HC Deb 04 September 1848 vol 101 cc785-9

said: I beg leave to move that the evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Cheltenham Election Petition, together with the proceedings, be printed. In doing so, I trust the House will allow me to allude to a very extraordinary attack which has been made, impugning the decision of that Committee, of which I had the honour to be Chairman—an attack not only upon the decision of the Committee, but also upon the character of the Members of that Committee. In the few observations with which I am about to trouble the House, it is my intention to abstain from all comment upon the expressions used in the speech of Mr. Craven Berkeley to a public meeting at Cheltenham which applied personally to myself. I was absent from town on Friday, and it was not till the afternoon of that day that I received a paper, in which I saw the report of that speech; I immediately came to London, but the House had already adjourned. It has been the opinion of the friends, of high and unquestioned honour, in whoso hands I thought it right to place myself, that as the expressions of which I think I have a just right to complain, were used towards me in consequence of a decision to which I had come when sitting in a judicial character under the instructions of this House, I was not justified in taking notice of those expressions otherwise than in this House, and in my character as a Member of this House. Being thus precluded by opinions to which I feel bound to defer, and not having the opportunity of noticing those expressions elsewhere than in this House, I shall not avail myself of my privilege as a Member of the House to make a single comment upon the expressions personal to myself used by Mr. Craven Berkeley. I leave it to the friends who have known me for many years—I leave it to this House—to decide whether I am deserving of the terms which a Gentleman with whom, as a Member of this House, I have been for many years in habits of friendly intercourse, has thought right to use towards me, because I, acting under the instructions of this House, and sitting as a judge, had come to a decision, to the best of my ability, but at all events conscientiously, upon the matter entrusted to my consideration. Waving, therefore, all allusion to myself, I still feel it to be my duty as Chairman to call the very serious attention of the House to the position in which not that Committee alone, but the House itself, is placed, by an attack made upon the Committee at a public meeting by Mr. Craven Berkeley. The decision of that Committee was stated to be unfair, iniquitous, and unjust; it was also stated that one of the Members of the Committee had been in consultation with the counsel of the petitioners—the persons who petitioned against Mr. Berkeley's return; and that another of the Members had entered the Committee with his mind already made up. It is my duty, as Chairman of the Committee, to give my unqualified contradiction to those assertions. I believe that the decision of the Committee was just and legal; I believe that no judicial Committee could have come to any other decision upon the evidence which was before us. But it is immaterial whether our opinion was sound or unsound; the real question is, was the decision honest or not? Now, I declare, upon my honour, that I never saw men who appeared—it is impossible to read the heart of another—to understand more perfectly the merits of a case, or to be more determined to decide as became men of honour, and having regard to the oath we had taken. On the two decisions which respected Mr. Craven Berkeley, one favourable to him, the other adverse, the Committee were unanimous: the one, that we did not think the evidence bore out the charge of bribery; the other, that we thought that by his agents he was guilty of treating; and if any stranger could have come into the room during our deliberations, I would have defied him to discover, by any word that was spoken, or by even the least indications of manner, what were the politics of the respective Members of the Committee. I do think it is hard that men who have patiently and assiduously laboured to arrive at a just and conscientious decision, should be exposed to this species of attack; and not from a man low in station, unconscious of the offence he is committing, but a gentleman who had the honour of a seat in this House, and because it was our painful duty, upon the evidence before us, to deprive him of that seat. It seems to me that though we, the Committee, may feel interested in this matter, the House has also a deep interest in it. The House devolves upon Members of a Committee a most grave and arduous duty; it is most important, both for the reputation of the House and for the best interests of the country, that the decisions of these Committees should be given fearlessly, honestly, and conscientiously. The anxiety and responsibility already devolving upon those Members are very serious; and precisely as a man is worthy to sit on such a Committee, he must feel the more deeply that anxiety and responsibility. If, in addition to that, Members serving on these Committees are to expect to be exposed subsequently to obloquy—if they are to be held up to the country as men forgetful alike of their character and their oath—you will either have men refusing to perform those duties, or you will be subjecting them, in addition to the anxiety and responsibility already borne, to a penalty which you have no right to impose—the heaviest penalty you can impose upon a gentleman—the liability to be held up before his fellow-citizens and the public as one who forgets his character as a gentleman, and the obligations cast upon him. With these observations I leave the matter in the hands of the House. I know not whether this is a question of privilege—I know not whether Mr. Craven Berkeley has been guilty of a breach of our privileges; if he has, I would not urge any harsh or vindictive stops against him; I would admit that there is much allowance to be made for his painful position, and the excitement under which he probably spoke. But I do think that this House ought, by some resolution, by some formal step, to express its disapprobation of the course that a Gentleman, who has been a Member of this House, thought fit to take; and, at all events, I hope the House will give to us, the Members of the Committee, the consolation of feeling that, at least in the opinion of this House, we have conscientiously, and to the best of our ability, discharged the duty which the House thought fit to impose upon us.


Having been one of the Friends alluded to by the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Clay), I think it my duty to state to the House—a duty I owe also to my hon. Friend—that, having been consulted by him to preserve his honour in the course which it would be proper for him to take, and having given my best consideration to the speech said to having been made by Mr. Craven Berkeley at Cheltenham, I unhesitatingly came to the decision that my hon. Friend was not justified in seeking private redress for an indignity offered to him when in the discharge of a public duty in the Committee upstairs. But, anxious as I was, not being sufficiently acquainted with the forms of the House, to guide me Friend in the true path of honour, I appealed to the opinion of a noble Friend of mine, a most distinguished military officer, who, taking the case into his consideration, came with myself to the opinion I have already stated to the House, that my hon. Friend would not be justified in seeking private redress for the indignity offered to him in that speech of Mr. Berkeley at Cheltenham.


I am sure the House will think that it required no explanation from my hon. Friend, and no vindication, to prove to this House and to the country that the attack made upon him by Mr. Craven Berkeley had no foundation whatever, and is perfectly undeserved. In regard to the course which my hon. Friend thinks that this House might take upon the subject, I would venture humbly to submit to him and to the House, that under all the circumstances of the case it might be a sufficient satisfaction to himself and to the other Members of the Committee, whose conduct on this occasion is impugned, that this House has shown by the most general, and, indeed, universal expression of opinion on the part of all the Members present, that it considers there is no foundation for the charge, and that therefore their characters and conduct stand perfectly unimpeached by anything that may have passed in relation to the matter. I am persuaded that any friend of Mr. Berkeley's whom he may consult upon the subject, will tell him that the course which he was led in a moment of irritation to pursue, strikes at the root of the administration of justice in this coun- try, and is one therefore which it is unfitting to any person, however irritated and however mortified at the moment, to pursue. It is obvious, that if those who, either as Members of this House or of any other court of justice, pronounce, according to the best of their judgment, decisions upon cases which come before them, are liable to be personally attacked by disappointed parties in consequence of the honest and conscientious discharge of their duties, the sources of justice in this country will be poisoned; and it is impossible to expect that men will administer their judicial functions with that impartiality, that uprightness, that fearlessness, which it is essential to have on all occasions preserved in our tribunals. I should hope that the unanimous expression of opinion which has been drawn forth upon this subject, would, on the one hand, tend to show Mr. Berkeley that he is in error in the course which he has pursued, and may on the other hand satisfy the feelings of my hon. Friend and the other Members of the Committee.—Motion agreed to.

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