HC Deb 03 May 1853 vol 126 cc1049-75

said, he wished to draw the attention of the House to the Sessional Order with reference to Elections, and would move that it be read by the Clerk at the table.

Sessional Resolution relating to Elections read, as follows:— "Resolved —That if it shall appear that any per- son hath been elected or returned a Member of this House, or endeavoured so to be, by bribery, or any other corrupt practices, this House will proceed with the utmost severity against all such persons as shall have been wilfully concerned in such bribery or other corrupt practices.

Sessional Resolutions relating to Witnesses read.


would now advert to the Report which had emanated from the Chatham Election Committee, and observed, that, upon that Report being presented, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King) brought forward a Motion to the effect, that the Attorney General be directed to prosecute Stephen Mount for perjury; and the result was, that in a tolerably full House, without a dissentient voice, the Attorney General was instructed, upon the strength of the Report of the Committee, to prosecute Stephen Mount accordingly. He (Sir J. Shelley) thought it incumbent upon them, however, to proceed further upon that Report, for if it were good with respect to the perjury of Stephen Mount, it was equally good with regard to the bribery carried on by Sir Frederic Smith. But in order to allow hon. Members full time to consider the evidence, and to determine what course their duty to themselves and to the House required of them, he had asked leave to postpone the whole subject till after Easter; and this was the first opportunity he had had since of bringing the subject forward. He would not go into the evidence, which was in every hon. Member's hand, but assuming that they were familiar with that evidence, he would urge upon them to stand by the Report. He contended that it was the duty of that House to strengthen the hands of their Committees, and certainly the way in which they had discharged their duties hitherto entitled their decisions to every possible respect. By the kind attention of the officers of the House he had been enabled to refer to the precedents upon this subject, and, so far as he could discover, after a careful perusal, there was no instance of a Member having been reported as guilty of bribery in which he had not been prosecuted by the Attorney General. In 1803 there was the Winchester case. Subsequently Sir C. Hawkins was prosecuted. In 1819, in the Barnstaple case, Sir Manasseh Lopez was prosecuted by the Attorney General. In the same year, in the Penryn case, Mr. Swann was prosecuted; and in 1831, in Dublin city, in 1835, in Ipswich, and in the same year in Great Yarmouth, the parties implicated in bribery were prose- cuted by the Attorney General. It might be said that the bribery in this case was not by a gift of money. He admitted that nothing could be more demoralising than giving money for a vote. Where a 5l. note was given for that purpose, however, no one was injured except the individual against whom the vote was recorded; but where a Government dispensed dockyard or other patronage for party and political purposes, and procured their partisans situations for life in the public offices, then not only was an individual injured, but the whole country was debased, the public opinion of public men was lowered, and the service of the country was endangered. He quite admitted that this Motion and the whole subject of these election petitions, were matters of a most painful character. Up to Easter eighteen persons had been unseated on petition, and out of those fifteen had been declared to be guilty of bribery—fourteen by agents, and in one— the present case—the Member himself had been declared to have committed the bribery. He assured the House that he had no personal feeling in the matter as regarded Sir Frederic Smith. He had been induced to bring forward the subject solely as a matter of duty; and, having done so, he would leave the question in the hands of the House without a word further.

Motion made, and Question put— That the Chatham Election Committee having reported, that Joseph Great head, an elector of Chatham, had been bribed by a situation as a letter carrier in the Post-office, obtained for his son Charles Great head, by Sir John Mark Frederic Smith, Mr. Attorney General be directed to prosecute the said Sir John Mark Frederic Smith for bribery at the last Election at Chatham.


said, he had hoped that some Member of the Government would have expressed his opinion on the Motion just submitted to the House. The hon. Baronet who had brought it forward had disclaimed being actuated by any personal feeling in the matter. He (Sir F. Thesiger) felt satisfied that that was the fact; and he was sure the hon. Baronet would be gratified, as many other Members would be, to find that, upon considering the evidence in the case, the House would not be under the necessity of interfering in the way proposed. The hon. Baronet said, that as the Committee had reported against Mount, and as proceedings had been ordered against that witness, he thought it right that proceedings should also be adopted against Sir Frederic Smith. He wished to call the Attention of the House to the peculiar character of the Report of the Committee with regard to Sir Frederic Smith. The hon. Baronet had stated that the Committee had reported that Sir Frederic Smith was guilty of bribery. Now, that was not exactly the Report of the Committee. Their Report, which was very guardedly framed, was as follows:— That it was proved to the Committee that Joseph Greathead, an Elector of Chatham, had been bribed by a situation as a letter-carrier in the Post-office, obtained for his son, Charles Greathead, by Sir John Mark Frederic Smith. The circumstances of the case would fully account for the mode which the Committee had adopted in expressing their opinions upon this point. And now with regard to the precedents to which the hon. Baronet had referred. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet, that there were numerous precedents to be found on the journals in which the House, on the Reports of Committees, had directed the Attorney General to prosecute persons for bribery and perjury; but he believed he might venture to say that the House had never interfered in that manner unless in cases of flagrant and gross corruption, or cases of such a character as seemed to call imperatively on the House to do so. He would, however, refer to one or two cases in which it appeared to him how very necessary it was that some little caution should be used by the House as to the mode of proceeding in cases of this description. In 1841, Mr. Charles Williams Wynn brought forward a Motion for prosecuting Dr. Webster for bribery at the St. Albans election. The Committee had not reported that Dr. Webster was guilty of bribery; hut, on examining the evidence taken before the Committee, there were two cases which seemed to establish the charge against him. With some reluctance, and after considerable opposition on the part of Members of great weight and authority, the House, as he thought unfortunately, yielded to the Motion, and directed a prosecution to be instituted against Dr. Webster. Now, he thought the House would go along with him in opinion, that they ought never to direct a prosecution unless they had a reasonable expectation that they would be able to secure a conviction; because it was obvious that the House would sustain considerable prejudice and damage if they solemnly directed a prosecution to be instituted; and it afterwards turned out that the charge made was without foundation. Well, what happened in that case? He (Sir F. Thesiger) appeared on that occasion for the Attorney General, and the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Serjeant Shee) appeared for Dr. Webster, and the result was a verdict of "not guilty." But there were some proceedings consequent on the Motion of Mr. Wynn, which he thought were not calculated to sustain the credit of that House in the estimation of the country. Mr. Ward, who took part in the debate against the Motion for prosecuting Dr. Webster, in three days afterwards (June 11), brought forward a Motion with reference to the Cambridge election, the Report of the Committee on that subject having been presented to the House in June, 1840; so that twelve months had been allowed to elapse after the Report of the Committee had been presented before bringing forward the Motion upon it. It was perfectly clear, therefore, that it was a retaliatory Motion, Unfortunately, the Motion of Mr. Ward was also carried, not for the prosecution of Mr. Manners Sutton, who was declared to have been by his agents guilty of bribery, but for the prosecution of two persons named Long and Swann—Long being then under prosecution by other parties. He thought, therefore, that the House should he extremely cautious in directing prosecutions which might be attributed, in the first place, to strong party feelings; and, in the next place, where there was not a fair and reasonable prospect that there would be a conviction if they went before a jury. In no case would it be expedient to direct such a prosecution, in his opinion, unless to vindicate the honour and dignity of the House in cases of flagrant corruption. Now, what were the circumstances of the present case? Sir Frederic Smith, he might mention, has been for nineteen years resident in Chatham as Commandant of the Engineers there. He mentioned this to show that Sir Frederic Smith was no stranger in the borough, and that he had local interests and claims which were likely to be available on presenting himself as a candidate there. He commenced his canvass in March, 1852, at which period he was the only candidate in the field. About that time he called upon Joseph Greathead to ask him for his vote. On Sir Frederic Smith's first visit, Greathead, although he expressed himself favourably disposed towards him, would not promise his vote; but on his second visit he distinctly pledged him- self to support him, and not only so, but proceeded to give him active support in canvassing, That occurrence had taken place about five months before the election, and some time before any other candidate bad entered the field. He (Sir F. Thesiger) was of opinion that it would be only doing an act of simple justice towards Sir Frederic Smith to call the attention of the Committee to the opinion which that Gentleman entertained with respect to the sacred character of the promises which might be given by voters. Sir Frederic Smith was asked by a Member of the Committee— In the conduct of your election did it occur to you, looking to the character of the voters of Chatham, that, whoever the man might have promised, he might not finally determine to give his vote until, in point of fact, he recorded it at the poll?—It did not; as I said yesterday, I believed those who promised me their votes would give me their votes. Did it never occur to you that some of those who promised you their votes might have promised the other side?—I never suspected it. Looking to the character of the voters, did it never occur to you, in a large constituency like Chatham, that it was possible many of them who promised their votes to you might have promised them on the other side?—I firmly believed that the promises given both to my opponent and to myself would be carried out. He was also asked if he saw the distinction between a candidate soliciting places from the Admiralty for persons he expected to vote for him, and a Member making an application after the vote had been given. He answered— I do not see the distinction; indeed I do not, because I consider the promise as good as the performance of it. To show the House how Sir Frederic Smith carried out this principle in practice he might mention that, when he called on a voter, and found he had promised his vote to any other candidate, he never solicited that person further for his vote, considering a promise to vote against him as binding as a promise to vote in his favour. After Greathead had given his promise to vote for Sir Frederic Smith, he was canvassed by a Mr. Crockford in favour of Mr. Romaine, who had by that time become a candidate. Greathead, it appeared, was under some particular obligation to Crock-ford, and, in consideration of that obligation, he promised to vote for Mr. Romaine; and after Romaine had left the field he promised Crockford to vote for Sir James Stirling. It appeared from Greathead's evidence, that he had entered into some negotiation for disposing of his business, which he expected would be completed before the election, and that he believed he should not be in the borough to record his vote for either candidate at the time of the election. All this time Sir Frederic Smith was utterly ignorant of these circumstances, and indeed he was not in the slightest degree aware of them until he heard them given in evidence before the Committee. On the 10th of May Greathead applied to Sir Frederic Smith to procure a situation in the Post Office for his son, who, it appeared, was a journeyman tailor in London, at the time in a bad state of health. The real question before the House was entirely connected with that particular appointment. Sir Frederic Smith having previously, as he thought, secured the vote of Greathead, and never imagining that he was doing anything at all illegal or irregular, applied to the Government for a situation in the Post Office for Greathead's son, which situation he obtained on the 20th of May. So little had the parties concerned in that transaction considered that they had been acting illegally, that there was no secret whatsoever made with respect to the share which each party had taken in it; and Greathead had told several persons—and, among others, Crockford, who had applied to him for his vote, and who was the agent of the opposite candidate, that he had obtained a situation for his son through the interposition of Sir Frederic Smith. About the 17th of June, Greathead's negotiation for the disposal of his business having gone off, and finding himself obliged to remain in Chatham, he gave his vote in favour of Sir Frederic Smith. Now, the question which the Committee had to consider was, whether, in the circumstances to which he had just referred, there was anything which brought Sir Frederic Smith within the provisions of the Act against bribery, and which would compel them to report unfavourably against him. The Committee examined both Sir Frederic Smith and Greathead. Greathead was asked— Upon your oath wore you induced to vote for Sir Frederic Smith in consequence of any promise or any expectation that he held out to you that you would get a place for your son in the Post Office or elsewhere?—I most solemnly declare I gave my vote to Sir Frederic Smith irrespective of anything. Were you on Sir Frederic Smith's Committee?—No. You utterly disavow any bargain or contract with Sir Frederic Smith?—Decidedly. No conditions whatever?—Not any. Now, he would appeal to the experience of hon. Members, whether, in canvassing a large constituency, there was anything they had found more difficult than to prevent persons making applications to them for favours on such occasions, and to avoid making promises which might afterwards be adduced as evidence against them before a Committee of that House? Sir Frederic Smith, who, as many hon. Members knew, was a straightforward, manly, honourable person, and who had no notion that, when a promise to vote had been given, it was possible for the voter to recede from it, made the application for the situation without the slightest idea that he was thereby endangering his seat. The Committee had evidently some difficulty in deciding the question as to whether this transaction constituted bribery on the part of Sir Frederic Smith or not, and accordingly they framed their Report in a manner which, while he admitted that it affected Sir Frederic Smith's seat, was more directed to the bribery which was connected with Greathead and Greathead's influence, than with the acts of bribery committed by Sir Frederic Smith himself. The House would observe that in the guarded expressions used by the Committee in their Report, they did not allege that Joseph Greathead had been bribed by Sir Frederic Smith, but by a situation obtained for his son by Sir Frederic Smith. He (Sir F. Thesiger) considered that no bribery, in the proper sense of that term, had been committed by Sir Frederic Smith. The 7th section of the 2nd Geo. II., chap. 24, provided that— If any person, through himself, or by any person employed by him, should, by any gift or reward, or by any promise of a gift or reward, procure any person or persons to vote at any such election, such party shall for every such offence forfeit 500l, and be disabled from holding any corporate office. It was necessary therefore that Sir Frederic Smith should have been shown to have corrupted or procured the vote of a party by the promise or gift of some office under the Government. He (Sir F. Thesiger) had given this subject very anxious consideration; and if he had been a Member of the Committee he must have come to the conclusion that no case of bribery had been established against Sir Frederic Smith. He would further say, that he was satisfied no court in this kingdom would hold that where a voter, without any inducement or improper influence, had promised his vote originally to a particular candidate, and had adhered to that promise, anything which intervened between the period at which the promise had been given and the election, and which the voter himself declared had not the slightest influence in inducing him to give his vote, could be regarded as corrupting, or procuring the vote of such person, within the intention of the Act of Parliament. Supposing, however, the Committee were right in coming to the conclusion that Sir Frederic Smith had been guilty of bribery in respect of this transaction, he thought it was clear that it was not the intention or wish of the Committee that any proceedings should be taken against Sir Frederic Smith. He conceived this was satisfactorily shown by the very guarded language of the Report of the Committee. He would put it to the House, then, whether they ought to undertake the office of prosecutor unless very gross and flagrant corruption had taken place, and unless it was perfectly clear that upon the evidence which could be adduced, a jury would convict the person accused. It was no light matter for the House to determine upon a prosecution of this kind, because there would necessarily be a very strong prejudice against the person placed upon his trial, for it would be assumed that the House had very carefully weighed and considered the evidence, and that the circumstances were of such a character as to render it imperative upon the House to interfere for the vindication of its honour and integrity. He would further ask the House to consider the stigma they would affix upon the character of a highly honourable man by determining to institute such a prosecution. If Sir Frederic Smith had been guilty of gross and scandalous corruption, then it would have been quite right that a prosecution should be instituted against him; but he (Sir F. Thesiger) could not bring himself to believe that Sir Frederic Smith had had the slightest intention to infringe the law. In any case of flagrant corruption or perjury, he (Sir F. Thesiger) would be quite ready to assent to proceedings for punishing the offender, whether he were a poor man or occupied an exalted position; but he earnestly implored the House not to adopt hastily a course which would at once be a condemnation of Sir Frederic Smith, unless they thought there were other circumstances. in the case than those which he (Sir F. Thesiger) had felt it his duty to bring before them. If the object of the hon. Member for Westminster was punishment, he (Sir F. Thesiger) could only say that Sir Frederic Smith had been already most severely punished. He had Iain under the heaviest imputations ever since the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Shelley) had given notice of his Motion; he had lost the seat in that House which had been the object of his pride and his ambition; and he (Sir F. Thesiger) believed that his punishment had been quite sufficient to lead candidates carefully to abstain from any transactions whatever with electors beyond mere canvassing. He (Sir F. Thesiger) would put it to hon. Gentlemen whether there was one Member in that House who, after his return, had not been repeatedly applied to to obtain situations either for persons who had voted for him or for their relatives? Was there any hon. Member who had happened to be connected with the Government who had not over and over again applied for and obtained such appointments? Now, if Sir Frederic Smith had had more experience of elections and of canvassing—if he had been as cautious as many Members of that House, he would have abstained from making any promise at all, and when the election was over he would have obtained the situation for the person who had applied to him through an electoral friend. He considered, that with regard to the question of morality, it could not make the slightest difference whether the application was made during the election and the situation was obtained afterwards, or whether the application was made subsequently to the election. He (Sir F. Thesiger) would be glad to hear, however, before the discussion closed, some statement on the part of the Government of the view which they took of the case. He hoped that the House, called upon as it was to exercise its discretion upon the question under its notice, would hesitate before it declared aloud that a prosecution should be instituted against Sir Frederic Smith, and that hon. Members would join with him (Sir F. Thesiger) in opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for Westminster.


said, he was quite sure no Member of that House felt a greater abhorrence than he did of bribery and corruption being employed to obtain a seat there; but his difficulty in this case was, that it was a notorious fact that a vast mass of Members obtained their seats by means more objectionable and reprehen- sible than those under consideration. If they prosecuted Sir Frederic Smith, they would, he feared, stand in no better estimation with the public than they did at present. They ought to deal with the whole question of bribery, and pass an Act of Parliament, which would make it penal for a Member to obtain his seat by improper means. A great many Members had been unseated during the present Session, but he believed that, with the exception of Sir Frederic Smith, they had all been acquitted of any personal knowledge of bribery; yet many of those Gentlemen had admitted before the Committees that they had paid thousands of pounds for gaining their seats, although they need not have expended as many hundreds. He must say, that he looked upon this charge against Sir Frederic Smith as one of a very light character as compared with many others which had been made; and he would suggest to the hon. Member for Westminster that he should not press his Motion, for it was quite clear, as the hon. and learned Member (Sir F. Thesiger) had stated, that Sir Frederic Smith was an inexperienced hand. The hon. Baronet (Sir J. Shelley) should endeavour to take means to repress the system in future.


said, he wished, as Chairman of the Committee upon whose Report Sir Frederic Smith had been unseated, to say a few words on this subject. At the same time, he doubted whether the House would think it right that he, as a Member of the Committee, should defend the course they had taken. The Committee upstairs was a judicial tribunal, and that House was not a Court of Appeal. It therefore appeared to him that, if he were to address himself to the House with respect to the reasons which induced the Committee to come to their decision, he would be speaking coram non judice. At the same time, he might say that, although the Committee had reported only upon one case, they had considered the whole evidence brought before them, and upon that evidence they came to the decision they had adopted. He thought it was proved to the Committee by various witnesses that it was quite impossible for any candidate to stand for Chatham without giving promises to voters; and the question was whether, in forming constituencies of the peculiar character of the Chatham and other dockyard constituencies, that House had not been parties to the crime; whether they had not, by their legislation, tended to corrupt and destroy the character of the dockyard constituencies, and laid a snare which no candidate who presented himself to such constituencies could fail to fall into. He thought it was the duty of that House to consider whether they might not take some means to correct this evil; but he did not think that, under present circumstances, it would be consistent with the dignity of the House to order the prosecution of a man for a crime to which they had themselves been privy.


said, that as a Member of the Committee, he must say that, although he should like to see the Motion withdrawn, if it should be pressed he would feel bound, on abstract principles of justice, to vote in its favour. He thought the circumstances which had occurred at Chatham were of a trivial nature compared with the corruption which had existed in other places, and the House might impose an amount of punishment greater than the offence deserved. He considered that the House should deal broadly with the whole question, and punish both agents and the receivers of bribes. It was quite plain, however, that Sir Frederic Smith had laboured under the monomania that he might grant favours to voters during the election even without making himself liable to a prosecution for bribery. As the Committee entertained a doubt as to the state of the law, they had required the learned counsel to discuss that question; and they had come to the conclusion that it was a case coming within the operation of the Bribery Act.


said, that the Report of the Committee, in which he concurred, was based upon the fact that there was no evidence to prove that Sir Frederic Smith had not intended to bribe the voter Greathead, but that Greathead's conduct had been influenced by the place which had been procured for him. That, therefore, Greathead was, according to the legal interpretation of the term "bribed," though Sir Frederic Smith did not intend to bribe him. He could not conceive a case in which it would be more improper for that House to order the prosecution of a candidate than the case then under their consideration. The Committee, feeling doubtful as to the law, had recourse to the learned counsel for information; if the House had the means of judging of all the circumstances of the case, he was convinced they would come to the same conclusion as the Committee. An hon. Member of the Committee (Mr. Pellatt) had stated that, If the Motion were pressed, he should vote for it. He (Mr. Newdegate) should vote against it, because he considered that it would be an act of injustice to mark out the very venial case against Sir Frederic Smith as calling for peculiar reprobation, in the face of so many other cases of a far more criminal character which had been brought under their notice, and had been left unpunished. The decision of the Committee, the loss of his seat, and the fruitless expenses of the election and defence before the Committee, had inflicted, in his opinion, a sufficient punishment for Sir Frederic Smith. The House would not act in acordance with its character for justice if they agreed to the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster.


appealed to the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley) to withdraw his Motion, seeing that the feeling on both sides of the House was against it.


said, he did not intend to impute any improper motives to the hon. Baronet in bringing forward this Motion; but he really could not see what object was to be gained by it. The hon. Baronet was the self-elected champion of the British constitution; but if it was his object to secure for the subject a greater amount of constitutional freedom, or even to purify the present electoral system, he had taken a wrong method of going about the business. To persecute a single individual was not the way to effect a great constitutional change. He admitted that the case of Chatham called for a prosecution; but that prosecution, instead of being directed against Sir Frederick Smith, should be levelled against some of the witnesses who appeared and gave evidence before the Committee. Perjury of the grossest description had been committed by more than one of those witnesses, and the case called loudly for inquiry. [Cries of" Divide!"] He would not detain the House with any further remarks; but, being the representative of the county in which Chatham was situated, and being intimately connected by residence with the borough itself; he hoped he would be pardoned for calling on the House to reject the Motion of the hon. Member for Westminster.


said, he apprehended that whether Sir Frederic Smith were prosecuted or not, could Signify very little, either to the character of the House, or to its influence in checking the corruption which unhappily prevailed in so many of their constituencies. He did not rise, however, with reference to that question, so much as in regard to the challenge thrown out by the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) to any Member of the House to say whether he had not been applied to after his election, by his constituents, to obtain places for them, and whether they had not actually obtained such places. Now, he would be sorry if that challenge should go forth to the world altogether unanswered, and for the simple reason that, to himself, it might be a matter of personal inconvenience. He said so because, neither in the last Parliament, nor in the present, had he ever, to the best of his recollection, been applied to by any constituent of his, for any such purpose, nor had he ever applied for, or obtained from Her Majesty's Government, any situation whatever for any person. He had no doubt that many others, besides himself, could make the same declaration if they chose. With respect to the Motion for prosecuting Sir Frederic Smith, he was afraid the country would regard it as one of those occasional ebullitions of purity in which that House sometimes indulged, but which could be attended with no practical advantage. It was not by selecting this or that person, or even this or that borough, that anything effectual was to be done in the way of grappling with the dreadful amount of crime and degradation which the existing electoral system had created, but by passing a measure that would strike at the root of the evil, and the adoption of such regulations as to the conduct of electoral business as would get rid of the tendency to exercise undue influence on the one hand, and the poverty and liability to temptation on the other.


said, the House ought, before it acceded to this Motion, to consider what a serious thing it was to undertake a criminal prosecution against an individual for bribery. It was not the decision of the Committee they had to look to, but whether there was evidence to go before a jury sufficient to induce them to convict Sir Frederic Smith. He (Mr. Duncombe) believed that there was not. In the Derby case a man named Morgan was prosecuted, and pleaded guilty—but what did the jury do? They said, in effect, "Really the House of Commons is so steeped to the chin in corruption and bribery that although we find Morgan guilty, we recommend him to mercy." Then what did the Judge say? "This Morgan has been guilty of an heinous offence, but so have other people before him. Go about your business, and never do so again." That was the end of Morgan. He did not believe, however, that that would be the case with Sir Frederic Smith, for the jury would not find him guilty at all. If the feeling of the Chairman and Committee were worth anything, let them pause to consider what those Gentlemen had said. They had said that they found Sir Frederic Smith guilty of bribery because they were obliged to do so under the strict letter of the Act of Parliament; but they, in addition, gave their opinion that the case ought not to be prosecuted. He thought it very inconvenient that Members of Committees should be obliged to vindicate their decisions in that House, as he was satisfied they had discharged their duty conscientiously; and he thought the public had a right to be grateful for one portion of their Report—not the miserable case of Sir Frederic Smith—but their Report that the electors of Chatham were so dependent on Government that it was impossible they could fairly exercise the franchise, and ought therefore to be disfranchised. Under these circumstances, he thought that the present case ought not be proceeded with. They had that evening had a Motion by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King) for making the franchise uniform in counties and boroughs; and his hon. Friend had withdrawn his Motion because the Minister had promised a large and comprehensive measure of reform next Session. He (Mr. Duncombe), although he had seconded the Motion, advised his hon. Friend, under the circumstances, to withdraw it. The test of the present Administration would be the manner in which they dealt with these questions, for they must not only deal with the extension of the franchise, but also with the system of corruption which had been so well exposed before the different Election Committees this Session. If they dealt well, depend on it they would be entitled to public gratitude, and therefore, as both Parliamentary reform, and these corruptions in our representative system must be dealt with under a new Reform Bill, he would ask was it worth while, steeped as they were in corruption, either in former days' or in the present, to lose time with such prosecutions as that they were then discussing? He did not think the House would raise itself in public estimation by persisting with this Motion.


said, he hoped that due weight would be given to the Report of the Committee, and that the House would not permit itself to be led away by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger), whom he must blame for having attempted to palliate the conduct of Sir Frederic Smith, by imputing bribery and corruption to every Member of that House.


said, he must deny having made such a statement.


said, notwithstanding the denial of the hon. and learned Member, he must maintain that the tenor of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was such as he had represented it. However, to pass from that point, he held that the Report of an Election Committee was tantamount to the report of a grand jury, and that it was the duty of that House, in all cases where bribery had been proved, to submit the facts to the Attorney General, with a view to the prosecution of the parties implicated. Such, he thought, should be the course adopted in the present instance.


was understood to express his hearty concurrence in the decision of the Committee, of which he was a member, and his desire that something should be done to suppress the system of bribery and corruption existing at Chatham.


said, that the hon. and learned Member (Sir F. Thesiger) had said that the House should look especially to the honour and integrity of its Members. That was his (Sir J. Shelley's) object in making his Motion. As to the observations about the Report of the Committee, he had stated before that he made the Motion without reading the evidence, being satisfied that the Report was sufficient. Looking at the case of the man Mount, he thought it would not be fair if the House did not take notice of the rest of the Report also, and therefore he had brought this case before the House. The hon. and learned Member had also appealed to the law officers of the Crown; and he (Sir J. Shelley) would add that if the noble Lord who represented the Government in that House felt strongly on the subject of reform, an opinion might have been fairly expected from him also. He (Sir J. Shelley) would venture to say, that the people out of doors would be much astonished that not one Member of the Government had said a word during the debate. He had been urged to withdraw his Motion, and he might have done so, had he received an assurance similar to that which had influenced his hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King). But not one Member of the Government had condescended to say a single word, and therefore, although on any other occasion he would have been most happy to study the convenience of the House, he did not think that on the present occasion, and in the absence of any expression of opinion from the Government, he should be performing his duty did he not persist in asking the opinion of the House on his Motion.


I own I did not think, Sir, that this was a case in which the opinion of the Government should be used to sway the House in the decision to which it might arrive. It appeared to me that the first course I had to pursue was to endeavour to obtain the best advice I could, in order that my Colleagues and myself might be prepared to say what were their views of the law respecting this case; and accordingly we have consulted the law officers of the Crown, and those law officers have stated their opinion founded upon the Report and the evidence taken before the Committee, that there is ground for the prosecution of Sir Frederic Smith; that although they will not answer for the success of that prosecution, they think there is evidence to go before a Court of Law to show that Sir Frederic Smith has been guilty of bribery. That is the first question which I thought it was my duty to inquire about. But the other question, which concerns this House much more closely, is a question as to what is the meaning of the Report of the Committee. I own that the Report appears to me to have some ambiguity in it, and I cannot say that that ambiguity has been entirely removed by the speeches which have been made this evening by the Members of the Committee. It would appear on the face of this Report that the Committee are of opinion that Sir Frederic Smith has been guilty of inducing a voter of Chatham to vote in his favour by procuring for his son a situation in the Post-office. The words will admit of another interpretation; but if that other interpretation was the right one—if Sir Frederick Smith has done no more than obtain a situation in the Post-office for the son of a person of the name of Greathead, without any intention to influence Great head in the giving of his vote, or without the slightest reference to the election at Chatham, that certainly would be a circumstance which the Committee would think it right to report. At the same time it is difficult to understand from the Chairman of the Committee, or from the members of the Committee, what exactly was their intention in making this Report, One hon. Gentleman has said that he thought the Committee were bound to come to this resolution, and, as I understand him, in the second sense only that Sir Frederic Smith has been guilty of bribery; and at the same time he said that in his opinion it is not right to prosecute Sir Frederic Smith for bribery, on the ground that the constituent body of Chatham was such that no person could become a candidate for Chatham without being led into corrupt promises and practices of this kind. Now, I own that is a statement to which I cannot give my sanction. I can understand its being said, though I think even this would be a most unfounded statement, that a person cannot become a candidate for Chatham without being pressed with applications for promotions and appointments in the dockyards, which are in the hands of the Government there, that he really could not avoid yielding to the temptation; but that such temptation exists at Chatham as to lead a candidate to bribe a voter with a situation as a letter carrier in the Post-office is really a statement which appears to me to be utterly without foundation. I cannot imagine that Chatham, any more than any other borough in the kingdom, is in such a situation that a gentleman cannot become a candidate there without promising places in the Post-office, But then another hon. Gentleman, whom I see opposite, a Member of the Committee, says that he believes Sir Frederic Smith did not in tend corruptly to influence Greathead in the giving of his vote, and that he would not vote for prosecuting Sir Frederic Smith on that account. Well, I can give the hon. Gentleman credit for his conscientious convictions. I believe that he thinks it right not to vote for the Motion now before the House; but what I cannot understand is, how he could be a party to this Report. It really places the House in a situation of great difficulty. If Sir Frederic Smith had no corrupt intention, to influence the vote of Greathead, why-the whole matter of the offence is wiped out To influence a voter is to bribe him either with money or office, or with something else of equivalent value; and if it be true that Sir Frederic Smith had no intention of so influencing Greathead, why then the offence does not exist, and consequently the Committee ought not to have made a Report charging him with bribery. A third Member of the Committee speaking more distinctly than any of the others, said that he was convinced that Sir Frederic Smith had been guilty of bribery, yet he told us also that the Committee were unanimous in wishing that a prosecution should not be instituted. Well, I must say, upon the whole, that this places the House in a position of considerable difficulty. I really cannot but think that the Committee—and certainly I am sorry to blame them in any respect, because I have no doubt they conscientiously agreed to what they considered to be right—ought either to have stated in their Report that Sir Frederic Smith has, in point of fact, been guilty of bribery, and have supported the present Motion, or one of a similar nature, or to have declared that the charge of bribery, as against Sir Frederic Smith, had not been proved to their satisfaction, or had been entirely disproved. The position in which the House now finds itself is this—we have agreed to a solemn Resolution expressed in the following terms:— That if it shall appear that any person hath been elected or returned a Member of this House, or endeavoured so to be, by bribery, or any other c6rrupt practices, this House will proceed with the utmost severity against all such persons as shall have been wilfully concerned in such bribery, or other corrupt practices. Now, I must say, I think it would be very Wrong to allow such a Resolution as that to stand upon our books, and at the same time not to take notice of a case of bribery which is brought before us by the Committee specially appointed to investigate it; and the justice of the House is, I think, very ill-satisfied by this Resolution, if we allow persons of low condition in point of pecuniary means to be prosecuted by the Attorney General, on account of the transactions in which they have taken part of a corrupt nature, and then refuse to act in a case in which a person of some consequence and standing in society is concerned. I think the hon. Baronet the Member for 'Westminster (Sir J. Shelley) stated, in introducing his Motion to the House, that we have already directed prosecutions to be instituted against several persons of low condition, and he said, very truly and justly, that we would not stand well with the country if, having done that, we should hesitate, and refuse to sanction the prosecution of a man of some note and distinction, when a case of bribery has been proved against him. On the whole, as I have previously observed, I think the House is placed in a very difficult position. I do not think it is the business of the Government in any way to influence the decision of the House on this particular question. I intended to have given my vote for the Motion without saying a single word, and I should not have taken any part in the discussion if I had not been appealed to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster. I think, perhaps, in consideration of what has been said, and seeing it is the anxious wish of those who made this Report, that the House should refrain from instituting this prosecution, that you may take that course; but at the same time, feeling that such a decision may probably expose us to great misconception, I think the Committee has brought the House into that position where it will find it difficult hereafter to vote for the prosecution by the Attorney General of any man in any case whatever connected with bribery and corruption at elections. I do not know that it may not be as well that the Resolution I have read should be expunged from the books of the House, and that no prosecutions should in future take place. I do not know whether that is the best way of ending the difficulty, but I am sure of this, that it is not just to prosecute all the low and poor persons who may violate the law in cases of bribery, and then pass over such a case as that of Sir Frederic Smith; and if the House is of opinion, as it seems to be, that we should not prosecute persons of wealth and influence, then I shall come down to the House prepared to vote against all future Motions for prosecutions.


said, that what he had meant to state was, that the voter had been corrupted, but that he had not understood that the candidate had meant to corrupt him.


said, he could have understood the line of argument of the noble Lord, if the House had had before it nothing but the Report of the Committee and the opinion now given by its Members; but he should remember that the evidence taken had been laid on the table, and, if there was any use in laying the evidence on the table, it surely was to enable the House to judge whether they should take any ulterior proceedings. It would be well for the House to consider, before consenting to this Motion, whether it would not be regarded out of doors as having an appearance of vindictive feeling, or of making a scapegoat for many offenders. He had himself looked into the evidence taken before the Committee, and from that evidence he could understand why the Committee had adopted the conclusion at which they had arrived, while he felt, at the same time, that there was nothing in it which could secure the conviction of Sir Frederic Smith. He could not conceive it possible that a conviction could take place; and the House would do well to be cautious of venturing upon proceedings so grave with a prospect of discomfiture and defeat. It seemed that the law advisers of the Crown held that there was ground for a prosecution. That could only be, he apprehended, by making use of the examination of Sir Frederic Smith himself. But that was contrary to the whole spirit of our criminal procedure. It was the practice of other countries for prisoners to be interrogated by the Judge, and cross examined by counsel. Thank God it was not the practice of this country; but if the evidence of Sir Frederic Smith was to be made the foundation of a prosecution, we should make a precedent which might be most mischievous in its consequences.


said, he must beg to explain that the right hon. and learned Member was mistaken. The law officers of the Crown, in giving the guarded opinion which the House had heard, had proceeded upon the general evidence in the case. He would warn the House against sitting in judgment upon the decision of its Committees.


said, that after the speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) he should certainly go to a division.


said, he was very sorry to interfere with any Gentleman s dinner hour, but he had still more reluctance to allow this debate to close without entering his protest, and giving his reasons for so doing, against the course now insisted upon by the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Shelley). He had waited during the whole course of the discussion, because he was unwilling to obtrude himself, and because he took a view wholly different from hon. Members. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. W. J. Fox), when he said it was "a poor exhibition of their would-be purity." He (Mr. Drummond) had ever abstained from taking a part in such discussions so long as the purists confined their exertions to disfranchising voters who had the wisdom to make the only use they could of their votes; but when, going beyond that, the House was now urged to institute a criminal proceeding against a meritorious officer and an honourable gentleman—when they were all called upon to take up stones to cast at Sir Frederic Smith, he should like to inquire where was the man who could say, "I am without sin?" It was said some time ago in the Edinburgh Review, to show the absurdity of enacting laws against the sale of game, that "the 3 per cents would eat pheasants." In the same way he would say that the 3 per cents would sit in that House—that Bank directors and East India directors would sit in that House —that "railway kings" would sit in that House—and they were threatened occasionally with a rush of the whole of what was called "the railway interest." So long as there were rich and poor, you never would be able to persuade men that there was crime in catching and killing and selling wild animals, nor in a poor man selling anything which a rich man was willing to buy. There were only two ways of governing mankind; you must either govern by brute force, with the assistance of standing armies and police, or you must govern by self-interest. You might call it bribery, or corruption, or give it any hard name you liked, but it was that which pervaded your whole system, from the palace of the Sovereign, through the House of Lords, through the House of Commons, and through the whole of the constituencies, and you could not rule in any other way. True, the brute-force system had rather run to seed in France just now, and the Bastile andlettres de cachet were revived in a way that seemed very offensive to us, who talked of the liberty of the subject; but, pray, was not our system of national representation run to seed? Did hon. Gentlemen think that the exhibition they had made in this last year was not a good excuse to the Emperor of Austria and the Emperor of the French for not having fallen so desperately in love with representative institutions? And why was it that this exhibition had been made this year? Mrs. Hannah More told us of a gentleman who went "in search of a wife" and Mr. Thomas Moore told us there was a gentleman who went "in search of a re- ligion;" last year for the first time the public witnessed the spectacle of a Prime Minister who went in search of a policy. What was the consequence? He gave four months' notice that he was going out upon this expedition, and every attorney in the kingdom determined that there should be a contested election in every place; and they got up candidates, and not only candidates but also petitions. They returned the Members, and, as many of the Committees of that House had stated, they unseated Members by their own conduct in bribing, where the Member had nothing to do with the matter. They got up false petitions. In this very case—the Chatham case—it came out that, before there was a rival candidate to Sir Frederic Smith, a petition was got up. It was a necessary part of their machinery to have a petition as well as a Member. Then followed the transactions of such men as the Coppocks and the Browns, who, outside the doors of the House of Commons, played off one candidate against another, as they would a game of chess, giving a bishop for a rook, three false petitions (as a Gentleman explained to one Committee) for one fighting petition. Why was there such desperate anxiety to come into that House? Because that House was the great place bazaar, the great office market. Here place-scrip was sold and bought. Why was the House blest with so many Gentlemen of the legal profession? Was it not because they found that a flashy partisan speech in that House was a surer road to the Bench than hard fagging in chambers or attendance in court. But was it for the public advantage that that should be the school in which the lawyer should study for the gravity of the ermine? He was not sure whether the hon. and learned Attorney General was in his place just now; but there were Gentlemen in that House of whom it was pretty well known that by this title they got the situations which they adorned. To be sure, every class had its price, as well as every individual. You could not bribe in the House of Lords by 2l. 10s., or a place in the Post-office, but was there no bribery in making Barons Viscounts, and Viscounts Earls, and Earls Marquesses? There was a Bill introduced by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) or some reformer or other, prohibiting the giving a few yards of penny riband to the wives and daughters of the electors—it was bribery! But you would find in the House of Lords the gift of three yards of green riband, or blue riband, very conducive to the public interest. He (Mr. Drummond) was not at all censuring these proceedings—on the contrary, he justified them; it was the only system by which your Government could be carried on. He much regretted that the Government had not got a great deal more power of that sort. When Gentlemen came down to that House, they must carry on their "bribery and corruption," as it was called (which was self-interest), in another way. They must put up with seats at Boards, and things of that sort; and when there was a man that was particularly boring, why, he must be sent to Hong Kong. He (Mr. Drummond) was very sorry that the Government had not in their gift a great many Hong Kongs; the House would be much improved by it. But there were other places. He was old enough to remember when Mr. Perceval's Government was nearly destroyed because a Gentleman in the Treasury refused to vote for him until he had given another brother a place; and did they not all remember the failure of Sir Robert Peel in forming a Government in consequence of the interference of certain Ladies of the Bedchamber? and, unless all rumour's tongues united in falsehood, it was said that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had, not very long ago, received a letter of remonstrance from the head of a large family not particularly remarkable for talent or for modesty, because he had not included some of them in the new arrangements. Now, in what consisted the weakness of the Government? Simply mere want of places. There was no danger to the Government from any opposition that could be offered from the other side of the House. The danger was that it received shots from the rear. If the Treasury were to be symbolised or embodied, it would be as Cybele or Tellus, with more applicants for nourishment than she could supply; or he would take a more homely illustration—that of Gillray's caricature of the sow that brought forth more pigs than she had teats for. He saw in the notice paper a Motion from one of the friends of the Government, who sat behind him—the Treasury bench—something about India. What was it but the squeak of a pig that had got no teat? He took the liberty, on a former occasion, to implore the head of the Government in that House, in consequence of the state of things that had been brought about by the Reform Bill, never to uit his office—which, by the way, he was reproached by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) for holding—upon any petulant vote that that House might come to until there was a direct and specific Resolution for an Address to the Crown on the subject. The noble Lord had been taunted with the situation he now occupied; but, in his humble opinion, that situation was the most honourable the noble Lord had ever filled, and he besought the noble Lord—not as an individual, but as the head of the Government—there to remain until the Motion he had alluded to should be carried. The right hon. Gentleman over the way (Mr. Disraeli) need not have quitted office if he had chosen to remain; and Lord Derby ought either never to have taken office or never to have quitted it, for there was no doubt these constant changes were greatly to the detriment of the public service. But the fact was, they never had had reformers —they had had mere speculators in constitutions. Their reform would have led them back to the wisdom, and principles, and practice of their ancestors, and they would have seen that unless they gave property its legitimate way of action, it would use the illegal way of continual bribery; and, moreover, he hoped it would, and that they would not be able to make that House a mass of paupers. They must make that House the representatives of the wealth of the people, and, when they did that, they would not find the bribery of which they now complained. As to the immediate Motion before the House, of prosecuting Sir Frederic Smith, they who voted for it were the men who were disgraced by it, and not Sir Frederic Smith. What was the simple question? That gentleman had lived in the place for many years—he was proved before the Committee to be a kind and charitable man to his political foes as well as to his friends, never asking any question on the subject—and, because he obtained a Post-office place of the value of 12s. a week, all their purity was up in arms, and they thought to go and show the country at large what sinless pure creatures they were themselves. He thought the Motion was discreditable to the House, and therefore he was opposed to it.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman that this Motion was discreditable. The speech of the hon. Gentleman, indeed, was one of the most extraordinary he had ever heard. It was a speech that he could not have believed any Englishman would have stood up in that House and delivered. The hon. Gentleman had libelled the House—[Loud cries of "Hear!"]—he had libelled the country; and, whatever the House of Lords might be, he had libelled that and all who were connected with it. Would they not support the Resolution they had come to, and show the country that they would maintain the purity of election? The hon. Gentleman said he wished there was more bribery and corruption, and that men were more debased than they were. He should be sorry to see it—they were too much so already. It had been his endeavour to get an honest House, and the best way to attain that result would be to support such Resolutions as the one now before them. They would be wanting in respect to their own character, and to the character of that House, if they did not agree to the Resolution.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) had done him the favour to make a joke at his expense. As to the expressions of the hon. Gentleman, he could laugh at them as well as his neighbours; for, having been nearly twenty years in that House, he believed he could say he had conducted himself both in public and in private life as a gentleman and a man of honour. Now, as far as the Motion of which he had given notice was concerned, no hostility was intended to the Government. The present Government he regarded with unfeigned respect. It was composed of many honourable and independent Gentlemen capable of carrying on the Government, and from him they would receive the most cordial support when his conscience would go with them.


believed, and hoped, there was no man in the House less quarrelsome than he was; but words had been let drop by the hon. Gentleman near him (Mr. Drummond) which, for the credit of that House, required some explanation.


said, that if the hon. Baronet had wished to take exception to any word spoken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Surrey, he ought to have done it at the time.


said, if he had used any words that were improper, he would at once withdraw them.


You said the Motion was disgraceful and discreditable to the House.


said, he was not one of those pigs that wanted a Government teat; but there was a very important question before the House, and it would be well for them to consider, before they voted upon it, what the people out of doors thought of this sort of thing. The proceedings of the Election Committee had given rise to a belief out of that House that there was a good deal of corruption, not merely on the part of the voters, but on the part of the Members, and the sooner they could clear that up the better. But there was a Resolution on the books of the House that they ought to punish any person seriously who did this sort of thing. Now, he never saw Sir Frederic Smith; all he knew was, that there was a Report to that House very prejudicial to his honesty, and if they permitted him to escape, or if he were not allowed the opportunity of cleaving up the matter, the public might very well say that it was nothing but chattering in that House on the subject. With these feelings he should support the Resolution.


said, an appeal had been made to the House by his hon. Friend who had just sat down on account of what the public would say of these matters. Now, he gave his vote on a question of personal justice and character, as if he were giving his vote on an indictment before the grand jury, and not from any regard whatever to what should be said of his conduct out of doors.

The House divided: —Ayes 78; Noes 188: Majority 110.