HC Deb 17 June 1851 vol 117 cc897-9

presented a petition from Richard Gresham, an elector of St. Albans, stating that he had seen from the notices in that House, that a Motion was to be made that day for the discharge from custody of Henry Edwards; that the said Edwards had been for years past actively engaged in bribing the electors and purchasing votes for money; that the petitioner believed that a full investigation of the practices in that borough could not be had without the examination of the said Edwards; and praying that he might not be discharged.


hoped the House would not be influenced by that which the petitioner said he believed. The petitioner, indeed, asked for that which could not be obtained by keeping Henry Edwards in custody; because, while in custody, be was suffering punishment, and it was unknown to the law that while a man was suffering punishment he should be called upon to give evidence as to that for which he was suffering. He knew nothing with respect to the prisoner or with reference to St. Albans, nor would he have presented any petition in favour of the man's discharge had it not been put into his hands by a solicitor of the very highest character, upon whose narration of the facts he could completely rely. Henry Edwards came before that House, offering a full and complete confession of his guilt. However right it was to vindicate the authority of that House, he thought there was a limit beyond which it ought not to be carried. If Mr. Edwards were kept in his present position the consequences might be ruinous to him, for he was a farmer. He had a wife and a large family, and he was suffering from illness, and stood in need of a change of air and removal from prison. It might be objected that there was an obstacle in the way of an inquiry into the whole state of the case, for that the witnesses were out of the way, and the petitioner had been one of those who aided them in absconding. But Mr. Edwards stated that over those witnesses he had not now the power of exercising any control. It was true that the witnesses were maintained in comfort beyond the jurisdiction of that House; but Mr. Edwards referred to his solicitor to prove that he had not the means of supplying them with those comforts, and therefore that he was not the guilty person. The prisoner had now been in Newgate upwards of nine weeks, and he expressed himself willing to appear, and give a full and complete account of the whole of these transactions, so far as he was concerned in them. Under all the circumstances, he (Mr. Spooner) trusted that the House would take Mr. Edwards's case into their consideration.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Henry Edwards be brought to the Bar of this House To-morrow, in order to his being discharged; and that Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant accordingly.


begged to ask Mr. Speaker whether, in case the House should agree to the Motion, it would be competent for any hon. Member to question the prisoner at the bar of the House?


, replied that no questions could be asked of the prisoner at the bar.


thought it would be premature to discharge Mr. Edwards at present. All the culpable parties in this case kept out of the way; and, if the petitioner were liberated, what security had the House that he would not do the same? In his opinion they would act foolishly to let off the man who was allowed to be the chief participator, if not actor, in the matter.


said, that although there would be no disposition to press hardly upon any individual who had been in prison for a considerable period, it should not be forgotten that the authority of the House had been set at naught by the proceedings which had originated with Mr. Edwards, and that the witnesses who bad been removed by him were still abroad. The Serjeant-at-Arms reported that his officer declared they were living at Boulogne with a Mr. Edwards; and it was desirable to know whether that person was or was not a relative of the prisoner, for the circumstances were very suspicious. If Mr. Edwards's health were endangered, the case would be different; but his assertion to that effect was unsupported by medical testimony. He thought, under all the circumstances, that the House would see reason to pause before assenting to the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner).


wished to know how long it was intended to keep the prisoner in custody? It seemed hard to imprison him for an unlimited period because witnesses chose to absent themselves.


thought it would be hard upon the petitioner if he were kept in prison until the witnesses returned, were it not for the fact that he had been instrumental in their removal. Mr. Edwards only referred to his solicitor to show that he had no power over the witnesses, and was not able to bring them back, but he did not state that to be the case on his own authority. He (Sir G. Grey) thought that they ought not to assent to the Motion without some better assurance on the point than that of Mr. Edwards's solicitor.


hoped that the unknown but most important individual who had employed Mr. Edwards to keep those witnesses out of the way, and was now paying for them at Boulogne, would put Mr. Edwards in a better position to appeal to the mercy of the House by bringing back the witnesses who had absconded.

The House divided:—Aves 4; Noes 133: Majority 129.

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