§ Order for Committee read.
LORD JOHN RUSSELL moved—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased immediately to issue Her Royal Proclamation, with such Reward as Her Majesty shall think proper for discovering, apprehending, and detaining of George Sealey Waggett, John Hayward, James Skegg, and Thomas Burchmore.
§ MR. BANKES
said, that he was extremely desirous that the House should 344 maintain that jurisdiction which belonged to it of trying the validity of the return of Members to Parliament, and he trusted the Chairman, or some Member of the Committee would favour the House with some observations on this peculiar case, because it appeared singular to him that the Committee had not availed themselves of the power of an Act of Parliament, which had been introduced by the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury himself, entitled "An Act for the better Discovery and Prevention of Bribery and Treating at the Elections of Members of Parliament" (5th and 6th Victoria, c. 102). That Act, as far as he was informed, had never yet been put in force; but it appeared to him that it would have been precisely applicable to the case before them. The second section of that Act provided, that if any Committee nominated to try an election petition should recommend that further inquiry and investigation should be made regarding bribery at such election, in that case Mr. Speaker should nominate an agent to prosecute the investigation into the matter of the said bribery; and the said Committee should, within fourteen days from the time of their having made their report on the election petition, reassemble, and should inquire in and ascertain whether bribery was or was not practised at the said election, and to what extent, and should specially report to the House all such matters relating to the said bribery, and the parties implicated or concerned therein, as to the said Committee should seem expedient. Now, in the present case the Committee had made a report very nearly in terms complying with that section, but they had neither stated that the case was one in which that Act should be put in force, nor had they directed the attention of the House to its provisions in any way; and, the adjournment of the House occurring on the very day on which that Report was made, there had been no opportunity for any other hon. Member to make an observation upon the subject within the fourteen days limited by the Act of Parliament. The Committee, after sitting ten days, had reported a variety of matters—among others, their belief that gross corruption had prevailed at the last and at previous elections for the borough of St. Albans, and their opinion that further inquiries by means of a commission under legislative authority should be made into the alleged corrupt practices. He did not presume to impugn the course 345 followed by that Committee, being aware that they were placed in considerable difficulty by the absence of witnesses; but he could not but regret that, instead of recommending further inquiry by means of a Commission, they had not followed the provisions of the noble Lord's Act, by which further inquiry might now have been made by the same Committee. He should, therefore, upon the proposal for the appointment of a Commission, feel it his duty to call the attention of the House more particularly to the circumstances of this case, and he would move that, instead of such a Commission as was proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Edward Ellice), a Commission composed of Members of that House should be appointed to investigate without delay the whole proceedings. If the issue of a Royal Proclamation, offering a reward for the apprehension of the missing witnesses, was not more effectual than the measures which had already been taken by the Committee and that House, it would be obvious that their tribunals were a mere mockery of justice, and that they did not possess those powers for enforcing the attendance of witnesses which were possessed by the superior courts of law. He was afraid the legal period had expired for resorting, in this case, to the wholesome provisions of the noble Lord's Act for checking bribery and corruption. But what was the use of placing law after law on the Statute-book if they were not meant to be enforced?
MR. EDWARD ELLICE
said, he thought the greater part of the hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Bankes') speech inapplicable to the Motion now before the House. Having given notice, as chairman of the Committee, that he should, on Tuesday next, state the grounds of the recommendation made by the Committee, and ask the House to adopt it; he should, therefore, consult the convenience of the House, and defer the remarks he had to make for the present. He would only say that the Committee had fully considered the provisions of the Act cited by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bankes), and yet their decision to recommend the appointment of a Commission was arrived at unanimously. Of the Motion at present before the House, it was not for him, as chairman of the Committee, to speak. He left it entirely to the House to deal with it as it thought fit.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he wished to make a few remarks, after the observations that had fallen from the hon. 346 Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes). It was clear that the St. Albans Election Committee had been defeated in their inquiry by the difficulty of finding these witnesses, on whose evidence much was expected by the petitioner to turn. If that difficulty had arisen from the misconduct of the sitting Member—if there had been even a suggestion or an allegation to that effect—there might have been some reason for giving the petitioner more time for establishing his case; but there was no evidence with that tendency, or any suggestion even that the witnesses had been kept back by the sitting Member, or of any connexion between him and the agents guilty of the bribery. The Committee, therefore, could not have made any more adjournments than they already had made; and, indeed, there was no application on the part of the counsel for the petitioner that they should do so. It was, therefore, too much to say, that a Committee was an ineffectual tribunal for ascertaining the purity of election, which had taken the only course open to them, and having heard that the counsel for the petitioner could not proceed any farther with the case. With regard to the propriety of a special report in this case, under the noble Lord's (Lord John Russell's) Act, there were two modes of dealing with boroughs where general bribery was alleged to have taken place. Where they found a particular class of voters guilty of habitually receiving bribes, it was very desirable that the Committee should report the whole matter, and that the House should take steps with those voters, as in the Yarmouth ease. But when there was an allegation of general bribery, as in this case, leading only to one conclusion, if proved, namely, to the disfranchisement of the whole borough, then he apprehended the Committee was wise in considering, and the House also would be wise in considering, whether the appointment of a Commission would not be more effectual than a further inquiry before a Committee. They all knew the course taken in the Sudbury case, where Commissioners were appointed to examine on the spot, and they arrived at a conclusion, upon clear and conclusive proof, to which no objection could be or was raised; and both Houses of Parliament consented to a measure for the disfranchisement of that borough. If the course of a further inquiry before the Committee had been taken, when they came to propose so serious a step as the disfranchise- 347 ment of a whole borough, they would not be so likely to obtain the consent of both Houses of Parliament as they would if a Commission had been appointed to take evidence under the previous sanction of the Legislature. It must not be forgotten that a doubt existed as to the position in which the St. Albans Committee had been placed with reference to their adjournments. He thought, then, if there were two courses open to that Committee, the one perfectly free from doubt, and the other one which might render it necessary to prove that the Committee was an existing Committee at the time its Report was made, it would have been very unwise on the part of the Committee if they had taken the more doubtful course instead of that about which no doubt existed. He thought the House was in no way lowered in reference to its capacity for entering upon this inquiry because it adopted the course which was the most ready, the most effective, and which was already proved to be the most valuable course, namely, by way of a Commission, instead of further investigation before the Committee. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bankes) had referred to the difference between the Courts of Law and the tribunal of that House in enforcing the attendance of witnesses; but he forgot that the privilege of adjourning for the purpose of securing the attendance of witnesses, as exercised by the Committee of that House, could not be exercised by the Courts of Law; and therefore the difference between the two tribunals was in favour of that House. The hon. Gentleman said the Committee had been defeated in their inquiry, and that, if the reward proposed to be offered failed, the House would be set at nought. Suppose a Court of Law had endeavoured to obtain evidence, and the witnesses had been kept out of the way, what means would the Court have had of enforcing their attendance? The House had at all times the power of insisting on the attendance of parties, and their punishment for contempt. The only difference between the House and the Court of Law was, that the Court of Law would be baffled immediately in their attempt, whereas the powers of the House extended not only through that Session, but through the next; and, indeed, to whatever period the House itself might think fit.
§ MR. JOHN STUART
thought the hon. and learned Solicitor General had not been very successful in defending the proceed- 348 ings of the Committee from the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes); on the contrary, he had excited in his (Mr. Stuart's) mind, some doubt whether there were not much; graver charges to be made against the course of their proceedings than had yet engaged the attention of the House. Anything more calculated to reduce to actual farce an inquiry as to the validity of an election charged to have been accompanied with acts of bribery than the proceedings of this Committee, could hardly be imagined. It seemed to him that the question before them was not as to the best mode of inquiring into cases of contested election, but to consider the situation of the House with respect to the Report of the Committee on this question of the abduction of witnesses. It appeared that the counsel for the petitioner stated that he was prepared to prove that the agent of the sitting Member was the individual concerned in the removal of those witnesses. [Mr. EDWARD ELLICE dissented.] He saw the hon. Chairman of the Committee shake his head; but he would remind the hon. Gentleman of what was on record in the printed Minutes of evidence. He found it stated that—Mr. Sergeant Wrangham applied to the Committee for an adjournment, on the ground that certain persons who were material and necessary witnesses for establishing the case of the petitioner, had, cither after being served with the Speaker's warrant, or, in order to avoid such service, disappeared from the borough of St. Albans, and that with respect to two of the witnesses, he was prepared to show that they had been carried off by certain agents of the sitting Member.The question was, whether an agent of the sitting Member had been accessory to procuring the removal of the witnesses. Did the Committee proceed to inquire as to the agency of Edwards, and if they did not, why did they not? They evaded the question of agency, and resolved—That, it having been proved to the satisfaction of the Committee, that certain witnesses, whose evidence was stated by the counsel for the petitioner as material in proof of their case, either have been withdrawn or have absented themselves for the purpose of evading the service of the Speaker's warrant, and that in at least one instance a witness upon whom the Speaker's warrant had been served, had been convoyed away by a number of persons, one of which persons has been identified as an active promoter of the election of the sitting Member.Now, was the question of the agency of that active promoter adverted to? If this individual was an agent of the sitting 349 Member, what important considerations would not that lead to, with respect to the situation of the sitting Member f Having failed to ascertain the identity of this active man, who had removed the witnesses, and baffled the inquiry, which for the purposes of justice ought to have been prosecuted to a satisfactory result, he asked whether the House could be satisfied that the proceedings of the Committee, in regard to the abduction of those witnesses, were conducted in such a way, or had produced such a report, as to evince that they were entitled to the slightest weight, either with respect to issuing a Commission, passing a new Bill, or adopting any other course? There could be no question that the Proclamation should be issued; but he could not help feeling that this was likely to be as great a farce as anything in the proceedings of the Committee. As it was, the prosecution of the inquiry referred to the Committee had been baffled; and, instead of justice being done, the Government was left in possession of the vote of a sitting Member under circumstances in which no man should be allowed to retain his seat, unless a satisfactory explanation of them could be given.
MR. EDWARD ELLICE
was exceedingly unwilling to trouble the House on this subject to-day, because he believed the whole discussion must be gone over again on a future occasion; but, after the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Newark (Mr. John Stuart), he must say that it was undoubtedly proved before the Committee that Mr. Blagg, the avowed agent of the sitting Member, was a party to the removal of certain witnesses. Mr. Blagg was put into the witness-box by Serjeant Kinglake, counsel for the sitting Member, to explain the share he himself had in the abduction of the witnesses; and his account was, that he had taken them away out of the hands of persons who had been employed by the petitioners to keep them in a quasi custody. Mr. Blagg said, "I had a perfect right to take these parties away from the influence of persons employed by the petitioners." Upon the next meeting of the Committee the two witnesses to whom Mr. Blagg referred were produced and examined. They were accused of having been bribed, and upon the question being put to them whether they were bribed or not, they swore positively that they were not. It was quite true that the question of Edwards' agency was not mooted by the Committee. He (Mr. Ellice) 350 took it for granted that the Committee sat as judges, but that it was no part of their duty to take up points that might serve either the petitioner or the sitting Member. It was not for the chairman or members of the Committee to ask or advise any party as the course to be pursued.
§ MR. JOHN STUART
, in explanation, begged to say that he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman, that the Committee sat as judges, but in this case they had not judged at all, It was part of the duty of judges sitting to investigate the truth of facts, to see that all proper means were resorted to, and all due facilities given to litigants before them to have witnesses produced, so that the truth might be fairly brought out.
MR. EDWARD ELLICE
said, that it had been stated, as a serious objection to the proceedings of the Committee being adjourned at all, that in a court of justice, if witnesses were not forthcoming, the jury would be instructed to come to a verdict; and it was in the face of those remonstrances that they had adjourned.
§ MR. HUME
did not think they had now to try the conduct of the Committee. It appeared to him that the whole of this discussion was altogether beside the question, which was, whether Her Majesty's proclamation Should be issued with the view of arresting certain individuals who had evaded the summons of the House. This questioning and challenging of the conduct of the Committee would tend to weaken very much the power and influence of the House. If the House was to be of any use, they must carry on their proceedings regularly, and its own Members ought not to be parties to condemning and invalidating its proceedings. He feared that the time of the House would be occupied almost indefinitely with such cases as those of St. Albans and Aylesbury, unless the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who he hoped, would before long introduce a measure of Parliamentary reform, would provide for such an increase of the small constituencies as would raise them to at least 1,000 electors, in order to put an end to the system of bribery at present existing in them.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
thought the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bankes) would have done better to reserve his remarks on this subject until his hon. Friend the Chairman of the Election Committee (Mr. Edward Ellice) should move for leave to bring in a Bill to appoint a Commission of Inquiry. It was 351 undoubtedly a very fair subject of inquiry in itself, why the Committee did not make use of the powers granted to them by the Act to which the lion. Gentleman (Mr. Bankes) alluded, which he (Lord John Russell) had the honour to introduce into Parliament, and why they preferred recommending to the House that a Commission should be issued. He thought that, generally speaking, a Commission was the better course of the two; and he had in a subsequent year introduced a Bill which passed through that House, providing for the appointment of a Commission in many other cases besides those in which that power at present existed. That Bill was lost in the other House of Parliament, owing to the lateness of the Session; but he should say that, when the period arrived at which Parliament was near its expiration, there must be some general power given by law for having a Commission more frequently in such cases. He quite agreed with his lion, and learned Friend the Solicitor General that a Commission inquiring on oath on the spot, and being considered impartial in the case, had more weight with Parliament generally than a Committee, which was composed of Members of one House only. With respect to this particular case, however, he thought it was quite a sufficient reason for the course taken by the Committee, that very great doubt had been thrown on the regularity of their proceedings by their frequent adjournments. If, upon the Report being presented, objections had been made to their competence as a Committee, and if, when they sat again, witnesses had declined being sworn, denying the competence of the Committee and the regularity of its proceedings, it would have raised a question exceedingly embarrassing, and which, according to all he had heard of the opinions of lawyers, would have led to very considerable doubt whether the Committee, after their frequent adjournments, would be empowered to make this further inquiry, in conformity with law. He did not think it was an answer to that to say that they had made a Report. His hon. Friend (Mr. Edward Ellice) said, they had made a Report, and thereby shown that they considered themselves a Committee. No doubt they did consider themselves a Committee, and as the counsel for neither party disputed their competence, they were justified in making a Report; but if either side had disputed their competence, then would have arisen the question as to whether they were 352 a regular Committee empowered to carry on such an inquiry. That was the only reason why he thought the Committee were justified in preferring to proceed by Commission; but he considered it of very great importance that the power of general inquiry should be retained, because they might find the other House of Pasliament unwilling to agree with them in certain eases to appoint a Commission for the purpose of inquiry. With respect to the question raised by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), who, after complaining that this discussion had gone beyond the narrow limits of the question which the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Bernal) had in his hands, proceeded to raise the general subject of Reform of Parliament, he had only one observation to make. His hon. Friend said, the whole of the complaints of bribery arose from places like Aylesbury and St. Albans, with a diminutive number of electors, and that they could not possibly occur if the number of electors amounted to 2,000, or even 1,000, because such a number of electors would be a complete guarantee against anything like bribery. He confessed his (Lord John Russell's) experience hardly warranted him in coming to that conclusion. He had hoard much of the existence of bribery in two very considerable towns of this kingdom—Norwich and Nottingham, and also in other towns where the number of the constituency was not only more than 1,000, but considerably more than 2,000. He could not concur with his hon. Friend that the mere increase of the numbers of the electors would be a safeguard against bribery and corruption. He could mention examples of purity in very small boroughs, where he believed there had been no complaint of the existence of bribery.
§ MR. WILLIAM WILLIAMS
thought the noble Lord unfortunate in referring to Nottingham and Norwich. Norwich, he believed, was purchased in 1837, but had never had a purchaser since; it was said that one side expended 21,000l and the other 35,000l. The noble Lord must be very little acquainted with the condition of the small boroughs if he did not know that, with scarcely any exception, they were bought and sold as commonly as 353 sheep. Most of them were just as corrupt as Appleby, Old Sarum, or Gatton in the days of the unreformed Parliament.
§ MR. BANKES
said, he had thought it expedient to raise the question as to the proceedings of the St. Albans Committee now, though the Motion of the hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. Edward Ellice) was fixed for Tuesday next, because he believed there was not the slightest chance of its coming on upon that day, unless the hon. Member could bring it on as a question of privilege, which he was afraid it was not competent for him to do. If not, the hon. Member would probably find no occasion for a month to come, unless the noble Lord at the head of the Government would consent to give him one of the Order days of the Government; and such was the importance of the question, that he hoped the noble Lord would do so. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL intimated dissent.] The noble Lord, he was sorry to find, objected to that suggestion. Now, that symptom justified him (Mr. Bankes) in the course he had that day pursued. He would tell hon. Members that if they did not themselves canvass the faults of their Committees, those faults would be very carefully canvassed out of doors. He believed that the tribunal they had appointed for the trial of these cases did not work well, and that it was their duty to amend it.
§ Address agreed to; Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ House resumed.