§ On the question that the Speaker leave the chair,
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, his objections to the measure were not in the slightest degree of a personal kind, for he could tell the noble Lord the Prime Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman, that he wished all the inquiry which that Bill was calculated to give. He objected, however, to such a measure as this being brought in by a private individual under the sanction of the noble Lord the Prime Minister of the country, and yet who was not there personally to give his measure his support. "Conscience," it was said, "makes cowards of us all." Where, he asked, was the noble Lord? Was there any fear felt as to an inquiry into Horsham? Where was the Attorney General? Did his conscience smite him when he heard the name of Horsham mentioned, and had he fled from the discussion? The hon. Mover of the Bill (Sir John Hanmer) had formerly sat on that—the Opposition—side of the House; but now he had, cameleon-like, changed colour; but he once represented a place notorious for its corruption; and those, he said, who sat for dirty places should not seek to purify those more pure than themselves. As to this Bill it was one grossly partial in its operation; he complained of it on that account as well as of its inquisitorial character; for it went beyond the threshold of that which an Englishman once considered as his castle—a man's own home. By this Bill a man 693 was called to betray the confidence reposed in him by his friend, and to open his very book to the examination of the Commissioners; and by whom were the Commissioners to be appointed? In point of fact, by the Government, although nominally by the Bill. But should not an inquiry like this be impartial? What, he asked, became of the secret service money? What was the mode of distributing the 36,000l? How much of that was expended in bribery by both Governments? Let the noble Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer come to that table, and if there were to be a searching inquiry, he would say let the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the persons connected with the Treasury state that neither directly nor indirectly was there any money expended in the city of London or elsewhere. Let the Lords of the Admiralty, too, declare that there were no promises for places in the Customs. There was to be no impartial inquiry; not in an open court, nor trial by jury; but accusations were to be preferred upon the assertion of some individual, who might have been disappointed in his expectations. If this was to be the mode of dealing with the free exercise of the franchise, what were the circumstances in which any man would be safe? Why, the commonest Christian duties would be regarded as bribery. But he would tell the Commissioners to their faces, as he now told the House, that he had performed those duties, and that he would continue to do so, let the consequences be what they might. In spite of the Commissioners, he should exercise his power and influence as he and his forefathers had done, and as they were bound to do. He was not a man who would sanction bribery and corruption; but what was fair for Peter was fair for Paul. Therefore do not let them be partial, but treat all alike, and not select nine boroughs because a Committee of that House had reported them, whilst they left Horsham to remain for future consideration. His opinion was, that if the noble Lord could by any means quash all inquiry into the case of Horsham, it was his intention so to do. He should oppose the Bill in all its stages, and if it passed that House he should rely on another place, where there was more purity to be found, to treat the measure as it had done other Bills in the course of the present Session.
§ House in Committee.
§ [The Committee divided; Colonel Sibthorp was appointed one of the Tellers for the Ayes; but no Member appearing to be a second Teller for the Ayes, the Chairman declared the Noes had it.]
§ On the 1st Clause,
§ MR. BANKES
had an Amendment to move, which in reality involved the whole principle of the Bill. The measure was a most serious one, and well deserved the attention of the House. He must confess that he had heard nothing to remove the objections which he had formerly urged against it. If there was no other Mode of preventing bribery, he could understand why it might be brought forward; but having seen the remedy proposed by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, he could only ask why that remedy was not applied? He objected to the Bill in the first place because it vested such large and extraordinary powers in the hands of those Commissioners. He did not suppose that they would not be fit and proper persons; but, exercising such functions, they ought to be not only honest, but, like the Judges of the land, above suspicion. Commissioners had been appointed under the Borough District Bill previously to the Reform Bill, and Commissioners had also been appointed to inquire into the Municipal Corporation Bill, previously to the passing of that measure. What was the result? In neither case was the result satisfactory. One instance which respected the first-named Commissioners he would mention. The Commissioners under the Borough District Dill recommended the disfranchising of Wareham and Dorchester. He (Mr. Bankes) strongly opposed that recommendation, and brought forward a Motion in the House to that effect, but it was lost by an immense majority. Such was the influence of the recommendation of the Commissioners. But ultimately those very boroughs were permitted to enjoy the franchise; because it was discovered that the statements which he had urged were perfectly true, and that the reports of the Commissioners, whether biassed by party or not, were at all events founded on error. The House might look upon the franchise of a town as a small matter, but those who possessed it did not view it in the same light. They regarded it as a dignity, as a high and important trust. It was desirable that they should continue so to consider 695 it, and to view any interference with this precious privilege with the most jealous feelings. But the Bill would appoint Commissioners, who would have to deal with this most important privilege. And again he asked who were these Commissioners? They would not be men of any great eminence in their profession. Men of legal eminence would not accept of the post. None except members of the legal profession would be qualified to exercise its functions, whilst the emoluments offered were not such as to tempt men of standing or eminence to desert the courts, and adopt so comparatively ill-rewarded an office, and one too, be it recollected, of so transitory a nature. Again, Commissioners who were appointed by the Government would be always open to the suspicion of party bias. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL: They are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench.] But even so, how could this Government, or any Government, induce men of eminence to leave the foremost ranks of the profession for the remuneration they offered? It was not among the silk gowns they could make their selections; and barristers of unknown reputation would be liable to suspicion of a bias towards the Government of the day, though such suspicion might be unmerited. But it might be said, "Their opinion (meaning the Commissioners) is not to influence the House of Commons." Well, then, if not, of what use were their reports? Either they were or they were not to carry weight and authority by their decision. If the decision of the Commissioners was to influence the decision of that House, then the Commissioner ought to be a man of high attainments—of a high position—upon whom no suspicion could rest. If they were not, then the Commissioner and his army of clerks, for which the country was to pay, were wholly useless. The Commissioners were to have five guineas a day, Why this mode of payment was a bonus to prolong the investigation. This court, as it was called, was to have powers of the most inquisitorial nature—powers which should be most delicately exercised, and which it required all the wisdom and discretion of the superior courts to exercise in a proper or even tolerable manner. They were to issue summonses for the attendance of all parties whom they might choose to summon; and matters of the most delicate nature—matters involving breaches of honour, and trust, and confidence—all 696 were to be referred to these inquisitorial gentlemen. In short, the powers of the Courts of Chancery, Queen's Bench, and Exchequer, were all to be concentrated in the focus of this new commission of one or two gentlemen sitting in a private room, and examining into matters affecting the highest and most dignified privileges which a British subject could possess. Points of honour might, and no doubt would, be involved in those inquiries, and books and documents of the most confidential nature might be demanded. He recollected a case where he (Mr. Bankes) had moved for the production of the books of a banker, and also for the attendance of a banker at the bar of the House. After the announcement of his intention, he received a communication indirectly addressed to him from this banker, in which it was intimated that his great anxiety of mind might lead to the affection of his senses, if the Motion was persevered in. He (Mr. Bankes) without swerving from what he considered to be his duty, did not persevere in demanding those disclosures, which would, as it appeared, have affected so seriously the honourable feelings of that individual. Why not pass a Bill empowering the House of Commons to appoint Committees in each case, and to examine witnesses upon oath, and to which there would be no objection? He knew that several Committees had decided upon unseating Members because of what was called "treating;" and this, legally speaking, is an offence; but surely some distinction ought to be made between the secret, base, and corrupt practice of bribery, to which he was utterly opposed, and the jovial though unlawful act of treating a friend and supporter to a pint of porter or a glass of brandy and water. In fact, this construction of what was termed treating was pushed too far, and was, in its present interpretation, revolting to the good sense and good feeling of Englishmen. Within what time could they hope to get any judgment in these inquiries? The Bill had not yet reached a very advanced stage. The Commissioners could not, in all probability, be appointed until the end of the Session; and the writs, in all these cases, were, it seems, to be suspended until the next Session. Then the House would have to consider all these reports, which would be the subject of great discussion; and it would be found that those reports, instead of the end, were only the beginning of the investigation. A measure more un- 697 worthy of any Government had, in his opinion, never been brought forward.
SIR J. HANMER
said, that the course which was now proposed to be pursued was the same which was adopted in the case of the borough of Sudbury. Upon that occasion the whole question was fully considered, and the noble Lord now at the head of the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman who was at that period at the head of the Government, expressed their opinion in favour of appointing Commissioners. At that time no objection was made, that by taking such a course it would be derogatory to the dignity of Parliament. Neither was it contrary to the opinion of the other House of Parliament. The Bill was acted upon, and when the evidence came before the House, Parliament was enabled to do that which the constitution and the interests of the public demanded with respect to that borough. The course now proposed was not, therefore, a new one. It was warranted by the conduct of the last Parliament; that it should be held up as derogatory to the House, seemed to him perfectly unreasonable. He did not think that these were the times, nor was this the day, when the House ought to run the risk of its being considered in the country that it had any other intention than that of pursuing a direct and stringent course to put down bribery and corruption. The hon. Gentleman had said, that although this commission was to be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice, still it would be considered to have a political bias. He did not know why that should be the case, but he would ask whether the Election Committees of that House were not accused of having a political bias? ["No, no!"] He begged pardon; he did not mean to impute such a bias, but must repeat that the Election Committees were accused of having a political bias. He remembered a notorious case—the borough of Nottingham, when an hon. Baronet was chairman of that Committee. That hon. Baronet was repeatedly and warmly accused of having had a very unjust political bias, and in consequence of that bias of having unseated a certain hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman had said that the people took a pride in the exercise of the franchise, and that it would very much wound that honest and dignified pride which they ought to feel when they saw a Commissioner coming down to inquire what had taken place in their borough. He was certainly sur- 698 prised to hear such an objection. This Commission was to be carried into effect with regard to boroughs which were declared to have given a dishonest return, and of not having exercised the franchise with that feeling of honour and pride which he could wish every elector to exhibit. Those who acted from pure and disinterested motives could have no right to be offended at an inquiry instituted openly to detect the impure and the corrupt. On the contrary, all honourable men would be glad to see the present corrupt system purified and corrected, in order that the present disgraceful scenes might be totally annihilated. He had heard, in the course of the debate, a distinction attempted to be drawn between the honest and the dishonest voters in the same constituency. It was a very favourite argument—and one which was continually repeated—that looking at the evidence taken before the Committees, it appeared that a very small number of corrupt acts, of one sort or other, were on any occasion actually proved. In the first place, he need hardly remark that the number of cases proved before the Committees went for very little. But he did not believe that honest voters, as they were called—men who were so far honest as that they did not sell their votes—were without fault in this matter; for they did not exercise the influence they ought, for the purpose of diminishing these evils. Speak to them, and they would tell you "that such and such things had always gone on, and must and would go on; that they could not prevent them—that they could only tell you frankly the state of the case, and leave you to judge whether, with your eyes open, you will stand for that place?" and, if not, they would find some other gentleman—on the first occasion nobody knew what took place—and so the practice would go on. In several of the boroughs meetings had been held in support of the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Hume), fixed for next Tuesday, and people spoke for this or that sort of suffrage, or mode of giving it; but they had not yet stood manfully before their fellow-townsmen as they ought, saying, "The time is come for a purer exercise of this great right of citizenship; the possession of it is claimed by many who have it not, and we may expect some impatience on their part, and it is incumbent upon us to do all in our power to put down corruption in this borough, and in order to that to make it our first and main consideration, and now 699 that a certain line of political and fiscal policy is agreed on, to put aside all other political questions, and avail ourselves of the present lull in party strife, and unite to put down this venality." He did not know an instance in which that course had been taken, and he did know instances in which it ought. He knew instances in which questions arose at the last election with regard to very considerable places, whether or no particular individuals should stand—he knew that particular individuals had every solicitation to stand; and the reason was publicly stated, that they did not choose to stand for that place because they knew they could not do so without being implicated in corrupt practices. There seemed to be nothing, then, in this argument about "offending a just pride," either with regard to those who were palpably dishonest, or those who were called honest electors. The hon. Member (Mr. Bankes) objected that Parliament would be acting upon the opinion of the Commissioner; but that was not so. The Commissioner would get evidence, and on that evidence draw up a proper report, upon which Parliament would act according to its judgment, as it might think fit. Then the objection of expense was raised, and a return of the cost of some past inquiries had been moved for; but those were inquiries before Committees of that House, and surely expense was a matter of secondary consideration compared with the object in view.
§ MR. ANSTEY
said, it appeared that the object of the present Bill was not what it had been originally stated to be by the hon. Baronet who had just sat down. It was no longer a Bill for the purpose of securing a judicial inquiry into the delinqencies of particular boroughs, but for the purpose of giving effect to the objects of the hon. Member for Montrose, who in a few days would bring forward a measure for the utter extinction of the small constituencies. According to the hon. Baronet, the dishonest voters and the honest were equally to blame—the former for their dishonesty, the latter for their negligence; so that, whether they belonged to the first or the second class, they were to be delivered up now to the discretion of some obscure and briefless barrister, and hereafter to suffer disfranchisement. This was the punishment the hon. Baronet proposed for those who, having tempted him and others to become candidates on former occasions, had not been able to ensure him and them 700 the coveted seat, without some of that corruption which, it was to be hoped, he was always as unwilling as now to encourage. He (Mr. Anstey) would not follow the hon. Baronet into the cases to which he had alluded, but which he had not specified. He could not doubt the truth of the representations made by one so much better informed than himself as to the extent of venality in the constituencies formerly represented by the hon. Baronet. Into those cases he would not go, because in the first place the hon. Baronet had not stated what he meant; and in the second place, he was not locally acquainted, and was not aware of the amount of venality which prevailed in the various constituencies which the hon. Member had represented. But he trusted the House would take into its consideration that these constituencies were no longer represented by the hon. Baronet, and that it did not appear from the reports of the Committee upon the table of the House, that these constituencies were any longer stained with corrupt practices. As to the other boroughs, which it was proposed by this Bill to disfranchise—the boroughs which were described in Clause 17, but not named in the Act or the schedule—he had a question to put, not to the hon. Baronet, but to the two other Members whose names were on the back of this Bill—and to ask them to tell him, and to tell the House, what great offence had these constituencies committed that they should be deprived of that institution which lovers of liberty, like the hon. Member for Montrose and the hon. Member for Hull, had been in the habit of regarding as the chief birthright of Englishmen—trial by jury? For the inquiry was not only to be conducted by this possibly incapable barrister, but the parties were to be deprived of all control over his exercise of those tremendous functions. Not only was an inquisition set up, but trial by jury was in terms taken away; everything was submitted to the absolute and unenlightened discretion of one barrister; and none but a barrister of small practice and small means was likely to take this precarious appointment, that might last only a few weeks, and yet would withdraw him from the ordinary haunts of his profession. These powers were such as were not enjoyed by any court of law, not even by the highest court—the High Court of Parliament. The Bill took away the right, which every client had, to be sheltered by the professional privilege of 701 his attorney or solicitor: it took away from a man the privilege which, according to the present practice in Westminster Hall, such person had, of being permitted to pour his sorrows into the breast of his adviser, without exposing himself to the consequences of that adviser being called upon to violate the seal under which the revelation was made. This Bill, emanating from a liberal party—from Members supposed to be devoted to the great cause of the people—had hitherto met with no opposition whatever, excepting from a party who had been too frequently branded as the enemies of the people, and the friends of arbitrary power. He felt that he should not discharge his duty if he did not pledge himself to resist, by every constitutional means in his power, the passing of the Bill. He differed from the bon. Baronet (Sir J. Hanmer) as to the manner in which this Bill ought to be debated, considering, as he did, that the whole principle of the Bill must properly be discussed on the first clause, which appointed certain persons to make certain inquiries. Now, if on looking through the Bill he (Mr. Anstey) had found one single provision made for an inquiry which deserved the indulgent consideration of the House, he would bare postponed his censure of the clauses obnoxious to censure until they came under examination. But when he found throughout the whole compass of the Bill not one clause which was not obnoxious—not one inquiry directed which was not in its nature unconstitutional, and partial in its operation—he thought that he was bound to take his stand with the hon. and learned Member behind him (Mr. Bankes), and to debate the whole Bill upon the clause for nominating those Commissioners by whom such inquiries were to be prosecuted, and "the purposes of the Act" accomplished. He would not repeat what had been so ably said by the hon. and learned Member behind him (Mr. Bankes). He would confine himself to a point which that hon. and learned Gentleman had omitted to present to the House, probably from a consideration that the attention of the House must have been already-drawn to matters so obvious and glaring. He begged to call the attention of the House to the 10th Clause, which offered a direct premium to perjury. It was called an indemnity clause; but it was no such thing. It was a clause offering a reward to parties to come forward and give the required evidence. It stated that whoever should 702 come forward and give evidence before the Commission, would be held free from all the penal consequences which otherwise might have resulted from the commission of certain offences at any election. Now, supposing some voter had been guilty of bribery at some former election—for the clause specified no particular election—and for which he was liable to be prosecuted—[The SOLICITOR GENERAL: There is the Statute of Limitation.] No doubt there is the Statute of Limitation. But he was supposing a case where the statute had not run, and where the circumstances of guilt did not admit of the culprit's pleading that statute effectually. [An Hon. MEMBER: You cannot go back to a former election.] He could assure the hon. Member that his law was erroneous. If the period of limitation had not elapsed, it signified nothing whether a new election had or had not taken place—whether a new Parliament was or was not sitting. The parties might still be prosecuted in a court of criminal justice. Well, then, suppose some voter in Lincoln or Hull had been guilty of bribery at some former election, and was liable to a penal action and forfeiture—at the suit of the Crown or a private informer—the man had only to come forward and commit perjury, and swear that at the last election he acted as the agent or the accomplice of some candidate in giving or receiving a bribe; and having in this way complied with the conditions of the clause, he was not only freed from all consequences of his former offence, but became a witness, upon whose testimony the borough itself might be disfranchised. The whole Bill was open to similar objections. As to the future, it was provided that the same machinery should be set in motion under similar circumstances; and anybody could easily foresee the handle which hon. Gentlemen opposite—Liberals as they were—would make of that power in the way of extinguishing small constituencies. The 17th Clause provided, that with respect to future elections, the Speaker should appoint other Commissioners to act with the person appointed under the first clause; and whenever a small borough was accused of treating, some hon. Member would be sure to move the suspension of the writ, and the same process would be followed. It was not difficult to foresee that not a single small constituency would obtain its writ, and this would be found a convenient mode of forcing on the great scheme of reform which the hon. Member 703 for Montrose was to bring forward in the course of another week. But was this a just proceeding? If this Bill, however, was to extend to cases in posse, why should it not extend to some great and notorious cases which had really occurred, like that of Galway? The Marquess of Clanricarde, a Cabinet Minister, was charged upon petition, and also by hon. Members in their places in that House, with interference at a former election for Gal way; and those charges were never answered. It might be true that these charges rested upon hearsay and rumour; but what had the hon. Baronet better than hearsay and rumour to justify his proceeding against Horsham and some other of the places comprehended in his Bill? The hon. Baronet included at least two boroughs in his Bill, because treating was charged against them; but, with all respect for the right hon. Member for Tamworth, and his Act of Parliament, he (Mr. Anstey) would contend that treating was only malum quia prohibitum. No purist ever pretended that it was malum in se. He denied that treating and bribery could be regarded, under any aspect, as offences equal in degree. Bribery was an offence against the laws of God and man; treating had only been rendered an offence by Act of Parliament. He would illustrate the working of the law of treating by what took place at the Youghal election. There were about thirty voters too honest to take a bribe, although it had been offered; but yet, owing to the failure of their means of subsistence, too poor to live without Government aid. These poor people were in the daily receipt of rations of Indian corn, and on Saturday they received double allowance. The election took place on a Saturday; but so anxious were his Election Committee to guard against the law of treating being infringed, that they were actually obliged to withhold from the poor creatures a slice of bread and a drink of water, because if such refreshment had been given to one, it would have been held as given to all; and if it had, a handle would have been given to the hon. Baronet (Sir John Hanmer) to get up a case against the election and the constituency. He held that he should not discharge his duty to his own constituents, if he did not avail himself of every constitutional means to defeat the Bill. The only result of this sort of legislation would be to weaken the force of the laws that were made, by confounding the distinction which poor men 704 now drew in their: own minds between right and wrong. He should certainly use every endeavour to resist the further progress of so objectionable a measure.
§ MR. HUDSON
had been anxious to hear the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) say something on this Bill; but he seemed to be enjoying a repose which, no doubt, he very much needed, and which he did not mean to disturb by anything he said relative to this Bill. He should have liked also to hear the Attorney General in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Youghal, whose observations on the Bill were certainly such as to excite alarm in the minds of those who, like him, did not pretend to judge of the working of the law. They were about to direct inquiry into the conduct of certain constituencies; but the hon. Baronet who introduced the Bill had not gone into any detail as to the charges against those constituencies. He had never attempted to make out a case beyond that of a general one of corruption against certain constituencies; and the presumption on his side of the House certainly was, that the hon. Baronet was merely speaking from the experience he had obtained of the different constituencies he had himself represented. He had no doubt that, if he had told his own experience, he would have given them more information than they were likely to obtain from the Commissioner who was to be appointed, probably at a great expense, under the Bill. It would have been but fair if the hon. Baronet had told them some of the secrets of the prison-house. He had been on both sides of the House; probably he knew the secrets on that (the Conservative) side, and no doubt he had been let into the secrets of the prison-house on the other side. The hon. Baronet talked about purity; but all of them liked purity, and admired virtue in any shape. It was not possible, however, to obtain perfection in this world; and therefore, as practical men; they shut their eyes to many things they were unable to prevent. If a law could be so framed as to make every man honest, it would be very desirable to introduce it. Everybody knew, however, that such a thing was altogether impracticable; and that so long as the world existed, and the frailties of human nature were what they were, such purity was out of the question. The Bill of the hon. Baronet referred to certain boroughs; but no Member would venture to say that those boroughs were worse than others. They 705 were brought forward only because it so happened that certain parties had petitioned against them. There was nothing against them but the miserable charge of treating; but he would ask if they imagined that money in treating was the only means of corruption? There were many other means of corruption besides that. Suppose he wont down to a constituency and told them he was about to confer impossibilities upon them by the adoption of certain measures, though he in his conscience knew that they would be productive of no good at all; suppose he was to make the most magnificent promises that he would confer immense benefits upon them, was not that corruption calculated to lead away a whole borough as much as money or treating? Why, the borough of Sunderland had been largely treated to such fine promises as these by the Members of the Anti-Corn-Law League, including the hon. Member for Manchester, and eight or ten more, who held out to the constituency of Sunderland the great advantages they would derive from the abolition of the corn laws—all of them great promises, which they must have known were perfectly fallacious. But there was another kind of bribery that was included in the power of property. The noble Lord opposite had sometimes found his way into that House through the influences of property; and there could be no question that in some boroughs parties had been returned solely through the influence of property. He did not find fault with this; but why was it not proposed to make inquiry into that kind of corruption? If the Gentlemen opposite were such firm believers in the principles they were so often urging, why not bring them into practical operation in that House? Why did the noble Lord not tell his supporters that he would not give this or that place, or reward any man for his support with such places as a recordership, unless he was superior in qualifications to any other man in the House? They all knew that such places were given to those who supported the Government; but why should not the noble Lord follow, in this respect, the course he wished to sec adopted with reference to constituencies? How many hon. Members of that House had received appointments under the Crown only because they gave their support to the Government of the day? He did not find fault with this, nor did he say the present Government was different in this respect from any other; but he wished to know 706 why the principle should be different there from what it was wished to be among the constituencies? The Attorney General, he understood, repudiated this Bill; and certainly he should like to hear the Solicitor General answer some of the statements of the hon. Member for Youghal. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to deny an assertion put forward by that hon. Gentleman; but having denied it, he thought it but fair that he should explain to the House the grounds on which he acted. He considered that if this Bill was adopted it would create heartburnings and ill-feeling in many towns, which would not be compensated by any advantages that might result from the measure. The hon. Member for Montrose, in his green old age, was about to submit to the House an extensive measure of reform. Why, then, should the House now sanction the appointment of Commissions to inquire into the gift of a few shillings to a few poor electors? Why should they send Commissioners, who would receive five guineas a day, into the country to inquire whether the present of a new hat was intended to influence a vote? They had been told that the present Parliament was an economical Parliament; but he could not think it was so if it sanctioned the expenditure of the public money about such matters as these. He must say, that he had seen no movement in the direction of economy during the present Session. The Government had, in a very convenient manner, delegated their authority to Committees, but these Committees had not yet made any report to the House. He knew something about the expense of election inquiries. He once stood before a Committee of that House for three days, and answered 1,200 questions. He knew that every lawyer employed had five guineas a day. He was not so wide awake then as he was now, and he only got a guinea for three days, and outside coach expenses. He believed that inquiry did not cost les 3 than 7,000l., and the result was that a large blue book was laid on the table, and heart burnings were excited which were not allayed for years. The fact was, that an attempt was made to get up a case against the poor freemen. It was true that, for a length of time, these poor people might have been receiving small sums from the Members. Perhaps 200 or 300 persons might be found in a constituency of 4,000 or 5,000, who had received what some people called a "bribe;" but the same thing was done 707 by both parties, and the recipients of these sums did not look upon them as bribes. He must say that he had seen instances of as great virtue, of as stern integrity, and of as determined independence, on the part of great numbers of these freemen as he had ever witnessed among other persons. He did not see the noble Member for Falkirk (Lord Lincoln) in his place; but he remembered that a large paper was sent down into the country, at the time to which he had been alluding, giving the names of those who voted for the freemen in red ink, and those who voted against them in black. The name of the noble Member for Falkirk was then among those printed in red ink, and the names of many hon. Gentlemen opposite were printed in black. When he saw the anxiety now shown to make a case against the freemen, he might be allowed to remind the House that the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) had never cited the case of the 10l. householders of Cheltenham. In that town, there were no freemen; the constituency consisted of 10l. householders; but it was proved that corruption had been practised, and the Member was unseated. Now, hon. Gentlemen who appeared so anxious for the disfranchisement of the freemen, did not think it necessary to refer to this case. He had been told by the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Hanmer) the name of the person who was to be the Chief Commissioner under this Bill, if it received the assent of the House. That hon. Gentleman did not tell him this as any secret, but informed him that the hon. Gentleman and the Government had fixed upon the same person for this office. They were now told that the appointment was to made by the Chief Justice, and he (Mr. Hudson) thought it could not be in better hands. But the hon. Baronet told him (Mr. Hudson) that the late Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck) was to be the Chief Commissioner. He entertained great respect for the abilities of that learned Gentleman, and perhaps a more amiable man could not be selected for an office of this kind, or one more likely to carry out the beneficial intentions of the hon. Baronet. If Parliament delegated its authority in these matters to a Commissioner, they might imagine that Commissioner arriving with great pomp in the city of Lincoln; perhaps, he might be received by the high sheriff; he would hold his court and summon witnesses. He (Mr. Hudson) had had his banking accounts ransacked by a Committee of the 708 House of Commons, because he would not give information which, as an honourable man, he conceived he ought not to give without the consent of the individuals by whom he had been trusted; and for pursuing this conduct he had been threatened with committal to Newgate. Now, the Commissioner to be appointed under this Bill might summon bankers, and require the production of banking books or ledgers. On the occasion to which he had alluded, a banking establishment was subjected to the inconvenience of sending their ledger to London for the inspection of a Committee, who examined the account of ah individual, and might have published it if they had chosen; and had this been done, and had the individual in question been indebted to his bankers, it might have had a serious effect upon his credit. Now, hon. Gentleman did not know whose banking accounts might be called for during election inquiries, and, therefore, he recommended them to be careful how they voted upon this Bill. There might be an inquiry into an election for the city of London, and they might have the banking account of the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) examined by a Committee. If inquiries of the nature to be authorised by this Bill were instituted, there was no man against whom they could not be directed, The House would be laying down a precedent which, though applicable immediately only to 12 or 13 boroughs, Would, on a subsequent occasion, become applicable to some 300 boroughs. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would be told of that precedent when, in another Parliament, they found themselves in a minority. Provision was made for prosecution under the Bill, but there was no provision for the defence. In the York case counsel and attorneys for the defence were allowed at the expense of the country. He hoped the authorities of the boroughs would show their indignation at the Star-chamber inquisitions which it was proposed to institute by refusing the use of their town-halls for the prosecution of such investigations. If there were cases of corruption among the humble classes of a constituency, there were cases, on the other hand, in which electors whose position was higher were actuated by motives which, when fully examined, would be found to be equally corrupt; and he hoped, for the sake of the constituencies, for the sake of the House, that a system of inquiry would not be insisted upon which must involve so useless an expenditure of money.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
had hoped that the progress of the present Bill would not have been marked by any departure from the usual mode of carrying on business. He must own he had been disappointed, because, after the House had assented to the second reading, and had taken a further debate on going into Committee, after each question had been decided by a majority in favour of the Bill, and the House had gone into Committee to-night, they had had the whole matter argued over again—not with reference to the form of inquiry to be instituted, but on the question whether any Bill of this kind should be introduced at all. The hon. and learned Member for Dorsetshire argued the question very fairly on the second reading, maintaining that the House ought to make inquiry by a Committee as he (Lord J. Russell) had proposed in the case of Horsham. A great deal was to be said for that mode of proceeding. It was the least expensive; and both Houses of Parliament would have the whole evidence before them on the subject. On the second reading that was a fair question to place before the House. When the House had approved the principle of the Bill, it was not to be anticipated that on the first clause of the Bill in Committee, that discussion was to be recommenced. The hon. Member who had just sat down had used arguments directed rather against any kind of Bill such as that proposed by the hon. Baronet, than bearing on the first clause, which was now under consideration. The hon. Member had touched on some matters which did not seem worthy of notice. He could not see why any personal attack on the hon. Baronet should be allowed to enter into the question; and, regretting in common with the hon. Member, the absence of the noble Lord the Member for Falkirk, whose support in Committee he would have been glad of, he hoped the House would not consent any longer to argue on the general merits, whether a Bill of this kind should be introduced or not—whether the mode of proceeding proposed was the best or not—but would proceed to consider such questions as that on which the hon. Member had touched for two minutes in his speech—whether sums should be allowed for the prosecution, and not for the defence.
§ MR. GODSON
wished to know whether the Government had obtained the sanction of the Lord Chief Justice to that provision of the Bill by which he was empowered to 710 appoint Commissioners? [Sir G. GREY: We have.] Then, the important question arose, how far would the House of Commons be giving away its jurisdiction? If the House were also to determine that all election petitions should be decided on by a Judge of the land and a jury, there would then be very little bribery or treating; because it would be put an end to, as the matter would then be decided according to evidence in a court of law, and not according to the fancy of Members of a Committee, and not by a Committee composed of two Members of one set of politics and two Members of another, with the chance of having a chairman on the one side or other. By this Bill the first Commissioners were to be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice. Why not the future Commissioners also, if the principle were good? The future Commissioners, however, were to be named by the Speaker. He should vote against the clause on account of this contradiction.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
observed, that the Lord Chief Justice had given his sanction to the proposition that he should appoint such persons as Commissioners under the Bill as he might think fitted for the duty. In this respect the House was not parting with its jurisdiction, nor was the case of the election petitions at all analogous to the present. In reference to election petitions, the Committee was invested with judicial capacity to decide whether the person petitioned against was or was not a Member of the House; but under this Bill the Commissioners had no power to decide anything. It was a mistake to suppose that they were to disfranchise boroughs. The whole object of the Bill was to establish the most convenient and least expensive mode of collecting evidence, which the House was afterwards to decide upon. There was, undoubtedly, an apparent inconsistency in the Lord Chief Justice nominating in the first instance, and the Speaker afterwards. That arose in this way:—It was usual to name the Commissioners in the Bill, but it was thought that if that course were followed, objections might be taken that the parties named were selected for party purposes, and it was, therefore, deemed better to give the selection of the Commissioners to an individual who could not be supposed to be influenced by party motives. Consequently, the Lord Chief Justice was chosen for this duty, the Speaker not being desirous to perform it in the first instance. 711 On every subsequent vacancy, however, I the Speaker might appoint the person, as in the Sudbury case, to fill up the vacancy. Consequently, there was in substance no inconsistency. With respect to the principle of the Bill, he thought it an inconvenient course again to discuss it, as it had been already decided on by the House on three separate divisions; and he knew not how Gentlemen opposite could complain of the Government not pressing the Bill forward, as the delay was occasioned by the unusual resistance given to the measure.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that as the noble Lord had complained of the desultory debate on the principle of the Bill, he would ask what occasioned that? Why, the lion. Baronet who had charge of the Bill had slipped in words constituting the mode in which these Commissioners were to be appointed, without one word of explanation, and totally contrary to what the House was led to believe would be the mode of naming the Commissioners; for the clause was printed in reference to Commissioners being named in the Bill. It was not until the Solicitor General was called up by the observations of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Godson) that any explanation was given with respect to the new provision of the Bill. But on whose authority was it that the Solicitor said that the Lord Chief Justice consented to the arrangement? Did he make that statement on the part of the Government, and was this the Bill of the Government? It was a serious thing to determine whether they should mix up the Lord Chief Justice with the appointments of these persons, whom the Government, perhaps, had chosen beforehand. It had been publicly stated that one of the Commissioners was to be a particular individual. Had they taken means to ascertain whether the Lord Chief Justice would make that appointment? The only observation made by the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Hanmer) on the clause under consideration was, that he thought the House was going to take a very direct and stringent course of proceeding. He would show that this was the case. The power of naming the Commissioners was taken from the House, and then, by way of pretending to do a great act of justice, they said that they would give authority to the Lord Chief Justice to appoint these persons. Was this all? The next line gave the power of appointing additional Commissioners, in case the House should resolve that it was necessary to do so for 712 the more speedy execution of the Act. Thus, if the Commissioners appointed by the Lord Chief Justice should not go on as they (the majority of that House) thought proper, then they might appoint other Commissioners. Thus, after having two or three Commissioners working at Lincoln, they might send down five new Commissioners to supersede them. This certainly was a direct and stringent course of proceeding. They departed from the usual course of naming the Commissioners in the Bill, and threw the selection on the Lord Chief Justice; and yet, after all, they did not trust him. If the Commissioners did not do as they were wanted, the House might appoint "three other spirits more wicked than themselves." And this was what was called a direct and stringent way of doing business. He agreed with them; it was a very stringent way. He had great objections to the Bill itself, but he confessed he disliked the mode of carrying the Bill into effect more than he disliked the Bill, because it afforded abundant room for unfairness and mismanagement. There was a question which he wished to ask the Solicitor General, for he seemed to have taken the Bill out of the hands of the hon. Baronet behind him, and to have adopted it as a Government Bill: would the Commissioners to he appointed under the first clause die with the boroughs named in the schedule, or were they to form a standing commission for all time?
§ SIR G. GREY
would endeavour to answer the three questions which he understood the hon. Gentleman to have put. The first was, whether the Chief Justice had consented to nominate a particular gentleman whom he (Mr. Henley) had heard had been already selected for the office of one of the Commissioners? With respect to that question, he (Sir G. Grey) had to answer that no nomination had been made, and that if the clause was adopted, the Chief Justice would have the power of selecting any person from the bar of England for the office whom he pleased, without reference to any previous selection. The next question of the hon. Member was, whether in the event of the House resolving that, for the more speedy execution of the Act, an additional number of Commissioners should be appointed, the House was to appoint those Commissioners? He (Sir G. Grey) wondered that the hon. Member, who was usually so accurate, should not have seen that the House was not to appoint these Commissioners, but 713 that they were to he appointed by the very mode which the hon. Member himself said he would not object to, namely, by the Speaker. With respect to the last question, whether in the event of subsequent cases occurring under the 17th Clause, the first commission was to continue as a permanent commission, or whether other Commissioners were to be appointed, he begged to say, that if the hon. Member read the 17th Clause attentively he would see that the Commissioners to be appointed, with reference to future cases, were not to be appointed by the Chief Justice, but by the Speaker.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that what he objected to was the double mode of appointment, because by that means the House, in the event of any of the Commissioners not pleasing them, might keep forcing the Speaker to add to their number until they had got such as did please them.
§ MR. ANSTEY
protested against the language held by the noble Member for London when he said that hon. Gentlemen had not addressed themselves to the question before the House. For his part he should not submit to such dictation.
§ The Committee divided on the question that the clause as amended stand part of the Bill:—Ayes 108; Noes 39: Majority 69.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Greene, T.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Anson, hon. Col.||Grosvenor, Lord R.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Hall, Sir B.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Hallyburton, Lord J. F.|
|Bagshaw, J.||Hawes, B.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Hayter, W. G.|
|Birch, Sir T. B.||Henry, A.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Heywood, J.|
|Boyle, hon. Col.||Hill, Lord M.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hindley, C.|
|Buller, C.||Hollond, R.|
|Bunbury, E. H.||Howard, hon. C. W. G.|
|Campbell, hon. W. F.||Howard, Sir R.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||Hume, J.|
|Clay, J.||Jervis, Sir J.|
|Clifford, H. M.||King, hon. P. J. L.|
|Craig, W. G.||Lewis, G. C.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Littleton, hon. E. R.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||M'Gregor, J.|
|Divett, E.||Maher, N. V.|
|Duncan, G.||Mahon, The O'Gorman|
|Dundas, Adm.||Mangles, R. D.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Marshall, W.|
|Ellice, E.||Matheson, Col.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Maule, rt. hon. F.|
|Estcourt, J. B. B.||Melgund, Visct.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Milner, W. M. E.|
|Fox, W. J.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Freestun, Col.||Monsell, W.|
|Glyn, G. C.||Morpeth, Visct.|
|Granger, T. C.||Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.|
|Mulgrave, Earl of||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Ogle, S. C. H.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Paget, Lord A.||Sullivan, M.|
|Palmer, R.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Parker, J.||Talfourd, Serj.|
|Pearson, C.||Thompson, Col.|
|Pechell, Capt.||Thornely, T.|
|Perfect, R.||Tollemache, hon. J. F.|
|Pigott, F.||Towneley, C.|
|Pinney, W.||Townshend, Capt.|
|Raphael, A.||Trelawny, J. S.|
|Reynolds, J.||Tufnell, H.|
|Ricardo, O.||Vivian, J. H.|
|Rich, H.||Wilcox, B. M.|
|Robartes, T. J. A.||Wilson, J.|
|Roche, E. B.||Wilson, M.|
|Romilly, Sir J.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Wood, W. P.|
|Russell, F. C. H.||Wyld, J.|
|Salwey, Col.||Wyvill, M.|
|Seyiner, H. K.||TELLERS.|
|Simeon, J.||Hanmer, Sir J.|
|Somerville, rt. hon. Sir W.||Baines, M. T.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Anstey, T. C.||Henley, J. W.|
|Archdall, Capt.||Hildyard, R. C.|
|Baring, T.||Hildyard, T. B. T.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Benbow, J.||Hood, Sir A.|
|Beresford, W.||Ingestre, Visct.|
|Bourke, R. S.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Buck, L. W.||Pakington, Sir, J.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Palmer, R.|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Christy, S.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Dodd, G.||Smyth, J. G.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||Spooner, R.|
|Edwards, H.||Stuart, H.|
|Godson, R.||Taylor, T. E.|
|Goring, C.||Urquhart, D.|
|Grogan, E.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Hall, Col.||Bankes, G.|
|Heneage, G. H. W.||Hudson, G.|
§ Clause to stand part of the Bill.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee to sit again.
§ House adjourned at a quarter to One o'clock.