§ MR. ROEBUCK
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the House a matter which affects their privileges—and I intend to finish the observations which I have to make with a Motion relating to that subject. Sir, it will be in the recollection of the House, that a Petition was presented against the return of the hon. Member for Bodmin. It will also be in the recollection of the House that that Petition has been withdrawn. Now, Sir, it has come to my knowledge, and I believe that what I am now about to state is perfectly accurate and true, that the hon. Member for Bodmin, having been charged with bribery, and corruption, and treating, has agreed to a compromise that he shall, at the end of the Session, in consideration of the withdrawal of that Petition, retire from the seat which he now holds in this House—that he shall thereupon apply for, and receive the Chiltern Hundreds—that that shall cause his retirement—that in consideration of his so doing, the persons presenting the Petition shall withdraw that Petition. Now, Sir, it seems to me that this is what I have been accustomed to call a corrupt compromise, that an hon. Gentleman having acquired by improper means the power of sitting in this House, that by improper means having acquired that power, he allows a Petition so charging him to be presented to the House, he enters into, all the requisite forms for the purpose of meeting that Petition, and at the last moment he retires because he is afraid that the statements contained in that Petition may be verified before a Committee of this House. Now, Sir, a person doing this, I say, does that which clearly impugns and weakens the privileges of this House. It weakens this 946 House in its character before the people, and after the scenes which we have recently beheld of corruption sown broadcast over the country, not by one, not by two or by three, but I think by a dozen; after that, I say, it behoves this House to be careful what it does, so that it does not by its sanction lend authority and aid to persons pursuing these nefarious practices. And now, Sir, I appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I told the noble Lord some nights ago that these practices would lead to the very consequences which I am now describing, namely, that Gentlemen who are charged with corruption would vacate their seats upon the understanding that they should apply to the Government for the Chiltern Hundreds; that they should receive the Chiltern Hundreds from the Government, and thus escape the punishment which is due to their misdeeds by this House. Sir, I appeal to the noble Lord now as I appealed to him then. I warned him of what was about to happen, I told him that such things would occur, and I believe that he agreed with me in thinking that such practices ought not to be sanctioned by this House. If this House would govern the country, they must uphold their character before the people. That character I am bound to say has been materially shaken by the abominal scenes which have of late been disclosed before the Election Committees of this House. The hon. Member for Bodmin by retiring in this manner would cast a veil over the misdeeds of which I have a right to assume that he has been guilty. But when a man has been guilty of such misdeeds, it behoves this House to punish them as they deserve to be punished, and to fix upon the back of that man the iron brand of this House, which would make him utterly unfit to sit in this House again. Sir, I took upon myself to say on a late occasion that the Committees of this House had dealt very tenderly with persons in this position; and, Sir, I may be met now with some apt adept in satire, who will accuseme of all sorts of misdeeds because I endeavour to lay bare the misdeeds of others; but I am not to be terrified by any such mode of proceeding. What I think for the honour and the dignity of this House I will do, and I think it for the honour and the dignity of this House that we should take precautions and throw obstacles in the way of men who make corrupt compromises. Therefore it is, Sir, and from no mistrust of the noble Lord, but rather to put an arm into his 947 hands, that I now move that this House pass this Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, any Minister would be guilty of a breach of the privileges of this House who should advise the Crown to confer the Office of Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, or of the Manor of East Hendred, or of the Manor of Northstead, or of the Manor of Hemp-holme, or of Escheator of Munster, upon any person charged with corrupt practices at an election, and who for the purpose of evading the jurisdiction of this House, has entered into an agreement to vacate his Seat, upon the withdrawal of the Petition charging him with such corrupt practices.
§ Motion made and Question proposed.
Sir, I know nothing of this case; I merely rise for the purpose of asking the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield whether he has given notice to the hon. Member for Bodmin of his intention to make this Motion?
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I apprehend that there can be no difference of opinion between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself in regard to the principle contained in the Motion which he has made; that is to say, I quite agree with him that if any Member of this House is charged in a distinct and substantive manner, with such practices as those to which the Motion relates it would be perfectly unbecoming in a Minister of the Crown to enable that Member to evade the investigation, and the necessary condemnation of a Committee of this House appointed to inquire into the matter by giving him the Chiltern Hundreds or any other office that would vacate his seat. Therefore, I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that we are perfectly agreed as to the principle of the Motion which he has made. But with regard to the application of that principle and the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to apply it, I must beg to submit to the House that it does not appear to me that at present the hon. and learned Gentleman has laid any sufficient ground for calling upon the House to affirm a general Resolution such as he has proposed. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had intended to point this Resolution to the hon. Member for Bodmin, I apprehend that the course which he would naturally have pursued, and which he ought to have pursued, 948 the common practice would have been to have informed the hon. Member for Bodmin that he intended to make this Motion.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Then it was the duty undoubtedly of the hon. Member for Bodmin to have attended in his place if he were aware and had received timely notice that it was the intention of any hon. Member to charge him publicly in this House with a corrupt compromise in regard to his election. I apprehend that if the hon. Member for Bodmin had been in his place the proper course would have been for the hon. and learned Gentleman to have asked him to have stated that he had good reason to believe that the hon. Member for Bodmin had made such a corrupt compromises and to have asked him whether he acknowledged or disavowed the charge; and thereupon, according to the answer of the hon. Member for Bodmin the House would have dealt with the matter. But I should conceive that in any case the course which the House would have followed would have been much the same course as that which was pursued some years ago in similar cases upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, that is to say, that a Committee would have been appointed to inquire into the case, to ascertain whether or not the Member charged had made a corrupt compromise for the withdrawal of the Petition against him; and undoubtedly, pending that inquiry, it would have been perfectly impossible for the Government to have assisted the Member who was so charged in evading the result of the inquiry by affording him the means of vacating his seat. I should, however, submit to the hon. and learned Gentleman and to the House, that in the present stage of the proceeding he has not laid with sufficient precision any ground for such a general Resolution as that which he now proposes, which indeed would leave the Government very much embarrassed as to its application, as to whom to apply it, how they were to ascertain that a Member had been charged, by whom he had been charged, and upon what ground he had been charged. And, therefore, I would suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman should to-morrow request the hon. Member for Bodmin to appear in his place in this House, and that the hon. and learned Gentleman should then distinctly ask the hon. Member for Bodmin whether he admitted or denied the charge. The hon. and learned Gentleman has no doubt 949 distinct grounds for believing in the truth of the charge, and if it appeared to him that he had sufficient primâ facie ground for his belief, he would put it to the House whether they would appoint a Committee to inquire into the matter. I hope the hon. and learned Member will see the propriety of adopting the course which I have pointed out. Perhaps I might say that of course the Chiltern Hundreds are not given at this moment, and will not be given under the circumstances if the hon. Member for Bodmin should ask for them.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I do not apprehend, Sir, that this Motion is levelled against any individual; at least I should be unwilling, on whatever side of the House the hon. Member sat, to go into the subject upon any such ground. Important considerations are involved in this Motion, and I shall address myself to them, I trust, with a temper befitting their serious character, and totally independent of party feeling. Perhaps, however, I shall not be thought to go out of my way if I remind the House of the observations made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government on a former occasion with respect to some supposed levity of tone I had assumed, and warning me that before any long time elapsed I should have cause to change my tone. I can only say that whatever may happen as the result of the election petitions, I do not think they are of a character, at all events up to this time, to cause humiliation to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. I am unwilling to dwell upon this subject further on the present occasion; but I think that it will become this House, for the sake of its own character, and the influence which it ought to have in the country, not in any way to attempt to evade these questions. I have no doubt that the Committees, to whom the duty of investigating these Election Petitions has been entrusted, have discharged their duties faithfully so far as the investigation of these questions is concerned, but I do think, and I am sure I speak the sentiments of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House with whom I have had opportunities of conferring, and they have been many, that it is of the utmost importance to allow no Petition of a serious nature presented to this House to escape investigation. No doubt some of these Petitions have been presented without due cause, and which, if they were inquired into, would be found to be frivolous and vexatious; but if this were to happen, if a Gentleman 950 is petitioned against on account of corrupt practices, if we find that the Petition against him was withdrawn, if by a curious coincidence we find that the Member who has been so petitioned against, and the Petition against whom is so withdrawn shall afterwards apply to the Minister for either of these offices to which the Motion of the hon. and learned Member refers, then I think that the result of such a case not being inquired into will have the worst effects, and will produce upon the public mind an effect which all who are anxious for the honour of the House will severely deprecate.
Now, Sir, I did not clearly understand the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, as to be able to decide how far it goes, as to whether it was a question of privilege, and of course we must be scrupulous in providing that a Resolution of this nature should meet the evils with which we have to cope. I agree, however, with the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and with the hon. and learned Gentleman in the spirit of his Resolution. I think it will be becoming in this House to adopt some such Resolution as that which has been proposed to us, and to act with the greatest decision in all cases of this kind, when they are brought before us. In my opinion we ought to pursue the investigation in many of the boroughs respecting which the Election Committees have already decided. Of course I am not at all questioning the justice of the decision of these Committees. I believe that their decisions were perfectly just as far as they were authorized by law to inquire into them; but in the exercise of its discretion this House, in concert with the other House of Parliament, has power to institute a further investigation in every case where it thinks such a proceeding necessary. I must confess that I voted for the issue of a new writ for the Borough of Dartmouth the other night with great hesitation, but after the Chairman of the Committee had risen in his place and stated with all that authority that belongs to him as Chairman of the Committee, that no evidence of general corruption had been offered, and that the evidence of bribery was of a partial character, I certainly felt that I was not justified in voting that the writ should be withheld. I look upon all these cases with the greatest suspicion, and I should be in favour of suspending the issue of the writ in all cases till an investigation takes place. Most of all, I think we ought to de- 951 termine that no steps shall be taken to facilitate the carrying out of a corrupt compact between a Member and those who have petitioned against his return; that the Crown shall not be made a party to a corrupt contract, for it comes to that, but that in all cases of suspicion an investigation shall take place, and the matter shall be brought to a decision. For my part, I do not see that we can take any step that is better calculated to prevent corrupt practices at elections than by facilitating investigation as much as possible in Committees of this House, and by preventing any steps—by preventing by all means the possibility of evading this investigation, by the Crown granting applications for the Chiltern Hundreds. We have now the express assurance of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that in the present case he will not afford facilities for this mode of escape; but we require something more. The House has two modes of action. It can address the Crown to issue a Commission in flagrant cases where information has been withheld, and at the same time we can express our opinion that the Ministry should not open a door by which disclosures may be prevented.
Sir, I am very glad that this subject has been brought before the House; it would have been to the disgrace of the House if it had been left unnoticed, and although the Session is waning fast, I hope that something will be done. I am not surprised that the subject should be brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, for I remember that in 1841 the hon. and learned Gentleman experienced no difficulty in a matter, which in no material respect differs from that with which he is at present dealing, and which he prosecuted to a successful issue. I apprehend that without any unnecessary delay the House ought to come to some such Resolution as that which has been proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not anticipate that there will be any difficulty in debating his Resolution whenever he may submit it. In my opinion such a course is absolutely necessary in order to sustain the character and honour of the case, and therefore I hope that the subject will be dealt with before the Prorogation.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has adhered very successfully to the pledge which he gave the House at the commencement of his speech, that 952 he would be very careful to avoid all party allusions; but I shall not enter into any criticism of that part of his speech, because with the general political principles of the right hon. Gentleman I can have no right to quarrel. But, Sir, I happen to be the person most immediately interested in the Resolution of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, and therefore, I will venture to say one word on the question, inasmuch as the power at which the Resolution aims is immediately vested in my hands. Now the power of conferring the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, and the other offices of the same class mentioned in the Resolution, constitutes the only patronage I may say that belongs to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but although it is the only patronage, I am bound at the same time to add that I do not in the slightest degree resent this attempt at interference with it on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because it is in fact a rather difficult office, it is a very delicate office which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to execute, inasmuch as the party making application for these appointments is not required to urge any reasons; nor have we any right to expect that when Members apply for the Chiltern Hundreds they should make any statement of the Motives or circumstances under which the application is made; so that if there is anything likely to create scandal in the House the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be held responsible for allowing him.
But, Sir, I do not think that there is at the present moment any cause for a Resolution such as that which has been moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because it happens, as far as there is a precedent upon this particular subject, that we have an undoubted precedent and a rule that in all future times will guide the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1842 the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, from the most patriotic motives, and likewise having a good cause, made a Motion for a Select Committee to inquire into certain corrupt compromises, that were alleged to have taken place in the case of Election Petitions. After the appointment of that Committee one of the Gentlemen who was charged with corrupt practices made application to Mr. Goulburn, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the Chiltern Hundreds, and Mr. Goulburn replied by letter—and the letter, by the way, was moved for by my noble Friend now at the 953 head of the Government, and laid before the House—that under ordinary circumstances he would have had no hesitation in granting his request, but that inasmuch as the House of Commons had appointed a Committee to inquire into the case of the compromises which were admitted to have been entered into, he could not, under these circumstance, accede to his request; that he should not feel justified in relying upon the discretion vested in him, and granting the application for the Chiltern Hundreds.
Now the present case differs from that in two important particulars. In the first place there was the admission of the party himself, that he had entered into such a compromise, and in the second place the general question had been entertained by the House, and the House had adopted the Motion for a Select Committee to inquire into these corrupt compromises. It was an easy matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to decide under those circum stances that he could not grant the application; but with respect to my own idea of my duty in such a case, it goes undoubtedly a little beyond what was stated by Mr. Goulburn. I think that no Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to grant an application of this kind where there is primâ facie evidence, though it might be less than occurred in that case where there was a confession by the party who had some indirect or second interest in the application. If an hon. Gentleman—suppose the honourable and learned Gentleman himself—rises in his place and states that he has reason to know, or good reason to believe, that some corrupt compromise has been entered into, that there have been corrupt proceedings, I think it will be most improper that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be blind to the fact, and that he should give the Gentleman against whom these allegations are brought the means of evading them, but that he should postpone his application till the question is brought to an issue either one way or the other. Now, if the House chooses to lay down by its Resolution a distinct rule upon this question, it will undoubtedly be a great assistance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the discharge of his duties; but all I ask in that case is, that the rule should be very distinct, and that the terms of the rule should not be equivocal. It would not be enough to say that a person is charged with corrupt practices of some kind or other, but he must be distinctly charged in 954 some responsible manner, so that there might be a fair primâ facie case—those charges must be made in a distinct and tangible form as the only ground for withholding the application.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I will tell the House exactly what I have done. Now, mark! A Petition—a very solemn proceeding—distinctly charges an hon. Member with corrupt practices for the purpose of securing his election. It charges him with bribery, corruption, and treating: that is the first step. The next is, that after steps have been taken to try that Petition, the Member so charged retires. Now, those are two things.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
The Petition is withdrawn ["No, no!"] Wait a moment. The Petition is withdrawn, and then a Member of this House gets up in his place and says, "I have good reason to believe that a corrupt compromise has been entered into between the sitting Member and the persons who presented that Petition." Sir, that is what I state now. I do believe that a corrupt compromise has been entered into between Dr. Michell and the persons who presented this Petition. Well, now, those are the steps. Well, now, if at the end of the Session the hon. Member for Bodmin comes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and asks him to grant him the office of the Chiltern Hundreds, have we not here the nail driven right home? Can there be a man who can doubt that a corrupt compromise, which I say I believe to have been entered into, has been entered into? Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer get up in his place and say that he believes that? Oh! I know he will say that he has no belief in the matter. But, Sir, I say that there is not one man in this House who when he goes home and talks over these matters with his friends will not say that he believes every word that I have said on the present occasion to be true. Well, then, Sir, I want to know whether it is not the duty of this House to throw every possible obstruction in the way of such a proceeding. What harm can happen if the matter is inquired into? Docs the Chancellor of the Exchequer believe that men go to the expense of getting up a Petition and afterwards withdraw it, and then that the Member applies for the Chiltern Hundreds without some consideration? Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer believe that any innocent man would be 955 placed in a position of difficulty by such a course of proceeding? But, Sir, it is like the rest of our proceedings; they are a sham; from the beginning to the end they are dust thrown in the eyes of the public. When we go home and talk the matter over among our friends we shall admit that all this is done with a view to deceive the public. Sir, I shall leave this matter in the hands of the House. I, for one, tell you that your proceedings in the matter are a sham. You are aiming at throwing dust in the eyes of the public, and I leave the case in the hands of the House.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
Sir, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman has a right to assume that in this case there has been a corrupt compromise, and that our proceedings are a sham, because we do not happen to agree in his mode of treating the subject. All we want is, that the fact should be established before we either punish the delinquent or take measures which imply guilt. The hon. and learned Gentleman states it to be his belief that a corrupt compromise has been entered into in the case of Bodmin, and thereupon he proposes a resolution which assumes the whole case. He takes up the matter contained in the Petition, and then assumes that the charges which it contains are true. I trust that the House will look to the course that it took in 1842 on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member himself, and he sought to establish the facts of the case by means of a parliamentary inquiry. In that case also it must be remembered that the Members against whom the inquiries were directed were present in the House; the charges were stated to them; some declined to answer the interrogatories which were addressed to them, while others denied the charge; and upon these grounds it was, in a great measure, that the House proceeded to act, and a Committee of inquiry was appointed. Now, in the present case the hon. Gentleman who represents Bodmin is clearly not in the House, or he would have risen before this, and have taken part in the discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, that he gave the hon. Member for Bodmin notice that he would bring the matter forward today. Whether the hon. and learned Gentleman addressed him a letter saying that he intended to bring the matter forward to-day we do not know. No doubt if the hon. Member for Bodmin—[Mr. ROEBUCK: I wrote a letter to him.] Well, notwithstanding that, we cannot be aware that 956 that letter was received. The hon. Gentleman may be out of town and may not have received the letter, but we have no evidence at this moment that the hon. Member has had notice of it. Your predecessor, Sir, laid down this rule, that if a Member of this House was charged with conduct amounting to a breach of privilege, the proper course to take, if he were not present, was that he should be ordered to attend in his place, and the charges being made in his presence, that he should have an opportunity of denying them. That is the course which I think we ought to adopt in this case, and it is a course the adoption of which common fairness would suggest. The delay of a day or two is all that is involved, and it is all important to the ends of justice that this course should be taken. Under these circumstances I hope therefore that the hon. and learned Gentleman will consent to withdraw his Motion. In addition to this, I think that much might be said against the Motion itself, because it imposes upon Her Majesty's Government a duty which they have no means of discharging. How is the Government to know the facts in each case? In the present case the hon. Member for Bodmin, it must be borne in mind, has made no application to the Government for the Chiltern Hundreds. All we know with respect to the matter is, that the petitioners in this place have availed themselves of the privilege which the law allows them, and to which it gives a direct sanction, namely, that of withdrawing their Petition, which, for all the Government know, may have been a very honest proceeding. The Petition has been withdrawn. That may have been done as part of the corrupt compact which is alleged; but how is any Government to know the fact? If the hon. Member for Bodmin were now to make an application to the Government for the Chiltern Hundreds, the House has the direct assurance of my noble Friend at the head of the Government, that it will not be granted. But suppose for a moment that no proceedings had been taken in this case, how is the Government to know that the Petition has been withdrawn in consequence of a corrupt agreement between the hon. Member and the petitioners. All we want is some proof of the facts, and that I submit to the House can only be ascertained by a Committee. It is quite clear that some proof of the real facts of the case should be furnished before further proceedings are taken. Sir, under these circumstances, if the hon. and 957 learned Member do not withdraw his Motion, I shall move that the debate be adjourned.
§ SIR HUGH CAIRNS
I think, Sir, that the right hon. Baronet has somewhat misconceived the grounds on which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield has brought forward this Motion. If the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman were directed against the hon. Member for Bodmin, then I apprehend that the House could not advance a single step in the matter until we were satisfied that the hon. Member had received due notice of the intention to bring forward such a charge. I, however, do not understand that that is really the question before the House. What I do understand is this: the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield says, that it is his belief that the hon. Member for Bodmin is about to apply to the Government for the Chiltern Hundreds in consequence of the withdrawal of a certain Petition before the House, and that it is necessary that the House, if it would not be baffled in its inquiry into such subjects, should lay down some general rule applicable to such cases as that to which he has adverted.
Now, Sir, I confess that I was much struck with what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman stated that in 1842 you had Members present in the House; a number of Gentlemen who in their places did not deny the charges that were brought against them, and that a Committee was appointed for the purpose of investigating the subject. That was of course a clear case, and it was one in which the Government could act. But then the right hon. Gentleman says, I am inclined to go further. Even if there be not a Committee granted, still if an hon. Member rises in his place, and makes a charge against another to the effect that the Petition has been presented and withdrawn, and that one of the parties implicated in that Petition is charged with asking for the Chiltern Hundreds, a primâ facie case for inquiry is made out, that if an hon. Member rises in his place and makes a charge against another, that ought to be enough to stay the hand of the Government till the charge has been investigated. Now, Sir, I ask the House whether it would not be possible to take a still further step, and one that would be still more unambiguous, and that would still more meet the case before the House. At present I do not 958 say whether the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield will meet the case or not, but if you have got charges in a Petition of corrupt practices against a Member; if when you are proceeding to deal with that Petition it be withdrawn, and the Member afterwards make application for the Chiltern Hundreds, then I think that is a primâ facie for inquiry without anything more.
Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman talks of the Government having no power to institute inquiry. I quite agree with him. I apprehend that the House has no intention of delegating its power into the hands of the Government in such a case. But what we ask is, that pending the primâ facie case for inquiry the Government should not by any act of its own enable the Member to evade inquiry; and that it should not make any appointment which may be irrevocable, and I must say that when a Petition is withdrawn and the Member applies for the Chiltern Hundreds, the Government must wink very hard indeed if it does not say that that is a primâ facie case for inquiry. It may be explained; but it requires explanation, and what we ask is, that the Government shall hold its hand till the House decides whether or no an inquiry ought to be had. Sir, in conclusion I would suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that he should withdraw the Resolution which he has proposed, and bring forward, upon a future occasion a Resolution of the character which I have suggested.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
Sir, I think that the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield ought to be satisfied with the adjournment of the debate if he is not satisfied with the assurance which the House has received from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. and learned Gentleman has had all he could wish for in the assurance that in this and all similar cases the Chiltern Hundreds will not be granted. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has stated that this question is a general question. I agree that it is a general question, but in substance it is a personal question. The name of an hon. Member of this House has been stated. Notice has been sent to him that this mat- 959 ter would be brought before the House, and it is but justice to that hon. Member that the House should be assured that that notice has been received by him. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield has stated that that notice was sent by him to the hon. Member for Bodmin, but there is no proof that the hon. Member for Bodmin has received that notice; and I think it is but fair, under these circumstances, that we should not come to any resolution to-night upon the subject.
Sir, no hon. Gentleman in this House—not one—would suggest that we should proceed judicially; that is not the question raised, and I think that the hon. and gallant Member who has just resumed his scat has somewhat misconceived the scope of the debate. No one would suggest that we should proceed judicially against any person without giving him notice of the course which it is intended should be adopted. That is not the question which has been raised, but a question of considerable importance. I would suggest that to inquire into the return of a Member to this House is not like an ordinary lawsuit between A.B. and C.D., who if they choose may at any time enter into a compromise. There is a third party to be considered in the case, and that is the House of Commons, and more particularly that large class of Members who desire not a theoretical, but a practical reform of the House, and who think that there is a considerable difference between theoretical purity and practical corruption. By the merest accident I read this morning that a Gentleman who had been unseated upon one of the strongest cases of bribery, not by himself, but by his agents, which had recently come under the consideration of a Committee, had upon a former occasion delivered a most energetic speech in favour of Parliamentary purity and Parliamentary reform. I think that the House should remember that a case might arise in which a Petition against a return might be withdrawn because the Member did not like the aspect of the times, and dreaded the ordeal of a Parliamentary Committee, and because the petitioner was satisfied with the promised retirement of his competitor at the termination of the Session, and it surely is desirable that in such a case the House should strengthen the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the effort to baffle that corrupt compromise by refusing an application for the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. But the readi- 960 est means of obtaining that object will be to pass a Resolution to the effect that whenever a Petition directly charging corrupt practices is withdrawn, and the Member charged in that Petition afterwards applies for that office, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be interdicted from assenting to the application until there shall have been an inquiry by the House. Now, I think that if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield will allow the matter to stand over until it can be fully considered, I believe that the House will have no difficulty in adopting a Resolution of this character. It should be borne in mind that the Motion is not directed against any particular Member, but is really intended to prevent corrupt practices, in the desire to do which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is no doubt sincere.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
Sir, I do not understand that there is any very material difference now between the two sides of the House; but I would beg leave to call attention to the fact, that as far as I know there are only two precedents by which we have to guide ourselves. There is first the precedent to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred, which occurred in Mr. Goulburn's time. In that case there were, with regard to some hon. Members who were charged with corrupt practices, admissions; with regard to some there was admission, and with regard to none was there denial; and there was the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the whole of the circumstances. It was under these circumstances that Mr. Goulburn refused to grant the application for the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. There was another case which occurred when I held the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was the case of Mr. Sadleir, who represented a county in Ireland, and he was the subject of a criminal charge upon which a prosecution had been instituted. I remember being asked whether I would consent to grant him the Chiltern Hundreds during the pendency of that charge, and I stated in this House that I would not grant the Chiltern Hundreds while that prosecution was pending, In point of fact, no application was ever made in the case of Mr. Sadleir, but I have a distinct recollection of having made that statement.
Now, with regard to this case, there is no investigation of any kind pending or ordered by this House. There is neither 961 admission nor denial on the part of the Gentleman on whose case this Motion is stated to be founded, because, although the hon. and learned Member for Belfast said that other charges were referred to as the ground work to form the Resolution, I do not understand the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to more than one case. And I would make this remark. He has brought it forward as a question of privilege; if it be a question of privilege, it must refer to one case, and this Resolution appears in a regular form. I would therefore submit to the judgment of the House whether we should be called upon, without notice and without seeing the Resolution in print, to come to a general decision of this sort upon the plea that we are called upon to consider a question of privilege. The Resolution is to this effect.That in the opinion of this House any Minister would be guilty of a breach of the privileges of this House, who should advise the Crown to confer the office of Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, or of the Manor of East Hendred, or of the Manor of Northstead, or of the Manor of Hempholme; or of Escheator of Munster, upon any person charged with corrupt practices at an election, and who for the purpose of evading the jurisdiction of this House, has entered into an agreement to vacate his seat upon the withdrawal of the petition, charging him with such corrupt practices.Well, now, with regard to the present case it may be said that although a Petition has charged the hon. Member for Bodmin, and although the petitioners have exercised their undoubted right in withdrawing that Petition, whatever we may think of their motives, what knowledge have we on the subject except the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, which is not substantiated by any recital of facts? How do we know that for the purpose of evading the jurisdiction of this House the hon. Member for Bodmin has entered into an agreement to vacate his seat on the withdrawal of the Petition charging him with such corrupt practices? Even if we are to assume that he made an application to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I know of no ground on which we are to say that the hon. Member for Bodmin has entered into such an agreement. I only see an allegation, unsupported by any evidence, made by another Member in his seat in Parliament, upon which the House, if it thinks fit, can direct inquiry to be made. I therefore would submit to the House, that in the present state of the case it is utterly impossible to take any course before we have proceeded to investigate the accusation upon which this general Resolution is 962 forwarded, and that if it is desirable to come to a general Resolution, it must be defined in more accurate language than that in which it is now couched.
§ MR. GEORGE HOPE
Sir, I trust that the House will allow me to make one or two observations, as the subject of an Election Petition is now under its consideration. It has been thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and is well known in this House, that Petitions, although they charge corruption, are often presented without any corruption being known to exist, and without any intention on the part of their authors of proceeding with them. This is precisely what has occurred in my own case. I am not going to trouble the House with my individual grievance, but I consider myself to have been very ill-used by the presentation of a Petition against my own return. That Petition was withdrawn without my knowledge, and without my having been in any way consulted on the subject. No compromise whatever was made by me. It was altogether the act of the petitioners themselves. Now, see in what position I should be placed if the rule suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast were adopted. One injury has been done me by the presentation of the Petition, and I should have a continuance of that grievance merely by the wrongful act of the Petition having been presented, and then there would be added the deprivation of a privilege enjoyed by other Members. I do not object to the principle of suspense in granting the application in every case of a Member against whom a Petition has been presented, and withdrawn, but there should be some limit to it. Do not let it be said that a man who has been unjustly stigmatized by the presentation of a Petition against his return on the ground of corrupt practices shall be further stigmatized by a Resolution of the House declaring that he shall not be allowed to accept certain office for which other Members might at any moment successfully apply. Sir, as I said before, I do not rise for the purpose of troubling the House with my individual grievance, but I am perfectly prepared to stand any inquiry into the proceedings at my election. An investigation into my own case would give me great satisfaction.
§ MR. BRIGHT
Sir, in many of the reasons which have been stated why the House should not agree to the Resolution 963 I concur, but there is another of some importance. I should be unwilling to assume that every case of compromise is a case of corruption. I can conceive a case in which a Member would act precisely as the hon. Member for Bodmin is alleged to have acted although he had not been guilty of any corrupt practices. A man comes into this House—a great many men can hardly tell how they get here—but a man might come into this House and might find after his return that some friends of his, in the extravagance of their zeal, or in the fierceness of the contest, have done things which are very imprudent, and which a Parliamentary Committee would not sanction, although he himself knew of them at the time of their occurrence; and such a man might not be disposed to incur the expense of an investigation before a Parliamentary Committee; for be it remembered that while some Members of the House are rich, others possess but very moderate means. Of Dr. Michell I know nothing; but if he is a man to whom the expenditure of £1,000 is a serious matter, he might think it unadvisable, although he had not himself resorted to any corrupt practices, to defend his seat—and he might further agree to resign it at the termination of the Session. This may be done without any corruption whatever, and it would therefore be impossible for the House to adopt a Resolution which would assume that all these compromises were of a corrupt character. With regard to this particular case it is not a matter in which the question who is to have the seat is much concerned. The chief question is, what shall be done with the borough? In another case there was a rumour which I will mention to the House. There is another borough in a county in the north of England. It is stated with regard to that small borough in the north, which has not the best of characters, that an apprehension was entertained by the two contending parties that it might be disfranchised if an inquiry into the proceedings at the late election were conducted before an Election Committee, and that they had therefore agreed that a Petition which had been presented against the return should be withdrawn, and that the point in dispute should be left to the arbitration of an hon. Member sitting on the Opposition side of the House, with the view of saving the character, or rather the want of character, of the constituency, and preventing their total or partial disfranchisement.
964 Now, the object in that case was not to save the borough from the terrors of the House of Commons, which certainly no one seems to be much afraid of in cases of that nature, but to save it from the danger of being disfranchised. I think it is not reasonable to say that every Member who resigns his seat to avoid expenses should be charged with corruption. I do not think it fair that a Gentleman should be charged with a breach of the privileges of the House, because upon doubting whether he could successfully defend his seat, he thinks proper to resign it. Now, Sir, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield will consent to an adjournment of this discussion, and will not now ask us to decide upon a case of which we cannot pretend to possess any certain knowledge. I submit to the House that in no case ought we to proceed with the debate in the absence of Dr. Michell.
Sir, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham that the proposal which is now before the House would operate harshly in those cases—cases undoubtedly not uncommon—in which a Member is returned by illegal means of which he had no knowledge. There is no doubt that if this Resolution, or any other resolution of a similar character were adopted, it would not be possible for such a Member by the abandonment of his seat to escape the ordeal of a Committee of this House. But if such a case were brought before a Committee, although the seat would be lost, and the Member himself would be subject to the inconvenience and expense of an inquiry, no personal stigma would fall upon him, because the Committee who inquired into the matter would carefully distinguish between his acts and the acts of an agent for which, although he would be politically responsible he would not be responsible personally. Now, we are all agreed, I believe, as to the object to be attained, and the only question is, as to which of two modes will enable us to attain it in the most satisfactory manner. The proposal recommended by the Government, as I understand it, is that in every case in which a Petition has been presented against a sitting Member, and has been subsequently with drawn, and in which the Member has afterwards applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, we are not to assume the existence of a corrupt compromise or an intention to defeat the ends of justice, but that we are to grant the application unless some hon. Member shall take 965 upon himself the responsibility of saying that there is aprimâ facie case of corruption, which he is in a position to substantiate. If this principle were adopted, as recommended by the Government, 99 out of every 100 cases of corrupt compromises would pass without the slightest investigation, because it is a different thing to have a conviction that a certain illegal act has been done, and to know that you would be able to prove it by legal evidence. The mode recommended by the Government appears to require something in the nature of evidence that there was a corrupt object in the arrangement. On the other hand, it is proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield that you should, without going into the case at all, assume from a certain combination of circumstances, that there was primâ facie evidence of corruption. That combination of circumstances consists of the presentation of a Petition against the return of a Member—of its subsequent withdrawal, and immediately after that withdrawal of the retirement of the Member from the seat for which he had not six months before been expending his time and money; that such a combination of circumstances affords primâ facie evidence of an intention to effect a corrupt compromise. And the hon. and learned Gentleman moreover says, and this is a point deserving of the serious consideration of the House, that if we established some general rule for preventing corrupt compromises we can offend no individual susceptibilities, while if we require special evidence in each particular case we should find that in nine instances out of ten no such evidence would be brought before us. I am prepared, however, to admit that the words of the Resolution, as it at present stands, are not satisfactory. Instead of the words "any person charged with corrupt practices at an election, and who for the purposes of evading the jurisdiction of this House has entered into an agreement," I think it would be better to insert the following words, "any Member who has been engaged in a Petition with corrupt practices, and who upon the withdrawal of such Petition has applied for any of the said offices;" we do not want to assert the existence of corruption, we only want to say that circumstances have occurred which create such a suspicion of corruption as justify the House in interfering for the purpose of preventing anything being done until the necessary inquiry into the case shall have taken place.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
I would take the liberty of suggesting to the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, that in the event of his again bringing forward his Motion he should include in it all cases in which Election Petitions have been presented to this House and subsequently withdrawn. I am of opinion that the House ought to consider the subject generally, and without any reference to individual cases.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, I cannot help observing that the hon. Member for Bodmin has received but scant justice from the Gentlemen upon his own side of the House. I am far from being desirous of making this a party question, but I cannot help saying that I think there is much justice in the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham upon this subject. In considering the character of the House I think we should not forget the character of the individual Members of whom the House is composed; and if a Member is charged with corrupt practices, the House ought to take care that that Member has an opportunity of defending himself before they accept that charge. The House is asked to proceed only on an assumption that the hon. Member for Bodmin has been guilty of corrupt practices. It is only an allegation and nothing more. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, and wish that the same feeling of justice prevailed on this side of the House towards a Member who has always been associated with the Conservative party.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
Sir, I think it will be impossible for the House to affirm the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, inasmuch as it calls upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to appoint a Committee upon a matter as to which he has no information. The fact that the Resolution will throw upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he takes any proceedings with reference to the granting or non-granting of the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, the responsibility of making an inquiry which he has no possible means of making, seems to me a sufficient answer to the Resolution as it stands. Now, Sir, I think that the House ought to lake time to consider this question. Unless the hon. and learned Gentleman withdraws his Resolution I shall move the adjournment of the debate. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will put his Resolution upon the paper in order that this House may know what we really 967 have to discuss. We are all pretty well agreed in substance, but care must be taken neither to impose upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer a duty that he cannot perform, nor to do anything which may be grossly unjust to any hon. Member.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I quite agree with several hon. Members as to the necessity of an adjournment, and I think that this discussion will do great good. I hope and trust that the noble Lord at the head of the Government will consent to the resumption of the debate at an early hour tomorrow.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I now move "That the hon. Member for Bodmin (Dr. Michell), be required to appear in his place in this House to-morrow."
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Ordered, That Dr. Michell, Member of the Borough of Bodmin, do attend this House in his place To-morrow, at Six of the clock.