously as enemies. He believed that no committee ever did or ever would visit the candidate with disqualification for the acts' of such persons. If an attempt were made to prove such acts, the character of the transaction and of the individuals engaged in it would be manifest; and nothing could be more easy than for the candidate to show who the parties were he had entrusted with the charge of conducting his election. But the present debate had proceeded as if no candidate could be unseated unless he were personally cognizant of the bribery practised on his behalf. In the argument before the Committee the counsel for the sitting Member urged most ably the bill brought in by the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, as a proof of the necessity to bring home the bribery to the knowledge of the individual, and he had attempted, from the construction of that statute, to draw an inference that the law intended that the candidate must be cognizant of the acts. But he had put this question to the learned counsel,' "Does your argument go to the extent that no Member can be unseated unless bri- 180 bery was personally brought home to him." Mr. Austen's reply was, that he could scarcely push his argument to that extent. He had always understood the law to be, that a candidate, as regarded his right to sit, was responsible for acts of bribery committed by his agents, although not criminally liable to the penalties. The whole question and the whole difficulty was the agency, which must nearly in every case be constructed and be proved by circumstantial evidence. And why had he used the expression "organized system of bribery?" To show the manner in which the committee had arrived at the constructive agency, and when he had used that expression he accompanied it with this statement, that the corruption at Nottingham was not to that extent, or of that character, which justified the committee in reporting it specially, for he had added that he believed a committee would defeat the object of the House and of the law as embodied in the recent acts if they obtruded by special reports upon the attention of the House in cases which were not of special enormity. With reference to the paucity of the cases of bribery reported—having listened to all the speeches, he must say, that he thought no hon. Member who had described the bribery as insignificant and casual could have read the evidence which had been laid upon the Table. Suppose that only three or four cases out of fifty or sixty had been reported. If hon. Members had read the evidence, they would find that after the election large bodies had met simultaneously in some court or yard, from which they went, one by one, to a certain room where they were paid. The committee could not report these cases, because the names of the parties could not be given. With this evidence before them, it was too much to say that the committee had acted upon two or three trumpery cases. With respect to agency, it was proved that one gentleman in the undertaking given by him to pay the expenses of the hustings, had signed himself as "the agent of Mr. Walter," and by his directions another gentleman, paid the legal expenses to the returning officer. Both these gentlemen had been proved to have sat on the committee by which the election was conducted. An hon. Member had asked what was the character of the witnesses who had been examined? When they come to prove cases of such a description 181 did they look to obtain the best description of evidence? Why, what kind of witnesses could they have? They could only have witnesses of a character corresponding to the transaction; they could never have honourable men connected with such transactions. He did not wish to be misunderstood or to have it said that he had misled the House. He had made his statement only to show the manner in which constructive agency had been proved. Mr. Walter had, as he had already stated, committed himself entirely to the committee, and on that committee sat the two gentlemen he had mentioned, and by them the clerks were paid and the other arrangements for the election made. These who gave the bribes appeared to act in communication with the committee; and it was proved that one gentleman, who had throughout sat in a room adjoining the committee, had paid 30l. to the individual who bribed in one ward, and had told him that no account of the expenditure was necessary. But he would not advert to the evidence. His sole object in rising was, to explain to the House the purpose for which he used the expression adverted to by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, and so strangely misunderstood by him.
said, he could understand the law maxim—"qui facit per alium, facit per se," but that was not now the question. Why did the House appoint a committee to inquire and make a return to the House whether the bribery had been committed with the privity and concurrence of the party who was charged? He remembered well the statute of George 2nd, and he knew well that Mr. Harris had been unseated for Newcastle-under-Lyme, because he had been reported to the House by a committee to have committed bribery by his agents at a former election, whilst another subsequent committee had decided that a member might start again under such circumstances. One committee might, it appeared, reverse the decision come to by another committee the week before. It it were laid down that a man, without having any knowledge of any bribery, had committed an act of bribery per alium, it was perfectly clear that he could not in law offer himself again for the borough, and if so the inquiry as to his "privity and concurrence" were word which ought no longer to remain on the statute-book. They were a deception.
§ Mr. Maclean
hoped the hon. Member for Newark would withdraw his amendment for the adjournment of the debate. From what had fallen from various Members of the House in the course of the debate, it was perfectly clear that the state of the law with regard to agency was in a very anomalous and dangerous state with regard to the Members of the House. The impunity which seemed to exist for all persons mixed up with bribery, except the sitting Member, was a state of things which was perilous to the seat of every Member who might be hereafter returned. He thought such a state of things ought not to be continued. If he found that no other hon. Member of greater weight in the House called the attention of the House of Commons to the peculiar position of candidates starting for elections under the present law of agency, he should feel it his duty, after the Easter recess, to draw the attention of the House to this subject.
§ Mr. Strutt
said, hon. Members complained of the anomalous state of the law. There appeared to him to be no anomaly whatever in the law. The law said, so far as holding their seats went, Members should be responsible for the acts of their agents; if a Member chose to employ agents, he must be liable for their acts. But the law went further, and said that a man should not be criminally liable unless he were personally concerned in these acts of bribery. The law said if a Member were guilty of bribery by his agents he should not take his seat, and the committee were to report whether he was personally guilty of bribery himself, because then it would be in the power of the House to direct the Attorney-general to institute a criminal prosecution against him for having done an act for which he was liable to the criminal law of the country. He thought it right to state this, as he could not understand the anomaly complained of.
§ Mr. Botfield
believed that the general impression on the mind of the committee was, that no case of delinquency had been proved against the borough of Nottingham sufficient to justify the suspending of the writ, even for a single hour, but he felt that the request for delay to allow time for the evidence to be printed was reasonable, and he moreover was unwilling by a vote on that occasion to express his opinion upon the evidence before the House 183 had had the opportunity of forming its opinion from reading the evidence. Then as to the question of agency, he was reluctantly compelled to differ from the able and learned chairman (Mr. Hogg), for after carefully attending to the evidence, he had arrived at the conclusion that the proof of agency was not, to his mind at least, satisfactorily established. At all events, hardly as the disqualification, which was the necessary consequence of the committees decision, might press on Mr. Walter, he could not consider that as a sufficient justification, or as any reason for withholding any longer from a constituency so numerous, so wealthy, and so respectable as that of Nottingham, their undoubted privilege of returning a Member to this House. He trusted the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) would withdraw his motion (for adjournment).
§ Original motion agreed to.
§ Writ ordered to be issued.