§ Order read, for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [3d March],"That the Minutes of the Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Blackburn Election Petition be laid before this House;"—(Sir John Shelley)
§ Question again proposed—
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. GOULBURN
said, he had on a former occasion pointed out the inconvenience of suspending writs in all cases of bribery, and though that question did not arise directly on a Motion for printing evidence, he would state two reasons why he thought the House ought to be cautious in interfering in the present case. If he understood aright the purpose of the Grenville Act, and the several Acts that had passed since to amend that Act, it was that the House should not exercise its discretion in matters of controverted elections, but should in all cases be guided by the decision of the Committee to whom the Election Petition was referred. In the last Act for amending the Grenville Act, that which was now the law, it was enacted that the Select Committee appointed for the purpose should try the merits of the Election Petition, and determine whether the sitting Member, or any and what other person, had been duly returned and elected, or whether the election was void, and whether a new writ ought to issue or not, and that their determination should be final to the parties, and that the House should act upon it. Now, it was clear from the wording of that clause that it was intended the Committee should form their judgment on the circumstances, and decide whether or not there were sufficient grounds for the suspension of the writ. If the House suspended the writ in a case where no extensive and general bribery was proved, and without the recommendation of the Election Committee, they would be taking on themselves a discretion which the law never intended to invest them with. A subsequent Act of a most important character, the 5 & 6 Vict., was brought in by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell), and the preamble of that Act stated that it was intended to prevent extensive bribery, and it particularly set forth that the bribery should be extensive, to induce the operation of that Act. That Act, in cases where the charges of bribery 1269 had been abandoned, where a petition on account of bribery bad been presented within three months after the election, or where a petition was withdrawn under suspicious circumstances, in order to prevent, as it would seem, a case of bribery being brought under the cognisance of the House, gave the power in each case for the Committee appointed to try the merits of the election to reasemble and prosecute a further inquiry. But without a Report from a Committee that the bribery in any borough was extensive, his own opinion was that that House would not be justified in acting on the casual opinion of any particular Member. There was no man more averse than he was to afford encouragement to anything like bribery. He looked upon it as a grave crime on the part of the party who bribed, and a crime in a minor degree on the part of the person who received the bribe. But when he was called upon to do an act which would affect the whole constituency of a borough, he considered that he was not justified in proceeding upon an individual case, but must ascertain whether the charge of corruption applied generally to the mass of the electors. In the case of Blackburn five persons were reported to have been bribed; and in the case of Bridgenorth it appeared that one individual was reported to have been bribed, and some ten or fifteen against whom charges of bribery were made had been proved to be perfectly innocent—thus showing clearly that there had been no such extensive bribery as would justify the application of the noble Lord's (Lord John Russell's) Act, the 5 &6 Vict., and still less to justify the House in acting without reference to the Report of the Committee. The House ought on all occasions to be exceedingly cautious in suspending writs. Previous to the Grenville Act, writs were frequently suspended by the House, and if they now decided that partial bribery was sufficient to justify the suspension of a writ, the evil effects which the Grenville Act was intended to meet—that was, the giving to the dominant party in the House the power of saying whether certain Members should be excluded or not—would be revived. This was a dangerous principle to introduce, and the danger was far exceeding that which could arise from any casual bribery that might occur in any boroughs; for it was calculated to infringe on the constitution and the freedom of election. If the House should agree to print the evidence in the Blackburn case, the House 1270 would probably go further and suspend the writ. Therefore he thought this was the fitting opportunity of putting it to the House whether they were prepared to suspend a writ in a case where there was no Report from the Committee that such a system of extensive bribery had prevailed at the last election to justify it.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he would state what appeared to him to be the course which the House ought to take on this subject. He thought it was incumbent on the House to consider, with the greatest deliberation and caution—and the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken was perfectly justified in giving that advice—how it acted in the matter under consideration, for a great error might be committed one way or another. It might be a great error to refuse to issue the writ for a borough where five, six, or ten persons had been guilty of bribery; but, on the other hand, he thought that the issue of a writ to a borough of which the greater part was corrupt, and where extensive bribery prevailed at every election, would be also an error of great importance, and likely to lead to much abuse. They must consider the present state of the representation, the facts lately come to light with respect, he was sorry to say, to many of these boroughs, and the inquiries yet to be undertaken; and, from a review of all those circumstances, endeavour to come to a correct decision. The right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken said that the Grenville Act excluded the House from acting in these matters. It appeared to him that there were two points which the House used formerly to consider. With respect to one of them, the Grenville Act had been a remedy—if not a perfect at any rate a tolerably sufficient remedy; hut with respect to the other, so far from being a remedy, the Grenville Act tended to aggravate the evil. The matter on which the Grenville Act had proved a remedy was the practice which prevailed of the case of one Member or another being-taken up according to the party to which he belonged, and discussed in this House in that spirit, and a decision being come to by the majority for political reasons. Of course in such a case it probably often happened that a person legally entitled to a seat was deprived of it by a party vote in that House. That evil, he thought, had been very much corrected by what was called the Grenville Act, and others which succeeded of the same tenor; and 1271 there now existed a judicial tribunal which considered the cases connected with disputed returns with great care, enlightened by the opinion of counsel, and endeavoured as it appeared to him, generally speaking, very honestly to come to a correct decision. But the other evil which existed—namely, the occurrence of corrupt elections in many boroughs—was one with respect to which the House of Commons was accustomed to take the matter into its own hands, and in most instances with considerable effect. He had before had occasion to allude to Sir Edward Seymour, one of the most remarkable Members of that House, who on one occasion was instrumental in procuring an inquiry at the bar of this House in the case of one of those boroughs in which corrupt practices were alleged to have taken place, and where evidence was produced of the corruption, which resulted in a vote of this House, unseating all the Members against whom he proceeded. A vote of thanks was passed by the House for his services. With respect to that evil, the Grenville Act, and the other Acts that succeeded, had rather narrowed the power of the House, and lessened the remedy which formerly existed; and, as for such a proceeding as that for which Sir Edward Seymour was held to have entitled himself to the gratitude of the House, it was now quite impossible for any one to undertake it. The nature of the proceeding at present in each particular case was this:—Supposing a Member was returned by bribing 300 or 400 voters, and that his return was complained of, the petition alleging bribery, the counsel for the petitioners examined witnesses, and, having proved four cases of bribery, he had done quite enough to unseat the Member. What motive, then, had the petitioner to spend 500l. or 600l. to prove that, in addition, some 300 or 400 voters had been guilty of bribery? The petitioner having done enough to unseat the Member returned, desisted from this course, and the Committee having no further evidence before them, came, no doubt, to a true and jnst decision on the evidence adduced. No one could complain of their not doing justice between party and party, whatever political opinions the Members of the Committee might hold; and the Member returned was unseated, a Report being made that four or five persons were guilty of bribery, and there generally the matter ended. That did not prove at all, as the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn) seemed to think, 1272 that there were only five cases of bribery. Therefore the Grenville Act, and those which followed, while they had done much to purify the character of the House with respect to party decisions in reference to the returns of particular Members, had done worse than nothing in dealing with the corruption in boroughs which had prevailed from the time of William III., he regretted to say, up to the present time. He (Lord John Russell) had endeavoured from time to time to introduce Bills to correct in some degree this, which he thought a very considerable defect. By one of those Acts which the right horn Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) had referred to—namely, the Act of 5 &6 Vict.,c.102, the Election Committee, if they had reason to think that the inquiry had not gone far enough, or if they saw ground to suspect that the petition was withdrawn for particular purposes, or for one or two other causes, might again sit and take further evidence with respect to the borough in question. In pursuance of that Act one of the Election Committees had, he believed, that day reported that they had resolved to pursue and make further inquiry. That was very satisfactory in a case where the evidence brought before the Committee should be such as to enable the Committee conscientiously to say that there were grounds of suspicion. But how many cases might there not be where, though bribery extensively prevailed, evidence was not brought before the Committee. There was another Act, which he had the honour of introducing last year, providing for making inquiries by Commission on the spot, which inquiries had been found to be in two cases of a very effective nature. With regard to the borough of Sudbury, it was well known that in the beginning of the reign of George III. advertisements were published in the newspapers to the effect that the highest bidder for the constituency would be returned. Yet from that time to the present reign that borough returned Members. The mode of inquiry established by the Act to which he had referred was to be set on foot upon the joint Address of the Houses of Parliament, setting forth that a Committee of the House of Commons had reported that they had reason to believe that corrupt practices extensively prevailed in any borough. Now the question was—and he thought it a very serious question for the House to consider—what course it would pursue with respect to the reports of the Election Committees in which it was 1273 stated that the elections were carried by bribery, and that, in consequence, the Members returned were unseated. With respect to some of these cases the Committee had not only unseated the Member, but reported that corruption either generally or extensively prevailed. In such cases the House, he supposed, would have no difficulty in agreeing to address the Crown under the provisions of the 15 &c 16 Vict., c. 57. It was not in respect to these cases that the difficulty arose; but there were other cases, in which the number of persons reported by the Committee to be bribed were very few, and in those cases it was matter of consideration whether the House ought to take any further step. In considering the matter he thought it was of great importance not to lose sight of what now, he might say, turned out to be the well-founded belief that bribery and corruption were carried to a very great extent at the last general election. He therefore would put it to the House whether it would be satisfied with asking for an inquiry by Commission in those cases only where the Committee had reported extensive bribery and corruption, or whether it would endeavour to make the remedy commensurate with the evil. He should be very loth to take any course seeming to transfer from the Election Committees to that House the judgment on the matters submitted to them. He thought that any Resolution of that House which implied that it was not satisfied with the decisions of the Election Committees, and that they wished to create an appeal from them, would be a very great evil; but it was one thing to say that an Election Committee had not duly performed its duties, and another to say that, though it had duly performed them, its scope and function were limited by the Act of Parliament, and that it could not consider the general evil, which it became the business of Parliament to do the best to investigate and correct. Now, he thought there were larger and more extensive questions, which, perhaps, could not be referred to the Committees under the Grenville Act, but which Parliament might very fitly consider. He would be rather disposed to say, that in every case where there was a Report of a Select Committee under the Election Acts that a Member or Members had been returned by means of bribery and corrupt practices, it would be desirable to have a Select Committee appointed in order to inquire whether, in the words of the Act, there was 1274 reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed in the borough for which the return had taken place. He could not but believe that there were several boroughs in which it would, in a very few days, appear that this had been the case. He had heard, but he did not know whether it was the fact, that with regard to Bridgenorth there would be a petition to that House praying for inquiry upon this object. He had heard likewise—though he did not vouch for it—that in Blackburn an attempt had been made to insult or attack the houses of those who had given evidence against the bribery which had prevailed at the last election. Now, if there were any truth in these reports, but more especially if a petition was to be presented asking the House to inquire as to the general prevalence of corrupt practices in any one of these boroughs, he thought it would be hardly right for the House, in the face of such a petition, to send a writ down for those boroughs, for, if the House was thoroughly convinced that the election had been corrupt before, so it was likely to be corrupt again. In saying that the election would be corrupt again, he did not mean that the same scenes of bribery would inevitably take place. What he meant was, that the corrupt influence would prevail, and that, although the particular election might not be carried by that influence, yet that some corrupt influence would continue to govern the elections. With respect to the issuing of writs, he did not think that any writ ought to be suspended on the ground that was taken previously to the Grenville Act, namely, by way of penalty or punishment to a borough. He did not think it was right for that House to take into its own hands the punishment of boroughs, as they had formerly done under such circumstances; but he thought, if there was an inquiry pending, either before a Select Committee, or before a Commission appointed according to the Act 15 &c 16 Vict., c. 57, that it might be advisable not to issue the writ. At present he would be quite satisfied with the proposal of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron), with some alteration in its terms. What the hon. Gentleman proposed was, that no writ should be issued without notice. Now, that seemed to be sufficient, but it might happen that late on a Monday, at one or two o'clock in the morning, notice might be given of intention to move for a writ, and that at half-past four the next day the Motion 1275 might be made in a thin House, Members generally not being aware of the intention to bring forward such a Motion. He thought, if the hon. Gentleman would consent to propose that seven days' notice should be given, sufficient opportunity would be afforded to the House to take all the circumstances into consideration, and time would also be afforded to the persons who had the right of voting in the city or borough to which the Motion referred to prepare a petition to the House, if they thought fit to do so. He (Lord John Russell) had ventured to give his opinion to the House on this question. He confessed the subject was one of considerable difficulty, but he did not think it was at all a party matter. He was only anxious, if the House should come to a decision, that they should not appear to act with caprice, or to be desirous of taking too much power into their own hands; while he also wished that they should stand before the country as determined, if possible, to check the torrent of corruption which at present prevailed at elections, and which was a disgrace to our representative system.
§ MR. SOTHERON
said, he would now move the Amendment of which he had given notice. This Motion was copied exactly from a Resolution which was adopted by the House in 1848, in order to settle difficulties as to the issue or suspension of writs in cases analogous to this; and he had always understood that that Resolution had proved a satisfactory settlement of the matter. He would endeavour to point out what he thought would be the effect of adopting any other mode of proceeding than that which he proposed. A Motion had been made that the evidence taken before the Blackburn Election Committee should be laid before the House. Now, the House had appointed a Committee of five Gentlemen, under the sanction of an oath, who had received evidence upon oath, and had made their Report, declaring that the sitting Member was not duly elected, and that bribery had been committed. It was evident, as the Committee had declined to instruct the Chairman to offer any further Resolution on the subject, that they did not think extensive or systematic bribery had prevailed. He would suppose that, if the evidence was laid on the table, the Members of the House, after reading it, might come to a conclusion contrary to that arrived at by the Committee; and it might be proposed that the House should appoint a Select Committee to inquire fur- 1276 ther into the matter, with a view to the issue of a Commission. Now, if such a Committee were appointed, although it had power to send for persons, records, and papers, it could not examine witnesses on oath. He would suppose such a Committee agreed to a Report at variance with that of the original Committee—would not the House then be placed in a most inconvenient and embarrassing position? Which of the two Reports was likely to have most weight with the House? Supposing that the House should assent to the latter of the two Reports, did they think it likely that the other House of Parliament, having the two Reports before them, would adopt that which had not received the sanction of an oath, in preference to that which had? He thought, considering the question in a constitutional point of view, that it would be most unwise to tamper with a Statute which had been deliberately agreed upon, and which constituted a particular tribunal for the trial of these cases. He might suggest, that if the Act 15 & 16 Vict., should at any time be revised, they ought to require the Committee not merely to unseat the Members, but to give their deliberate opinion as to whether a new writ ought or ought not to issue. He feared that if they assented to the appointment of a Select Committee in every one of these cases, the result would be that they would bring back to that House the decision of questions which never could be determined in such an assembly judicially, fairly, and honestly; but which must be determined as they were in the corrupt days of George II., according to the political bias of the Gentlemen who sat in the House. He trusted that the House would not, by assenting to the Motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Shelley), do that which he believed would be setting a most mischievous and dangerous precedent; and if the House refused to support the decisions of its Committees, it could not be expected that they would continue to discharge their arduous duties, with the same courage and impartiality which had characterised all Election Committees during the present Session.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
, in seconding the Amendment, said, that no Member of that House could concur more fully than he did with his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) in every effort to put down corruption and bribery in the constituencies of this country; but he thought they were bound to regard sound constitutional rights and sound principles of justice in 1277 dealing with these questions. He thought the fallacy of the argument of his noble Friend was, that he seemed disposed to assume as a fact that in every case where a Member was unseated for bribery, extensive bribery must have prevailed. The noble Lord seemed to think that that was the presumption upon which the House was to act; but be (Mr. Bouverie) took leave to urge that the presumption was altogether the other way, and he thought that even if the presumption was doubtful, the course recommended of suspending the writ was of very questionable policy. He considered that the presumption was against the idea that extensive bribery had prevailed, if a Committee, whose duty it was, if there should be any ground for suspecting that bribery had existed, to inquire into the subject, and to make a special Report to the House, abstained from doing so. Under the Act commonly called Lord John Russell's Act, it was not optional with a Committee to report or not on the subject, of bribery; but if they found the slightest trace of extensive bribery, it was their bounden duty to the House to report that suspicion to the House. Where no such special Report was made, however, the presumption was that extensive bribery had not prevailed. Then came the question, whether they ought, acting upon a presumption of this kind, to suspend indefinitely the constitutional rights of a borough. He thought that, under ordinary circumstances, the constituencies had a legal and constitutional right to the issue of the writ as speedily as possible. His noble Friend, as he understood, proposed that there should be an inquiry into all these cases by a Select Committee, and that, until such inquiry concluded, the writ should not issue. With regard to the Bridgenorth case, he understood the noble Lord to say that the writ should be suspended, not on account of the Report of the Committee, or because a petition had been presented to that House, but because a petition might be presented. He (Mr. Bouverie) protested against dealing in this manner with so grave a question as that of issuing writs. He thought it would be a most inconvenient course to suspend indefinitely the issue of writs until the suggested inquiries were brought to a conclusion. He believed that about sixty Election Committees had yet to sit, and at the rate at which Members were being unseated, the probability was that some fifty Mem- 1278 bers might lose their seats. Although it seemed to be agreed that when there was a special Report the writ should be suspended, he would ask whether the House should go on performing its functions while so many places were unrepresented? He should, therefore, give the Amendment his support.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words in all eases when the Scat of any Member has been declared void by an Election Committee on the grounds of Bribery or Treating, no Motion for the issuing of a new Writ shall he made without previous notice being given in the Votes,'—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
said, that hon. Members ought at once to banish from their minds every consideration connected with the convenience of the House, and the conduct of its business, in discharge of the great duty which they owed to the public. If the argument of the hon. Member who last addressed the House was good when applied to the inconvenience resulting from unseating the fifty Members who he supposed would be unseated, it would apply equally as well to the inconvenience which would result from unseating those with respect to whom a special Report might be made; and there was no reason why the House should not assume that in every one of these cases special Reports would be made. His noble Friend near him (Lord J. Russell) did not propose to exercise any revision over the proceedings of Election Committees. The duties of those Committees were confined to simply declaring whether an election was or was not valid. Before such Committees, however, no more evidence was offered by the petitioners than was absolutely necessary for the purpose of unseating the sitting Member. In the present state of the public feeling, it was the interest of all parties in that House to show themselves earnest in this matter, and convince the public that they were determined to search the truth to the bottom, and not to trust to the mere accident of how much evidence opposing attorneys might consider necessary in order to obtain the ends which they sought, and which were totally distinct from those proposed by the Select Committee referred to by his noble Friend.
§ SIR FITZROY KELLY
said, he considered that the question before the House had given rise to several points of great constitutional and legal importance. While he concurred with the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that this ought not to be treated as a party question, he also thought that the House was bound to respect the decisions of the Committees appointed by Act of Parliament. If there was one point clear, it was that the House was not called upon to consider this question in its judicial character, all the power of the House having been transferred to the Committee appointed under the Act of Parliament. The question as to the suspension of the issue of the writ for a definite or indefinite period was to be considered in regard to its legality, as well as with reference to future legislation on the subject. The House ought not lightly to interfere with the constitutional rights and privileges of any borough, except under very special circumstances, and upon strong and conclusive grounds. When he looked at the cases to which the noble Lord had referred, or perhaps rather imagined, he begged to remind the noble Lord of the Acts of Parliament which provided for such cases as those in which, where the Report of a Committee should warrant it, there should he a suspension of the writ, and a fresh inquiry. In the case where, although only a few acts of bribery might be proved, yet, if circumstances should leave the Committee to infer that bribery on a more extensive scale had been practised, they might, as had been done to-night, make a special Report to the House, and the House, according to a special provision of the Statute, might suspend the writ, and appoint another Committee of Inquiry. He thought there were two or three tangible objections to the course now proposed, namely, the suspension of 'the writ, and the institution of some further investigation, where such a proceeding was not warranted by the Report of the Committee. In the first place, there was no authority by Act of Parliament or by Common Law to deprive for a time a borough entitled to be represented in that House of the right of exercising the privilege of sending Members to Parliament. Another objection was, that whereas the law, from the time of the Grenville Act, had laboured to make the decision of the Committees final and absolute, the effect of the suspension of the writ would be to do away with all that the Acts of Parliament had done in investing Committees with their exclusive 1280 powers. In the very case now under consideration this application was in the nature of an appeal against the decision of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War (Mr. Sidney Herbert) intimated that this was a judicial question. It certainly was a judicial question before a Committee. A Committee could examine witnesses upon oath, and possessed all the means which the constitution could place at the disposition of any tribunal to enable it to come to a decision. But that House itself had no judicial power at all. It had been said that wherever a single act of bribery had been committed, but where there was reason to suspect bribery on a more extensive scale, the writ ought to he suspended, and the House ought to consider whether any further investigation should take place; and it had also been urged that if the borough should petition for a judicial inquiry, the writ ought to be suspended. He thought the latter argument had been completely answered by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). With respect to the former, he wished to call the attention of the House to the practical mischiefs which would follow the suspension of the writ in every such case. The discussions on the Motion for suspension, and on the Motion for the appointment of a Committee, would be interminable, and would interfere with the practical discharge of the duties of the House. He would therefore venture to submit that the House ought to abide by the decision of the Committee, and that the proceedings of the House ought to be limited to cases in which special Reports had been presented.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, it was very true that one kind of judicial power had been transferred to Committees, namely, the power of deciding between the parties on petition. The power of a Committee was limited to that point; but by 15 & 16 Vict., c. 57, if in the course of investigation circumstances should arise which the Committee might think ought to be reported to the House, power was given to them to report those circumstances; and the Statute provided that if the Committee should so report, the Committee should be constituted no longer for the purpose of trying the question between the parties, but that further proceedings for the purpose of trying the general bribery might be adopted thereon by the House. It was a mistake to suppose that the 11 & 12 Vict. had been passed for the purpose of giving the Committee anything 1281 beyond the strict judicial power of trying the question between the parties. If the Committee should report that there had been extensive bribery, or if the House should have reason to believe that to be the case, it was the duty of the House to inquire. It was then no longer a judicial duty to be exercised between the parties, but by the House sitting in judgment on the borough.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, that as Chairman of the Blackburn Committee, he felt it due to the Members of the Committee, as well as to the constituents into whoso interests it had been their duty to inquire, to say a few words before the conclusion of the debate. He could not see that any distinct course could be followed without violating, if not the existing law, at least the existing custom of the House. There was nothing he would not do to purify the constituencies of the country from the stain that now rested upon them; but he thought the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) was going beyond the law in calling upon the House to adopt what he had rather indistinctly shadowed forth. The noble Lord, if he had understood him rightly, proposed that when a Committee had made a Report, the House was not to be satisfied with that Report if there was any reason to believe that bribery existed in the borough, but to appoint another Committee to make further inquiry. Now he thought that grievous inconvenience would be occasioned by the adoption of such a course, from the contrasting of evidence taken on oath with evidence taken without such solemnity. As regarded the Committee over which he presided, he could assure the House that nothing had been left undone by them to ascertain the real facts of the last election for the borough of Blackburn; and after a most careful inquiry, they had come to the deliberate conclusion that five persons out of a constituency of 1,200—not old freemen, hut 10l. householders—had suffered themselves to be bribed. So far as the money was concerned, when a man came and said, "there is 2,500l. to be spent among you," and he connived at its being spent by his agents, the wonder, therefore, was that more than five persons, out of such a constituency, had not been bribed. If the Committee had had reason to believe either that bribery existed to a greater extent than was proved before them, or that such practices had existed before, they would have specially reported their 1282 opinion to the House. But they reported it had been proved that five persons had been bribed, and that treating to a certain extent had existed. But he believed if the 2,500l. had not been thrown down in the wanton way it had been, they would not have heard of the petition, and the people of Blackburn would have gone to the election without an allegation of bribery. But unless the House was prepared to adopt the determination that in every case in which bribery had been committed, it should be followed up by a searching inquiry, which, in his opinion, they could not do without an alteration in the law, the case of Blackburn was one which ought to be excluded from the category of those whoso cases are to be further investigated. He should vote against the proposition of the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley), because, under the circumstances, he objected to the proceedings of the Committee being laid upon the table; and because, after the Committee had determined that, in their judgment, there was no reason for printing the evidence for the purpose of making further investigation, he looked upon the Motion for its production as the first step towards delaying the writ, which the Committee distinctly said ought not to be delayed. Nor did he agree in the suggestion of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) that the writ should not be moved for without seven days' notice. At the same time it was right and proper that the writ should not be issued without notice. Seven days was too long a period; two or three clays would answer every purpose of affording publicity to those who were interested.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, he was glad to hear the statement of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, because it entirely justified his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster in the course he was pursuing. He quite agreed with the observation that the House ought to he careful in suspending writs, and that they ought to view with jealousy any proposition which might have the effect of preventing constituencies from sending their representatives into that House. Nor ought the question to be viewed as a party question; for hitherto he believed there were about as many killed and wounded upon one side as upon the other. The question ought to be considered upon the broad basis of what was best to be done—whether the writ 1283 should issue without the evidence, or whether the constituency should petition the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor General (Sir P. Kelly) said there might he cases in which the House had to some extent handed over its judicial functions to a Committee, and special cases in which the writ ought not to issue. But how was the House to arrive at the special case unless they had the evidence before them which the Committee had taken? And in this particular case the evidence was necessary in order to see whether there was or was not in this instance a special case. They were informed that in the case of Blackburn 2,500l. were spent, hut that only five persons had teen bribed. Was it meant that those five persons had 500l. each? That could hardly be; at all events this was a circumstance which showed the necessity of the House having the evidence before it, in order to have the means of forming an opinion upon the case. He knew well enough that in the Committee the parties stopped just when they had proved enough, and everything else was unknown to the Committee. He had himself had some experience to his cost in Election Committees; and he would ask whether any man could go into an Election Committee underan expense of from 100l. to 300l. a day? Was not that a serious fact? He knew the case of a contemptible borough in the west of England, where the sitting Member had to defend his seat at a cost of no less than 10,000l. When these things were considered, the House might depend upon it that parties would stop when they had proved just enough; but the effect was that the Committee had not the whole information before them. He contended that it was a bad precedent for the Chairman of a Committee to oppose a Motion for the production of the evidence. Was not that a strange case in which the Chairman of the Committee himself admitted that he knew of 2,500l. being spent in bribery and treating?
§ MR. DEEDES
said, he must beg to explain. What he said was—that a sum of 2,500l. had been lodged, but that there was no evidence of how it had been spent. In fact, the evidence before the Committee led to the belief that a considerable sum was unexpended.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
Then the House was yet in the dark. Let the 1284 whole truth come out. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Deedes) was himself so immaculate that he innocently believed the whole of the 2,5002l. had not been spent in the way imputed; but he (Sir B. Hall) believed that the entire sum had been spent in gross bribery. The very doubt that existed on the matter showed the necessity of having the evidence before them. He should vote for the original Motion.
§ MR. KER SEYMER
said, his experience upon Election Committees had convinced him that it was hardly possible for any case of extensive corruption to escape their cognisance. Under such circumstances the Committee would undoubtedly move that the evidence be printed, and, if necessary, that further step9 should be taken. This being the case, he trusted that the hon. Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley) would not enter upon a course which would inevitably lead to a great practical evil—that of making the issue of new writs turn upon party considerations, the old system which reflected discredit upon the House of Commons.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
said, he should support the Amendment. The hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster had laid no ground for his Motion—a Motion which was inconsistent with the Report of the Committee, and had a tendency to dispute their decision. The Amendment of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron), on the contrary, was reasonable, because the mere fact of bribery at an election having been reported, though confined to a few instances, raised a suspicion that if somebody else had been before the Committee more information would have been obtained. Now, to meet such a case there was a clause which enabled any of the constituency, or any person who had been a candidate, to present a petition at any time within three months complaining of general bribery; and upon such petition a Committee might be appointed in all respects like an Election Committee—the members of which were sworn themselves, and heard the witnesses upon oath—at the public expense. The great matter for the consideration of the House was, what was to be done under the circumstances which had been discussed. Hon. Members were all aware of the delicacy of suspending writs, but he hoped they 1285 were all in earnest in the determination which had been expressed to put down corrupt practices. He hoped, therefore, that the proposition which had been shadowed forth, rather than formally made, by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) might be adopted. It should be recollected that the House transferred nothing to Election Committees but the trial of question between party and party, and he apprehended, therefore, that the noble Lord would not trespass on the power and authority of Election Committees by founding proceedings upon the Act of last Session.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he did not see the necessity for a division, as most hon. Members seemed to approve of the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire. At the same time, if the Motion for printing the evidence in the Blackburn case was pressed, he should vote for it. It could do no harm to have the facts of the case before them; and he hoped at the same time that it would do good to the borough of Blackburn. If the seven days was allowed for the purpose of forming an opinion, or bringing forward a case, the House ought to have all the information that could be given. He would suggest that the Motion and Amendment should be agreed to.
§ MR. SOTHERON
said, he wished that the time should be seven days, and then he should not object to the printing of the evidence.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, that if a division took place, he should vote in favour of the proposal for suspending the writ for seven days. He considered that the hon. Gentlemen who argued this question bad lost sight entirely of the Act of last year. They seemed to consider this proceeding an imputation on the Committees. The Act of last year especially provided for cases of this kind. [The noble Lord read the clause.] Therefore, if it was thought proper on a future day to move that a Select Committee should inquire into these two cases, he conceived that it would be perfectly competent to do so, founding his opinion on this Act of Parliament. He must say, there seemed to be an unnecessary sensitiveness on the part of Chairmen of Committees, as though it were insinuated that they had not pursued the inquiry far enough. But this was not so. Had the Blackburn Committee been appointed to inquire into corrupt practices in that borough, it would have been their duty, finding that 2,500l. had been spent on the 1286 election, to inquire how that 2,500l. bad been expended. Their duty was only to inquire into the return: upon that they had reported; and they had very properly not carried their inquiry further, because they could not compel the counsel and agents to go on.
§ COLONEL BOLDERO
said, that as one of the Members of the Blackburn Committee, he had no objection to have the evidence printed.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, that if the House adopted the Resolution that seven days' notice should be given, he should not, as Chairman of the Blackburn Committee, or personally, object to the evidence being printed.
§ MR. PEACOCKE
said, that there were other boroughs as notorious for corruption as either Blackburn or Bridgenorth, and it was not fair that they should escape. He would take an early opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the subject.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered—"That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Blackburn Election Petition be laid before this House."