§ MR. WAKLEY
rose to call the attention of the House to the petition of certain electors of West Gloucester respecting the election which had recently taken place in that division of the county. An hon. and gallant Member, a near relative of the noble Earl, referred to in the petition, said that he had no objection to a full inquiry into the circumstances connected with the election. [Captain BERKELEY had said, if the House thought proper to institute an inquiry, Earl Fitzhardinge would have no objection to it.] That was exactly his impression; and as there was no objection on the part of the noble Earl, they would now see if there was any objection on the part of the House to such an inquiry. The allegations of the petitioners were not loose or ill-defined; they were of a most specific character, and could not be misunderstood. There was no beating about the bush and he would add, that the petitioners were persons of the highest respectability in the county of Gloucester. 1068 One was Mr. Leigh, of Woodchester Park, and the others were of equal respectability. A great number of persons were anxious that the vote by ballot should be established; and when that measure was advocated it was denied that corruption and intimidation was an English practice. They denied that corruption took place at elections, and that bribery and intimidation were resorted to by persons possessing wealth in the country, in order to influence the return of Members. He did not consider it his duty to make any charge against the noble Lord—he had not the honour of his acquaintance, and he had only a very slight acquaintance with any of his relatives. He merely acted as an independent Member, in whose hands a petition had been placed, with a request that it should be brought under the notice of the House. He had done nothing more than discharge his duty; and he would say that if Members of that House looked too fastidiously to the petitions which were placed in their hands, and were to decide on presenting them according to their own individual opinions, that the right of petition would be so infringed upon that it would be of very little value indeed. He had upon this matter no private feeling whatever; but he did consider that the charges were of a very grave and serious nature; and if the House resolved to pass them over lightly, and say that they would not inquire into any charges made against individuals tampering with the freedom of election, they would do great wrong to the people, and should not maintain on their books the Sessional Order that for any Peer to interfere with the election of a Member of that House, is violation of the liberty of election, and a breach of the privileges of that House. It would be an utter mockery to maintain such an order upon the books of the House, if they permitted such a petition to be presented to the House, and allowed it to be passed by unnoticed. He was most sorry that the subject of it was a noble Peer who had a near relative in that House. He regretted that there should be any family strife. He was not one who would widen the breach; but he thought that what had transpired was not very creditable to one of the parties. The position of the individual ought not to deter them from doing their duty to the country. That House would not discharge its duty if it did institute the most rigid, searching, and scrupulous inquiry into the facts of the case. The petition said— 1069That shortly before, and also during, the last general election, William Fitzhardinge Berkeley, commonly called Earl Fitzhardinge, a Peer of the realm, and Lord Lieutenant of the county, not only personally but by accredited agents, and by large sums of money, and by intimidation and coercion, did, in open defiance of the law, in violation of his duty, and in utter disregard of the usual Sessional Order of your Honourable House in that behalf, directly, repeatedly, and systematically interfere with the rights and privileges of the electors of the western division of the county of Gloucester.In another paragraph the petitioners state—That a short time previously to the said election the said Earl Fitzhardinge, in anticipation of the said election, and in order to prejudice and interfere with the success of one of the intended candidates, George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, commonly called the Honourable Grantley Berkeley, did coerce his tenantry to resign their services in the troop of yeomanry commanded by their captain the Hon. Grantley Berkeley.In another—That about the same time, and for similar purposes, the said Earl Fitzhardinge caused to be offered to the Hon. Grantley Berkeley a large pecuniary consideration, as an inducement or bribe to him to retire from his then representation of the said western division, and not to become a candidate for such division at a future time.That in thus acting, the said Earl Fitzhardinge endeavoured to deprive your petitioners, and other electors of the said division, of the services of the Hon. Grantley Berkeley as their representative in your Honourable House, and to interfere with their rights and privileges in that behalf.That the Hon. Grantley Berkeley refused to accept the said offer of pecuniary consideration, and, at the last general election, became a candidate for the representation of the said division in Parliament; that after the Hon. Grantley Berkeley had become a candidate as last mentioned, and shortly previous to the polling at the said election, a large sum of money, exceeding in value any previous offer, was offered, or caused to be offered to him, by the said Earl Fitzhardinge, to induce his retirement from the approaching contest, and his withdrawal of certain charges against the said Earl Fitzhardinge, and otherwise in relation to the said election, so as to enable one Grenville Berkeley to become a representative of the said electors in the place of the hon. Grantley Berkeley, but which renewed offer he again rejected. That the said Earl Fitzhardinge, having failed in his endeavours to deprive the said electors in manner a fore said of the services of the Hon. Grantley Berkeley, did, By offers of pecuniary assistance and personal influence, instigate and induce the said Grenville Berkeley to become a candidate at the last election for the said division in opposition to the Hon. Grantley Berkeley, and did, from time to time, before, and during, and after the said election, promise and guarantee, and also pay and advance, large sums of money to defray the expenses incurred on behalf of the said Grenville Berkeley as such candidate as aforesaid; and did also use undue in- 1070 fluence with numerous of the said electors to obtain their votes at the said election on behalf of the said Grenville Berkeley. That the said Earl Fitzhardinge, during and about the time of the said election, paid or caused to be paid large sums of money for the purchase of votes, and for treating voters, and for the instigation of violence, by which an extensive and organised system of personal violence, gross immorality, bribery, corruption, and intimidation was carried on at the said election, for the purpose of influencing the progress and result of the Parliamentary return.And then the—"petitioners most humbly but earnestly and respectfully pray that your honourable House will be pleased to cause a full and searching investigation to be made into the grievances and matters hereinbefore complained of, particularly with reference to the conduct of the Earl Fitzhardinge, the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Gloucester, in, about, and concerning the said election for the western division of such county, and to adopt such measures as to your honourable House shall seem proper or expedient, for the vindication of the free use of the elective franchise, the protection of the rights and privileges of the electors, and the prevention of the interference of Peers in the return to Parliament of the representatives of the people.He had to inform the House, that he was also informed that Lord Fitzhardinge had expended large sums in the purchase of votes and in the treating of voters, and that by his orders wine and brandy-and-water were carried about in bucketfuls for the accommodation of the electors, and, in short, that scenes occurred which he trusted, for the purity of elections, were never elsewhere witnessed. Could that House consider that it was discharging its duty, and preserving the high trust committed to its care, if they permitted charges so serious to remain uninvestigated? If they permitted their standing orders to remain a nullity, they became guilty parties to those profligate scenes. They would encourage them, and from one end of the kingdom to the other they would invite wealthy men to interfere with the freedom of election. They would invite men to become candidates for representation, not for the purpose of maintaining the liberties of the country, but for the purpose of securing some sordid interest, in total disregard of the high behests and public grounds which men ought to have in seeking such a distinction. This petition, signed as it was by 150 individuals, was entitled to their serious deliberation; and as the noble Lord offered no objection to inquiry, but, on the contrary, as he appeared anxious to rescue his character from the imputations cast upon it, he trusted that the House would not act so unjustly 1071 by that noble Lord—so cruelly, he would say—as to refuse inquiry. He might be asked the question, supposing they found the noble Peer guilty, what would they do with him? He distinctly said, that he could not tell. There had been cases of this kind on former occasions, but he could not discover that any severe infliction of punishment had been visited on those parties who had violated their orders. What punishment the House would inflict it was impossible for him to state; he did not even know what power the House possessed to punish the offender at all; but this he did know, that public opinion was seldom appealed to in vain. There had been a great violation of the proprieties of morality; and if there were some Peers indifferent to public opinion, there were others who would not be found to fly in its face. He would therefore move—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the allegations contained in the Petition of certain Electors of the Western Division of the County of Gloucester, complaining of the interference of Earl Fitzhardinge, a Peer of the Realm, and Lord Lieutenant of the County of Gloucester, at the late Election of Persons to serve as Members of this House for the Western Division of that County in the present Parliament.He trusted, in conclusion, that he had not been guilty of any indecorum. He had no feeling upon the matter. His only desire was to discharge his duty as an independent Member.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said: I was anxious to hear what was the opinion of the House upon this subject before I stated to the House the result of the inquiries which I have felt it my duty to make, since an intimation was given that this subject would become matter of discussion. I do not consider that I ought to do more than to point out to the House what will be the result of an inquiry, and what difficulties will arise if they adopt the Motion of the hon. Member. Now, as I understand the Motion, it is founded on what is called a "breach of the privileges" of this House; which privileges are established and confirmed by the Standing or Sessional Orders passed at the commencement of each Session of Parliament. I am not now about to enter into the question of the propriety or expediency of passing these orders in question. It will suffice for me to state what I have found to be the practice of the House in cases of a similar nature. Neither am I prepared to enter into the circumstances on the merits of the case. The first precedent which I 1072 find on the subject occurred in 1780, when a similar petition was presented against the Duke of Chandos for interfering with the election of a Member for the county of Northumberland. The report of the case is to be found in 5th volume of the Journals of the House, page 507. The petition there stated that that nobleman had signed a letter with his own hand to one of the voters, desiring him to act in a certain manner. The Motion which was made on that occasion was not for a Select Committee, but merely to refer the petition to the Committee on Privileges. [Mr. WAKLEY: There is none now sitting.] On that occasion the Motion was made and carried without a division. The Committee took the matter in hand, and in page 557 I find that they reported that each charge had been substantiated, and that the Duke had been guilty of a breach of the orders of the House, and an infringement upon the liberty of election. Well, what did the House do? Let the House remember that the allegations were repotted to be true; and instead of any step being taken, a Motion was made that the further consideration of the report be postponed until that day four months. [Mr. WAKLEY: That was before the reform of Parliament.] I do not intend to be diverted from the observations which I feel it my duty to make by these interruptions; but I shall presently show that there were more substantial reasons then for taking notice of any interference than there are at present. The next case was that of the Duke of Bolton, for interfering in the election in the county of Hereford. The case is reported in page 530 of the same volume. It was referred to a Committee of Privileges, which took no steps at all in the matter. In the same page I find that a Motion was made that it be an instruction to the Committee to report respecting the conduct of a bishop for interfering at the same election; but I also find that that Motion was withdrawn. A more recent case may be in the recollection of the House. I refer to the case which occurred in 1841, when a similar application was made in consequence of the interference of Lord Cawdor in the Carmarthen election, through the agency of his steward. The then Member for Bridport, Mr. Warburton, a great supporter of the privileges of the House, produced many original letters from his Lordship to the steward, giving directions as to what part his tenantry were to take in the election. Co- 1073 lonel Trevor, who was then in the House, showed them the inutility of barking where they could not bite, and the House decided on not taking any notice whatever of the facts. Upon that occasion he found that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham) and the noble Lord at the head of the Government took part in the discussion. Yet, nevertheless, no Motion was made, and the discussion was allowed to drop. I find that there have been since that time many similar cases. On the 4th of April, 1845, a petition was presented against the Duke of Marlborough, on the strength of a petition from Woodstock. A Motion was made, but no notice was taken of the facts. In September, 1835, a petition was presented complaining of the conduct of the Marquess of Salisbury; but no Motion was made. The petition was printed with the Votes, but it led to no result. In 1833 a similar petition was presented from Launceston, and in 1836 another petition was presented complaining of the conduct of the Duke of Marlborough, but no steps were taken by the House. I have endeavoured to show to the House what they have done upon former occasions; but I am not discussing the propriety of the conduct of a Peer interfering with the choice of a candidate at an election. All I will say is, that it does not appear to me that there is any remedy in the hands of this House, if they established the facts alleged against Earl Fitzhardinge. [Mr. WAKLEY: You can dismiss him from the lord lieutenancy of the county.] I shall deal with that portion of the case presently. If the facts in the petition are true, and if they are capable of proof, the ordinary mode of proceeding against any person is by proceeding in the courts of justice; and these facts are equally open to be proved before an Election Committee, or in a court of justice. It is not stated nor is it pretended that the noble Earl was guilty of the conduct complained of in his capacity of lord lieutenant of the county. He had acted merely in his character of landlord. The charge was not made that he had acted in the character of lord lieutenant of the county, which if he had done would certainly be a ground for a recommendation to the Queen for his dismissal; but such a charge was not made. I believe I have now fulfilled my duty. I have shown the House what will be the consequences of a Motion of this kind. I have no personal feeling in the matter, nor any interest to 1074 serve one way or the other. My only desire is to set the House right with regard to the law upon the subject.
said, after what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury, he would beg leave to read the denial of his noble relative of the facts charged against him. The hon. and gallant Member read an extract from the letter of Earl Fitzhardinge, which stated that it was "the foulest falsehood that ever disgraced any set of men," when it was asserted that he had induced any of his tenantry to retire from the corps of which his brother was captain, and that he had not by any means interfered with respect to the election in question. That was a specimen of the manner in which the petition had been got up; and he only trusted that the House would believe with him that the statement of his noble relative was true. The question had become too painful for him, and he therefore begged leave to withdraw. [The hon. Member withdrew.]
§ MR. GRANTLEY BERKELEY
said: I am sure the House will not expect me to say much upon this painful subject; yet, nevertheless, I am bound to say a few words as regards the petition now under discussion, and of the allegations contained in it. As regards the statement which we have just now heard, and which touches me more nearly, I feel it only necessary to say that I happen to be the captain of the corps which has been mentioned, and I can assure the House of the truth of the interference. I have in my possession the letters of the tenantry serving in my corps, telling me that they would not have left me had they not been coerced to do so by their landlord. If the Committee is granted, I can produce these letters in support of my assertion. When I returned the muster-roll of my corps to the War Office, I represented the fact under the printed heading for observations, why so many of my best men had suddenly deserted my corps, as I thought it might appear owing to some error in my own conduct; and I then stated that they had left me through the coercion of the Lord Lieutenant of the county. I was not permitted to send that muster-roll to the War Office with those words in it; and, therefore, in obedience to my commanding officer, after having consulted a gallant Officer, a friend of mine, in this House, I erased the words, having first inquired how I was to report the fact why so many men had left my corps. I can assure the House that these men were 1075 compelled to leave it through the interference of their landlord. I shall say no more upon this subject, nor shall I attempt to forestall the decision of the House, no matter what that may be. Had it not been for the remarks which have been just made, I should not have said one word during the course of the debate.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, that whether the House adopted the course which the hon. Mover had proposed or not, he was of opinion that they should not resort to other courts for adjudication upon the matter until they had exhausted all the tribunals provided either in or out of that House before which questions of such a nature could be tried. It might be a question how far it was right to maintain an order upon their books to which they were unable to enforce obedience, and the existence of which subjected them, if not to mockery and insult, to something very like ridicule. The question whether a Peer has a right to interfere in an election might be tried. That House had it in its power, in cases where an election was turned by the vote of a Peer, to strike out that vote. He was aware of a Peer who went with six horses to his carriage to register his vote in the same manner as the lowest freeholder. The Duke of Norfolk voted regularly in some half-dozen boroughs in which he possessed property; and, knowing all that, he thought that they would be exercising sound discretion in rescinding the brutum fulmen which they were in the habit of issuing at the commencement of every Session. But, to come to the direct question, he held that nothing had occurred, or was alleged in the petition, which was not a fit subject for an Election Committee, and he was therefore prepared to vote against the Motion.
§ MR. HUME
said, that several years ago he had pressed the House not to agree to these Sessional Orders, as he knew the position in which the House would be placed by their not possessing sufficient power to enforce them. He held that they should not have resort to the courts of law in a question of this kind. The question was, whether a noble Peer had been guilty of a breach of the orders of that House; and he held that they were either obliged to rescind the resolution or to inquire. The question might arise, if the noble Lord was guilty, what the House might afterwards do? That might be matter for future discussion. The House were bound to support its own authority, as well as that of the community 1076 at large, and they were, therefore, bound to inquire. If the question came to a division, he would vote for the Motion.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
considered that it was their duty to inquire; and if the Motion were pressed to a division, he should feel himself bound to support it. He considered that the House could not show itself too jealous of any interference with the purity of election. They could not do too much to preserve it. A measure had been devised for preserving voters against undue influence, and that measure was the vote by ballot. Hon. Gentlemen differed in opinion with regard to that measure; but he believed that all were agreed that something ought to be done. They had been told that the proper mode of punishing offences of this kind, was leaving them to public opinion. But how was public opinion to be fixed, unless directed by some such solemn inquiry as that now prayed for? Let a Committee be appointed, and when they presented their report, public opinion would have something to fix upon.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Montrose, that because there is a certain resolution passed by this House against the interference of Peers in elections, that it should be inferred there from that we are bound on every occasion a petition is presented to the House to institute an inquiry, and that we have no choice in the matter except either to rescind our resolution or to institute such an inquiry as may be prayed for. The House has a right to exercise its own discretion; to apply its resolution, or not to apply it, as may be judged necessary in such separate case. There may be a case of such a nature as to make the House agree to an inquiry. But there may be also a case in which it is advisable not to institute any inquiry; and I confess, Sir, that the hon. Member for Montrose does not hold out a very tempting prospect, when he says, "Go, on, pursue the inquiry, appoint a Committee, collect evidence to show that the allegations are well founded; and then, having done so, let the prudence of the House come in, and, by virtue of that prudence, it is probable that no further step will be taken." Sir, I do not think that such counsel points out an advisable course to pursue. But, Sir, the discretion which we ought to exercise in those cases depends very much upon what the allegations are. Now, there is one allegation to which a Member of this 1077 House has lent the weight of his authority, and it is, that Lord Fitzhardinge induced certain members of a troop of yeomanry to withdraw from that troop because the hon. Gentleman in question was the captain of the troop. Then, however, it was alleged that Earl Fitzhardinge had done so in virtue of his influence as a landlord, not in the exercise of his power as a Lord Lieutenant, or in the intention of interfering with the election. Now, it may be that the act complained of was an exercise of wanton and oppressive power as against the hon. Gentleman who was the captain of the troop; but I do not think it is a matter into which the House can inquire, with a view to the adoption of ultimate proceedings. The next allegation is, that Earl Fitzhardinge did endeavour, by the offer of a sum of money, to induce a candidate who wished to be a Member of this House not to persevere in his intention. Now, I confess I do not know whether, if that charge were proved—that such a sum of money had been offered—that the matter would bear the character of a corrupt transaction, or one which would come under the cognizance of the law. But a further and a grave allegation is made, that Earl Fitzhardinge, caused a large sum of money to be apportioned for the purpose of treating and bribery, and that he attempted, by a system of gross corruption, intimidation, and immorality, to interfere in the election for the county. Now, that is a very grave allegation; but it is an allegation which can be inquired into by the mode which the House by statute has appointed, and which can be resorted to within a certain time, not yet expired, after the meeting of Parliament. A petition has, I believe, been presented against the return of the hon. Gentleman; and, as I conceive, the allegations which we are now discussing may be tried by the Committee appointed to inquire into disputed election returns, more advantageously than before the tribunal now moved for. Therefore, Sir, on the whole matter of the petition I conceive there is hardly room for the appointment of a Special Committee, as the allegations may be gone into before an Election Committee. I repeat, that it does not appear to me necessary that a special tribunal of inquiry should be appointed. It is only if it should appear that there are allegations of gross corruption and intimidation, which cannot be inquired into by the Election Committee, that I should conceive it right to appoint a Special Commit- 1078 tee. I am told that the petition is upon the ground of absence of property qualification. This, certainly, does make a difference in the case. Indeed, if there be no means of inquiry before the Election Committee into the allegations of the petition, that fact may be a ground, whatever be Earl Fitzhardinge's station—that fact, I say, may be a ground for appointing a Select Committee. But at present I am not sufficiently aware whether there exist the means of inquiry before the ordinary tribunals, and I therefore suspend any decided opinion in the matter.
MR. HENRY DRUMMOND
expressed his opinion that danger to the liberties of England and the English people arose not so much from Peers interfering in elections as from that House attempting to enforce its resolutions as if they were the law of the land.
§ SIR F. THESIGER
could not exactly understand the course Government had adopted on this question. He had collected from the noble Lord's speech that at first he was disposed to resist the Motion; but in consequence of a communication just made to him, in reference to the petition, that he should suspend his opinion until he was fully assured the matter ought not to be sent to a Committee. He agreed with the noble Lord it was right that the Sessional Orders should be passed at the commencement of every Session, and also that the House ought to exercise a discretion in refusing or determining to interfere, and apply those orders as the case might be. As he understood, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had said, that if inquiry took place, it would be fruitless. His hon. and learned Friend had with great industry collected a variety of precedents to satisfy the House that it was utterly helpless in this matter—that it had no power to proceed against the Peer who should interfere, or should use his influence in an election. Why, that House declared it in high sounding terms to be an infringement of the privileges of the House for any Peer to interfere at an election. Now, he confessed, if he thought that there would be no result from an inquiry of this kind, he should not be disposed to stifle it. He thought, that where a petition of this description was presented, complaining not merely of interference—such as in the case of the Duke of Beaufort in former years, who was accused of writing a letter to influence an election—but a petition of this kind, complaining of an improper influence 1079 exercised by means of gross and systematic bribery, he did think it would be idle for that House to pass this Standing Order, which they had done only a fortnight ago, and then when this petition was presented, to say to the petitioners, "We cannot inquire into the allegations of the petition," and tell them the House had no power in such matters. These Orders were passed Session after Session; but it would appear, from the argument which had been raised by his hon. and learned Friend, that they were, after all, mere idle threats! That the House would not interfere in the strongest cases! Now, his hon. and learned Friend, as he had before observed, had exercised considerable industry in collecting precedents; but he had not, unfortunately, carried his research, far enough back, because if he had, he would have found a precedent, and that precedent he (Sir F. Thesiger) would introduce to the House before he concluded his observations. The House would observe, that they had to deal not merely with a Peer, but with a Peer holding the high and responsible office of Lord Lieutenant of a county, against whose interference there was a specific Standing Order. Now the Attorney General said, "Why, you cannot do anything with the Earl Fitzhardinge in this matter; because, though he may have coerced gentlemen to leave the yeomanry troop commanded by an hon. Member of this House, yet he did not then act as Lord Lieutenant; but he only acted being Lord Lieutenant; and, therefore, being Lord Lieutenant, and not acting as Lord Lieutenant, you cannot bring your Standing Order at all to bear against him." But he was satisfied if the Standing Order was available against a Peer, and if he found he also held the office of Lord Lieutenant of a county (by which they would have to deal with something tangible), whether acting as Lord Lieutenant, or being Lord Lieutenant—he was satisfied that the Standing Order, if violated, ought to be brought into operation against that Peer so offending. He had mentioned that his hon. and learned Friend, in quoting various precedents, had not searched deeply enough; if he had done so, he would have found there was in 1701 a precedent in point in regard to the Bishop of Worcester, he being the almoner to the Queen, who had interfered at an election, not as the Queen's almoner, but being the Queen's almoner. Sir John Pakington petitioned the House, complaining of the interference of the Bishop of 1080 Worcester at an election; the House instituted an inquiry into the interference of the Bishop of Worcester, and it was resolved that Sir John Pakington had fully made out his charge against the Lord Bishop of Worcester, and also against the Bishop of Worcester's son. And it was then—Resolved, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to remove the Lord Bishop of Worcester from the office of Almoner to Her Majesty. It was further resolved, that the said Address should be presented to Her Majesty by such of the Members as were Members of the Privy Council.Accordingly, the Address of the House was presented to Her Majesty; and this very pithy answer was communicated to the House:—I am very sorry for the occasion of this Address; I shall remove the Bishop of Worcester, and direct that he no longer fill the place of my Almoner; and I will put another in his room for that office.The House would observe that he did not enter into the merits of this petition; he did not mean to consider at that moment whether the allegations contained in that petition were established or not. That petition certainly conveyed charges of a very serious character against Earl Fitzhardinge; and it appeared to him it would be trifling with the Standing Orders if, under the circumstances, this matter were allowed to pass by without a serious inquiry. Another observation made by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, which was echoed by the noble Lord, was this: he said that the reason why they could not prosecute this petition further, was because, said the noble Lord, though there are serious charges of gross and systematic bribery, yet that was a matter which might be left to the ordinary tribunals of the law; there might be a proceeding by indictment, as the Attorney General had said. The noble Lord thought there might be an inquiry in the case of the witnesses against the return of the hon. Member for West Gloucester; but the Attorney General said, that the acts of bribery, if established, might be prosecuted at law. He begged to thank the Attorney General for showing him another way by which they could reach the offences which were imputed to Lord Fitzhardinge, and that they might have the power to punish them; because the House was aware that, in an inquiry before Committees of that House, where an individual had been guilty 1081 of bribery, the House had directed the Attorney General to prosecute the offender. And it appeared to him (without assuming the truth of the allegations contained in the petition referred to, but assuming them to be established on satisfactory evidence) that making this Standing Order available against persons infringing on the privileges of the House of Commons, if it should be proved that Lord Fitzhardinge had interfered as alleged, and had been guilty of bribery, and had endeavoured to influence improperly these elections, then, he said, it was the duty of the House, and it was still more their important duty in consequence of the high station which the party implicated filled, to pursue that course which was provided for, and which was pursued against the humblest individual, in order to show the abhorrence of the House of acts of bribery; and he trusted the House would direct the Attorney General to prosecute, if sufficient proofs were laid before the House. He submitted to the House that they had the means to pursue this case; and, lastly, he declared it would be trifling with themselves if they did not consent to the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ SIR G. GREY
was not prepared to deny that some inquiry ought to take place into the specific allegations against Earl Fitzhardinge; but the House ought to be very cautious in adopting the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. He regretted that he had not read the petition before he came down to the House; but from what he had heard and read since, he felt it to be his duty to impress upon the House the necessity of caution. The petition did not state that the parties signing it had a right to vote—[Mr. WAKLEY: I beg your pardon, the petition is from 150 electors.] Admitting that it was so, it was not stated in the petition that the parties had entered into recognisances. He thought that the petition presented against the hon. Gentleman's return had alleged the general charges of bribery and corruption. In that case, it was quite competent for parties having a right to vote to present a petition to have those charges investigated. It turned out, however, that the petition did not allege bribery, but merely want of qualification. The House must remember that, by the 5th and 6th of Victoria, chap. 102, provision was made for a satisfactory investigation of charges of the nature of those in question, when they could not be investigated before an Election Committee. 1082 The 4th Clause of that Act referred to cases in which general bribery was said to have prevailed; and he put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, whether he was prepared to deny that the allegations of extensive bribery did not constitute a case provided for by the clause, and whether it would not be better than adopting any other plan, to follow the course prescribed by the statute in such cases. However, what he would suggest was, that if any doubts prevailed, the House ought not to attempt hastily to decide the matter. Let the question in that case be adjourned for a day or two, at the end of which time that course could be adopted which was most likely to elicit the truth. The House could not with prudence adopt the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. But he would remind them that the Committee of Privileges had been appointed, but not nominated; and if the hon. Gentleman did not wish to proceed under the statute which he had pointed out, then the best course would, perhaps, be, to nominate the Committee of Privileges, and refer the matter to it. In the meantime, he moved that the debate be adjourned.
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, that, knowing the disposition of the House in cases of this kind would be for the institution of immediate inquiry, still he would impress upon them that such inquiries ought not to be instituted without being fully possessed of the circumstances of the case, and without exercising great caution. They had appointed under a statute a separate tribunal for the trial of election offences; they had given to that tribunal powers which, except they were held by statute, the House had not power to confer. They had given to it the power of examining witnesses upon oath. They required the persons making complaint to comply with certain restrictions, to place themselves under recognisances, and, finally, no inquiry could be gone into until an officer appointed by the House had certified that these recognisances were satisfactory. Now if they proceeded on too light grounds to institute inquiries, without the power of examining witnesses upon oath—without the necessity of the complainers putting in recognisances—they would be going far to break down the efficiency of the original tribunal which they had constituted. He did not mean to say that if there were no other power of inquiry than that furnished by a Special Committee, that these allegations ought to be passed over by the House; 1083 but the subject was of so much importance, there might be such a tendency to present petitions of the same nature, that he thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had given them good advice when, admitting that it might be necessary to institute a special inquiry upon the subject, he told them that they would be acting wisely, with reference to preserving the efficiency of the tribunal to which he had adverted, to take two or three days, or even twenty-four hours, to consider what, under the circumstances of the case, was the best course which ought to be adopted. For his own part, he should consent to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman for adjournment.
§ Debate adjourned till Friday.