HC Deb 10 August 1859 vol 155 cc1279-97

"It being distinctly understood that no personal charges can be brought either against Mr. Overend, on the one hand, or Mr. Childers on the other, and having regard to the peace of the borough, which would be greatly disturbed by proceeding with the petition, it is agreed that the petition shall be forthwith withdrawn, and that instead of proceeding with the scrutiny, it shall be referred to Mr.—to decide upon hearing a statement of facts from both sides, and evidence, if necessary, on any disputed point as to what ought to be done between the parties, both the sitting Member and the Petitioner being bound to act upon his award.

(Signed) "PHILIP ROSE.


Now on looking at this memorandum it was quite clear at all events that there was nothing about the seat. It was quite clear that the petition was to be withdrawn, that there was to be no scrutiny, and that it was to be referred to a certain gentleman, to be afterwards named, to decide upon a statement of facts from both sides, and to receive evidence on any disputed point. He submitted this to his friends, and said that something might arise out of it having relation to the next election; but that as to referring the question of the seat, that could not be legitimately done. That, then, was the opinion which he expressed, and in which his friends concurred. As a further proof of the accuracy of his opinion he received at the same time a letter from Mr. Rose, the whole of which he could not read to the House, because it contained some expressions that were of a confidential nature. Mr. Rose, in that letter said:— My dear Sir,—Tour petition will be settled by the inclosed memorandum. The name to be filled in was —or—(giving two names) if either of those hon. Members will undertake the reference. I think you will be amused at this termination. I certainly am. It is clear Mr. Childers did not wish to consent to a withdrawal pure et simple, but they don't mind withdrawing upon an illusory arrangement such as this. I have done all I could to let them down gently. It has required delicate handling, and Leeman has been backwards and forwards the greater part of the day. I will telegraph to you when the petition is actually withdrawn, but I think you may conclude it is as good as done, and I heartily congratulate you. I shall propose that we meet after the long vacation. He appealed to the candour of the House, then, whether, after receiving such a document as that, which never said one word about the seat, after he had been told in a telegraphic despatch that it was intended as a dignified withdrawal on the part of Mr. Childers, and by Mr. Rose in his letter that it was an illusory arrangement which had only caused him merriment; and after he had been told that whatever inquiry was instituted would not take place until after the long vacation, he put it to the House whether, acting on his own judgment, and exercising common understanding, he could have arrived at any other conclusion than that the agreement come to was not an agreement, which put in jeopardy his seat, or exposed his character to all sorts of imputations by persons who were not bound by an oath, who were not liable to the penalties of perjury, and would not be subject to cross-examination. Was it likely that a gentleman of the experience of Mr. Leeman could enter into an agreement involving the seat? It was most improbable; and he (Mr. Overend) had been misled extremely if such were the case. He was stating the facts as fairly as he could to the House. He had had no communication with Mr. Rose before receiving the telegram, nor after receiving his letter. All he did was to write Mr. Rose a letter, stating that he was in great haste, and had only time to say—"I am much obliged to you;" and there ended the matter, so far as he was concerned. The next thing that occurred was this. The following day, or the day after that, one of his strongest supporters at Pontefract came to him and said that Mr. Childers and Mr. Leeman had been down to Pontefract and represented that the matter was to be investigated, that they were confident of success, and that Mr. Childers would be elected in a fortnight; and that his (Mr. Overend's) party, on hearing this announcement, were very much surprised at it, and could not understand it, as they had received a telegram stating that the matter was ended. Thereupon he showed his friend the telegram, the letter, and the agreement, and pledged him his word of honour that, in his judgment and belief, the whole question was settled; that the seat was not in issue; that he would never have consented to the seat being in issue; that, if it were, he protested against any kind of reference, on the ground that it would be illegal, and that if any negotiation were going on he had had and would have nothing to do with the matter. He requested his supporter to go back to Pontefract, and tell his friends what he had said; and he accordingly went back and told them that Mr. Overend had pledged him his honour that the seat was not in question; for on the one side it had been stated that the seat was in question, and on the other that it was not. Notice of this was given to Mr. Childers, whose agent was also communicated with, and informed that as far as he (Mr. Overend) was concerned he protested against the question of the seat being considered in issue. Now, if Mr. Childers insisted on a different interpretation of the understanding, and intended taking any step in con- sequence of that view, it ought to have been done at once. Mr. Childers should have written to him. He ought to have called immediately upon the gentleman whose name was mentioned in the agreement, and have brought the matter before the House. But instead of that, the thing went on and on; and he (Mr. Overend) never heard a word more about it from the 19th of July until the 30th, when, being at York on his professional duties, he received a letter from his agent, Mr. Cariss, to the effect that there had been a proposal made by Mr. Leeman to go down to Pontefract and take evidence. In reply to that communication, he (Mr. Overend) said— In justice to myself, and also to Mr. Childers, tell him I understood the question of the seat was not to be gone into; that I never have referred, and never would refer it; and if that question is to be put in issue, I must abstain from entering into any arrangement. On the 1st of August he received from Mr. Cariss a letter, which he would read to the House, to show his bonâ fides:Before the agreement was signed Mr. Rose and myself discussed the question as to the seat; and he, in the presence of Mr. Scott, over and over again said that it was at rest, and the question could not be raised, and in all our interviews and correspondence since he has always repeated the same. I know he is still of that opinion, and I send you a copy of my letter to him, which explains what was done at Pomfret to-day, and how we broke off the inquiry. The point is for him and Mr. Rose to settle. He was reading to the House the private correspondence of his own agents. Mr. Cariss also sent a letter to Mr. Rose on the same day, the 1st of August, in which he said— I was to have met Mr. Leeman at Pomfret this morning for the purpose of drawing up the statement of facts to be submitted to the referee; but Mr. Wilkinson came in his stead. Of course, before entering upon the subject, I told him our impression was that the seat was entirely, and without question, given up to Mr. Overend, and that both Mr. Overend and ourselves and party had so understood the agreement from the first, and so treated it throughout. He said Mr. Leeman and Mr. Childers did not so understand it, but his and their impression was that a scrutiny should be gone into before the referee, and they claimed a void election, or rather a new election. I declined, therefore, to go on with the preparing of any statement, and we parted, Mr. Wilkinson going to London, where no doubt he and Mr. Leeman will see you on the subject. We have never had any impression otherwise than that the claim to the seat was abandoned, and you will remember we discussed this point, and you had no doubt on the subject. Mr. Overend was so told by you in the first instance, and we have always repeated this to him. We must leave you, therefore, to deal with Leeman as you deem best for the interest of Mr. Overend; but the point must not be given up. He appealed to the House, then, whether he had not shown that he had acted upon the belief, derived from the information and assurance which he had received from Mr. Rose and Mr. Cariss, that there was no question at issue about the seat. And if that were so, was he not justified in taking his stand where he did? Was he to jeopardise his position? He would have refused to refer the seat pure et simple, and he had so refused. Was he then to give way to the claim set up by Mr. Childers? Certainly not. Mr. Childers did perfectly right in insisting upon the matter being brought before the gentleman who was appointed to hear it, and who very kindly sat for the purpose of hearing the question discussed on Friday last. He (Mr. Overend) attended that meeting, and when Mr. Leeman, who appeared for Mr. Childers, began by making a statement about claiming the seat, he (Mr. Overend) got up and said, "Now, Mr. Leeman, let us understand this. If you are going for the seat, I protest against it. This referee"—whose name he would not then mention—"has no right to enter upon that inquiry. I have never referred the matter to him. He has no power to consider it. He could not if he would, because it would be a breach of privilege. Never having referred it, then, I protest against his entering upon the inquiry." Thereupon, the referee sent for two gentlemen, one from each side of the House and possessing the confidence of the House, to consult them upon the matter. They were of opinion that if the seat were at issue, or if it were a matter of scrutiny, the referee unquestionably could not enter into the matter. That Gentleman then said that the question of scrutiny had been abundantly discussed, and that he could not go into such an inquiry in the face of the notification of the hon. Member for Birmingham that such a proceeding would be illegal. [Mr. BRIGHT: I did not say so.] All he knew was that the gentleman to whom he referred thought the hon. Member entertained that opinion; and after that he said, "I feel extremely embarrassed. What am I to do?" The next document to which he wished to call the attention of the House was a letter written on the previous clay by Mr. Leeman to Mr. Rose, as follows:— Fendall's Hotel, Six o'clock, August 4, 1859. Dear Rose,—The matter is one, not for (the referee) or Mr. Cariss, but entirely between you and me, and I must hold you to the performance of it. The whole misunderstanding is one on your part only, as you now see, and it can be put right by you in a moment. Much as we have been prejudiced by its continuance, we shall be ready even at the eleventh hour to accept your statement that it is over, and Mr. Cariss, or yourself, and I can settle our evidence at eight a.m., so as to be ready for (the referee) at twelve. At what hour this evening shall I have a positive answer to this, remembering that I have been waiting since ten this morning?—Tours very truly, P. Rose, Esq. GEO. LEEMAN. To that letter Mr. Rose answered in these terms:— 6, Victoria Street, Westminster Abbey, S.W., August 4, 1859. Dear Leeman,—What you ask of me you must be aware it is impossible for me to perform. I cannot alter the terms of reference, nor can I conceal the impressions under which I agreed to them, and which I communicated at the time to Mr. Overend. I admit, now that you have explained what was passing in your mind, that you meant one thing, while it was equally clear that I (and Mr. Overend through me) understood another. In this state of affairs the memorandum ought to speak for itself, and I think any one will admit that it is a fair interpretation of my understanding. But I should not be content to rely upon a mere technical construction of the wording of a memorandum intended to embody an honourable understanding, and I am quite ready that (the referee) should decide, after hearing your statement and mine, what ought, as between men who only intended fair dealing, to be the scope and extent of the reference, and I have no doubt Mr. Overend will feel bound to act upon any interpretation which (the referee) thinks ought to be given to it. More than this ought not, and cannot, be asked. If our views and intentions had been identical, you would have been entitled to hold me to the most complete fulfilment of the understanding; but when it is seen that we were wide as the poles in our conception of the arrangement, while I do not insist upon a rigid adherence to my view you cannot expect an arbitrary concession to' yours. It is such a difference as can only be decided by an honourable man between all parties, and I doubt not the decision of (the referee) will be satisfactory to us all. At the same time, I deeply regret that any controversy of this nature should have arisen between us.—Yours very truly, PHILIP ROSE. Geo. Leeman, Esq. Fendall's Hotel.

Copies of these letters were shown to him (Mr. Overend), and when he had read them, he stated that if the question of the seat were to be gone into, he should still adhere to his protest that that should not be refer- red. In the course of the discussion before the referee on Friday, he pointed out the absurdity of referring the matter to a private and an inefficient tribunal like that, and gradually they slided into the question of what the agreement meant by itself. Mr. Leeman discussed it and put forward his view, and Mr. Rose put forward his; and after a great many statements pro. and con, by Mr. Leeman and Mr. Rose, the referee, said, "My opinion is that both parties have acted bonâ fide —Mr. Rose on the one part, and Mr. Leeman on the other; but my difficulty is this, and I am bound to say so: that supposing they do not understand each other, where am I to find the agreement? for when I look into the agreement I find nothing about the seat, and I feel that I cannot compel Mr. Overend to refer the matter to any other tribunal." Up to that time he (Mr. Overend) was no party to, and was not concerned in, any proposal to refer the question of the seat; but ultimately, after hearing the controversy, and in order that there should be no ground for supposing that he would be guilty of bad faith, that he had violated any pledge implied by the agreement, or that he had deserted his agent, he said to the referee, "I will throw myself entirely upon you, sir, and abide by what you say ought to be done." But immediately upon his saying that, Mr. Leeman said, "I withdraw altogether." Thus it would be seen that he (Mr. Overend) had declined to refer the question of the seat in the first instance, but at length had agreed to everything. Still, although he did that, and all that could be done between man and man, Mr. Leeman withdrew from the reference, and said, "There is an end of it." After that had taken place, he came into the lobby of the House, where he saw Mr. Leeman, who said, "I give you notice to appear in your place to-night; the matter shall not stop here; it must be mentioned to the House." That evening, therefore, he stayed in the House a considerable time, until he was assured that there was no chance of the subject being brought forward; and later in the evening, about half-past eleven, his agent saw Mr. Childers, who said that they had no intention to bring it forward. That, then, was all he knew about the matter, and he did say that to bring an imputation of fraud against him, behind his back, without notice, and with no one to appear in his behalf, was most unfair. At the same time let it it be understood that he had no objection to the appointment of the proposed Committee. On the contrary, he felt obliged to Mr. Childers for having asked it. He himself should be the first to support an inquiry, especially as that inquiry involved a question which affected his character and honour as a Member of that House. With regard to the allegation that his friend Mr. Rose had made a suggestion about the payment of monies, all he knew was that he had given no authority to any one in that respect, and that he had taken no part whatever in the matter, although something was said about money before the referee. What he had done was to receive a telegram and answer it; to receive an agreement and a letter which accompanied it, and to write back his thanks. And that was all he knew of the transaction. He had been assured by everybody whom he had consulted—and he had taken that assurance as strictly bonâ fide —that the seat was not at issue, and all his conduct showed that he himself never thought it was at issue. He felt that he had not the power to refer the question of the seat, even if he were willing to do so. Therefore, what he had done before the referee was in accordance with good faith, and with what he was bound to do in justice to himself, his constituents, and this House. Without objecting, then, to the proposed inquiry, he hoped that in performing the painful task of having to justify his own honour and character in that House he had not been unsuccessful.


said, he was not about to offer any reply to the speech of the hon. and learned Member, as he did not stand there in the position of an accuser. He was as anxious to leave town as other hon. Members, but when Mr. Childers and his friends asked him to present this petition he felt that the case was one which was of a nature that scarcely allowed him to refuse. He had, therefore, presented it to the House, and he now submitted a list of hon. Members who, it must be admitted on both sides, would form a fair and impartial Committee for the examination of the allegations contained in the petition. The hon. and learned Member had rather complained that proper notice had not been given him of the proceeding; but according to a memorandum with which he (Mr. Bright) had been furnished he was assured that the hon. and learned Member had received verbal notice that the petition would be presented to the House before he left the referee at three o'clock on Friday; that Mr. Cariss, his agent, had waited outside the House to see if any petition would be presented; and that Mr. Childers, who had been seated under the gallery, went into the lobby at midnight and asked him where Mr. Overend was, and requested him to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that the petition would not be presented that night; that about two o'clock in the afternoon of Monday, Mr. Rose received a written notice that the petition would be presented that day, and that at a late hour that night a notice was written to Mr. Rose that it would be presented at one o'clock on Tuesday. There might have been some delay in the delivery of the latter note; but upon the whole he (Mr. Bright) thought the hon. and learned Member had not much reason to complain on the ground of a want of notice. There was, indeed, no intention whatever not to give him fair notice. The hon. and learned Member had alluded to a word which he said that he (Mr. Bright) had used in presenting the petition. He had not seen the report of his observations; but what he had meant to say, and what he believed he had said, was that the whole matter looked as if Mr. Childers had been— and he then paused a moment and said he wished he could find another word for it, because he did not wish to make any accusation against the hon. and learned Gentleman, but it seemed as if Mr. Childers had been jockeyed—"defrauded" was, he believed, the epithet he had employed— out of the seat. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman himself would admit that Mr. Rose had been a little too sharp in his practice. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said at the close of his speech that he at last agreed to refer that which he had all along protested against referring to arbitration. There was no use disguising what all the world is supposed to know—that Lord March was the nobleman to whom the reference was to be made, and he had no doubt but that both sides were right in asking that noble Lord to decide. But the fact, as he was informed, was that it was not until Mr. Leeman and his friends had shut up their papers and withdrawn that the hon. and learned Gentleman consented to do that which he had all through protested against doing. He was further given to understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not been willing, in consequence of Lord March's scruples as to a breach of privilege, to agree to a reference to some other hon. Member, as had been originally proposed, in the case of any difficulty with that nobleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman had all along assumed that the seat was not involved. He was not about to dispute that. But they all knew very well what was generally involved in an election petition and an election committee; and, as Mr. Leeman had positively refused to have anything to do with any money consideration, or the payment of expenses by the hon. and learned Gentleman, it seemed clear to a non-legal mind like his own, that the only question which could arise was whether the seat rightfully belonged to him or to his opponent, Mr. Childers. There never were two men so utterly childlike as Mr. Leeman and Mr. Childers if they went through all those negotiations without those negotiations or the proposed reference in any degree affecting the question who was to be Member for the borough of Pontefract. Then came another point. The hon. and learned Gentleman had apparently been in the hands of an agent whom he did not know anything about. But it was a rule with Election Committees that if they could only catch the agent to a Member, the Member was made responsible for his acts. It was also consonant with a rule of law, which no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman had often sustained with force before a jury, that it could be no answer to Mr. Childers to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been in bad hands. In his telegram, the hon. and learned Gentleman told his agent, "Do your best for me: I leave myself in your hands." And if Mr. Rose thought it was an "illusory engagement"—if he thought it was a matter that he would chuckle over, to show how nicely he had managed Mr. Leeman and Mr. Childers, then Mr. Rose was not the man to conduct matters of that kind for Members of that House, or to have any transactions as a Parliamentary agent with them. If the hon. and learned Gentleman was not to be bound by the acts of his agent, that he would only leave for his own decision. He made no charge against him. He stated the allegations of the petition, which, from all he could hear, were fairly drawn. He had proposed an unexceptionable Committee of hon. Members of that House to inquire into those allegations. His duty was fulfilled. He was not to be a member of that Committee, and would have nothing to do with the award. But if the matter was investigated, he hoped that the Committee would give an opinion which would at any rate satisfy the House that there had been nothing unfair or dishonourable on the part of the hon. and learned Member and his agent. He trusted likewise that their decision would be such as to satisfy the wounded and, he might add, irritated feelings of Mr. Childers and Mr. Leeman, who had been the victims of that transaction.


said, he rose to—


said, it was competent for the hon. and learned Gentleman to explain, but not to make a reply.


said, it was his wish to explain. It was not the fact, as stated by the hon. Member, that the papers of the other parties had been folded up when he offered to agree to the reference. With respect to his agent, the communications alluded to by the hon. Gentleman took place after the agreement had been signed.


observed, that he should not have said a single word on this subject, had it not been for the observations that fell from the hon. Member for Birmingham at the conclusion of his speech. The hon. Member had obtained what he had sought for—the investigation of a Committee; and therefore he regretted that the hon. Gentleman should have so far prejudiced the matter as to make a downright condemnatory censure upon one of the parties concerned. For himself he must say, that the first time he heard of this matter was when the petition was withdrawn. He knew nothing of any arrangement entered into in the matter; and he had only heard of the controversy when it was proposed to be gone into before his noble Friend. He had attended at that meeting; but the whole of what took place had been described with so much fulness and accuracy by his hon. and learned Friend, that there was nothing left for him to describe to the House except this one fact, that he certainly understood that Mr. Leeman fully admitted that all through the course of these transactions Mr. Rose had declared to him that on no account would he allow the seat to be called in question; and he even admitted that when the agreement was brought to him to sign, some controversy took place on the question whether it did or did not involve the question of the seat. But in the face of all that Mr. Rose stated on that head to Mr. Leeman, he on the part of Mr. Childers put his name to the agreement. How that gentleman, whose acuteness was beyond dispute, and who admitted that all through these negotiations Mr. Rose insisted that the seat was not to be called in question— how in the face of all this he could put his name to an agreement drawn up like the one before them, and which would not bear the interpretation now sought to be put upon it, he (Sir William Jolliffe) could not conceive. That act alone would have justified Mr. Rose in thinking that he had placed the right interpretation upon the nature of the agreement; and it was therefore rather hard that, or. a mere ex parte statement, Mr. Rose should be characterized as unfit to conduct any Parliamentary business before that House.


Sir, I think it will be admitted that the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract has set himself quite right with the House on this matter. Whatever may be the general decision of the House on the subject itself, I believe he has shown that he has been actuated throughout this business, as far as he was himself concerned, by that sense of honour which I trust will always regulate the conduct of every Member of this House. I have no desire in any way to question the motives which may influence Mr. Childers. I remember Mr. Childers when he was a Member of this House. ["No."] I thought that the petitioner was the gentleman whom we all remember with respect; and if it had been he, I was about to say that I should be glad to see him again in this House; although perhaps he and I might not often have met in the same lobby. But I see no reason to doubt that the gentleman whose petition is before us has been guided by motives as correct as those which have unquestionably guided the conduct of the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract. I know very little of these transactions. I read the petition this morning, and it is only, I believe, within the last forty-eight hours that I have heard of the possibility of the subject being brought before us; and, indeed, when the hon. Member for Birmingham alluded the other night to a borough in the north of England where there had been a compromise, I was quite in the dark as to the case to which he referred. But I read this petition this morning, and certainly it is a very remarkable petition. My impression is that it treats of circumstances which, strictly speaking, ought not to be brought under the cognizance of this House. They are circumstances with regard to which we must appeal to that principle of honour which, in my opinion, is not a fit subject to be dealt with by a Committee of the House of Commons. But, as the question has been introduced here, it may be better, on the whole, that the investigation should now proceed, although I think we are laying the foundation of a precedent which may hereafter prove inconvenient. There are one or two observations which I cannot refrain from making on this petition. In the first place, if the seat of the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract was to be vacated in consequence of an agreement, it is very remarkable that that which was a principal object of the agreement, according to the statement of the petitioners, was not expressed in the document. It is not an unusual thing, when an election petition is withdrawn, for an agreement to be entered into that one of the Members against whom the petition is presented should vacate his seat. That, I say, is not an unusual course; although in my opinion it is one which ought not to be encouraged. I opposed that practice some years ago. I supported the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield in his Motion the other night, the object of which was to arrest and discourage such proceedings; and I have no cause whatever to regret the vote I then gave. I think the House, in a somewhat precipitate manner, took a step the consequences of which may be very injurious to its own character. I remember that some years ago, when that very question was before us on a Motion made by the same hon. and learned Member (Mr. Roebuck), the noble Lord the Member for London, then the leader of this House, and Sir Robert Peel, sitting on these benches, both concurred in voting in disapproval of the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, or any other office of that kind, being granted under these circumstances to any Member of this House. And no one then stopped to calculate whether the advantage of such a Motion would be on the one side or on the other; but the leaders of both sides agreed that its adoption would in all probability be most conducive to public justice, and must tend to check corrupt practices. They therefore gave the vote which I myself gave under similar circumstances a few nights ago. But if it be the fact, as we all know it is, and as we have ample evidence in the proceedings before our Parliamentary Committees, that when these agreements are made, they are always specified in writing, and there is an undertaking from the hon. Member who intends to retire that he will apply for an office under the Crown, how is it that in this case, where Mr. Childers was represented by a very able and experienced election agent, that condition is not laid down? It ought to be referred to, if referred to at all, in precise language; and certainly if such a condition was meant to be binding, there is no reason of a satisfactory or even imaginable kind why it should not have been expressed. If that condition had been expressed there could have been no difficulty upon the subject. Some observations have been made upon the conduct of the gentleman who was the Parliamentary agent of the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract. The hon. Member for Birmingham made a very severe attack upon that gentleman, which it appears to me, considering that he was moving for a Committee of inquiry, and that the present was not the moment for discussing the merits of the case, was not conceived in that spirit which we had a right to expect to be displayed by the hon. Member. I, therefore, feel it to be my duty to say that I have with Mr. Rose an acquaintance which has existed for many years. He is a member of a family that lives in my neighbourhood in the country—a family that ha3 existed in Buckinghamshire for several generations in a position of great and deserved respectability. I do not know an individual in whose integrity I have more confidence. He is a gentleman who, from his large transactions in London, is known to a considerable number of persons, including I dare say many hon. Members of this House, and I am quite sure that no gentleman can ever have been placed in communication with him without feeling that he was dealing with an honourable, honest, and straightforward man. I have no doubt that when the proposed Committee investigate the whole of this matter, and Mr. Rose is brought before them, they will draw from the manner in which he gives his evidence the same inferences which I have always drawn from my experience of his conduct through life, which has been a course of unvarying, and I may say distinguished integrity. I shall not stop to inquire why the hon. Member for Birmingham made so severe an attack upon Mr. Rose, nor shall I ask whether it may not have arisen from the exertions of Mr. Rose in other boroughs. I think, however, it would have been better if the hon. Member had refrained upon the present occasion from avenging any injury which he fancies he may have experienced on a different scene. As the House seems to think that this gentleman having been brought before us, it is better that a Committee should be appointed, I shall not resist the Motion to that effect. I dare say, if we had been as well acquainted yesterday as we are now with the statement which the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract has made, we should have hesitated before we called in the authority of a Committee of this House to investigate a matter which, after all, had better have been left to those means which are usually employed to investigate circumstances affecting private character. I do not well see what we can do, even if the allegations in the petition of Mr. Childers be proved to the satisfaction of the Committee. We can only exercise over those who are supposed to have injured Mr. Childers such influence as may consist in an expression of moral indignation; but that might have been equally done, if, when this misunderstanding had taken place, it had been referred privately to a gentleman who, his character and position in this House or in society being beyond reproach, would have been able to arrive at a decision which would satisfy the demands of justice. But to withdraw after the manner in which this question has been brought before the House might lead to inferences which, perhaps, we ought not to encourage, and on the whole it is better when a misunderstanding of this kind has arisen—a misunderstanding which was originally supposed to involve the character of a Member of this House, and which the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham might lead us to suppose involves the character of a gentleman connected in a more humble position with this House —that an inquiry should take place. I must congratulate the House upon the explanations that have been given in their places both by the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract and by the late Member for Bodmin (Dr. Mitchell). It must be a source of satisfaction to the House, that both in this and in the other case the gentlemen concerned have shown that they were in every way worthy of sitting in this House among those who are now Members of it. I may take this opportunity of stating, that in the vote I gave the other night in a case analogous to the present, I was not in the least influenced by any consideration affecting the individual principally concerned. It was the first opportunity I had of expressing the strong opinion I entertain upon the system of granting nominal offices under the Crown to those Members of Parliament whose returns are petitioned against for corrupt practices. The Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield was one which I did not approve as far as its formal expression was concerned, and I said so at the time; but as I, and almost every Member of the House, agreed in the spirit of that Resolution, I felt it my duty to vote for it, in order to express my opinion that the general course which it recommended should be adopted. I regret that it was not adopted, and in the present case, which is not identical though analogous, the course which is recommended by the hon. Member for Birmingham will receive my support. But I want to ask the House what is the remedy that is to be given to Mr. Childers, if the House is of opinion that he has received sharp practice at the hands of the sitting Member or his agents, which I believe, however, he has not received? Can we allow Mr. Childers to renew his election petition when the House meets again next year? I do not think we have any such power, but it would be as well to consider whether the means of permitting him to do so may not be found. That would be a more satisfactory solution of the difficulty than any which we are likely to arrive at by the appointment of a Committee, because a Committee can practically do nothing in the way of affording a remedy to Mr. Childers, while it may usurp a duty which society at large, and not a Committee of this House, ought to perform.


I agree with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Petersfield that, as it seems to be the general opinion of the House that the Motion of the hon. Member for Birmingham should be carried, we should abstain upon the present occasion from entering into a discussion of the merits of a question which is to be submitted to the consideration and investigation of a Committee. I therefore regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) should have given us his opinion as to the effect and tenour of the agreement of which we have heard so much, because that is one of the points which must come before the Committee. I ventured' yesterday to suggest to the House that if the mere question raised by the petition was whether, a compromise having been entered into by the hon. Member for Pontefract with Mr. Childers, the former had not fairly fulfilled his agreement, although that might be a matter affecting the character of the sitting Member as a gentleman, I doubted whether the House could entertain it as a question over which it had any jurisdiction. But that is not the whole question now raised. The Motion submitted by the hon. Member for Birmingham is that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the circumstances under which the Pontefract election petition was withdrawn. Now, giving credit to the hon. Member for Pontefract for his explanation, I am bound to say that I was struck by one remarkable omission in his statement. He did not even hint at the question as to what the points were that were to be submitted to the referee under the agreement. Surely something was to be submitted to the referee. We have this remarkable statement in the petition—a statement which has not been contradicted or explained, and which, undoubtedly, deserves inquiry:— Mr. Cariss then stated that he had been with Mr. Overend at Newcastle throughout the previous day (Sunday); that Mr. Overend had instructed him not to enter into any examination, or to draw up any statement whatever, and that Mr. Overend said he did not understand that the seat was involved in the reference; that Mr. Wilkinson thereupon expressed the greatest surprise, reminding Mr. Cariss of all that had passed at the inter views in London, and asked, if the seat was not the question, what was? That Mr. Cariss was long unwilling to answer, but at length said it was the sum Mr. Overend should pay Mr. Childers as consideration for giving up the petition, and, perhaps, that Mr. Overend should not stand at another election. I do not apprehend it will be denied that, if there is an election petition pending, an arrangement entered into that the sitting Member shall pay a sum of money to the petitioner to withdraw his petition must he regarded as a corrupt compromise, which this House will visit with the punishment it deserves. The hon. and learned Member for Pontefract has said that he did not authorize any transaction with regard to money, but he told us at the same time, though it was hardly necessary to do so, that he had placed himself absolutely in the hands of his agents. It is due, therefore, to the House that an inquiry should be made into the circumstances mentioned in the petition, in order that we may see whether there are agents practising under the authority of this House who are guilty of such acts. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire has adverted to his vote the other night upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck). I must say that I differ from the right hon. Gentleman in the opinion that the course then proposed was one calculated to check these corrupt compromises or corrupt practices at elections. I believe that when Gentlemen, feeling that their seats would be endangered if they had to go before an Election Committee, agree to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds with a view to retire from this House, the proper course to adopt, if you are honest in your endeavours to check corrupt compromises or corrupt practices at elections, would be not to impose upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the obligation of refusing the Chiltern Hundreds in any such case, but to allow the Member to incur the penalty of the loss of his seat by his own voluntary act, and then, if there are circumstances sufficient to justify suspicion, to suspend the writ, institute an inquiry into the circumstances of the election, and, having ascertained all the facts, apply a remedy.

Question put, and agreed to.


said, he would then move that Mr. WALPOLE, Mr. CRAUFURD, Captain JERVIS, Lord ROBERT CLINTON, Mr. SELWTN, MR, PHILLIPS, and Mr. G. C. GLYN be appointed the Committee for the purpose of inquiring into the allegations in the petition.


said, before the question was put he wished to ask a question as to what mode of inquiry was proposed, and how it should be conducted? Did the hon. Member for Birmingham propose himself for conducting the case on one side, and another gentleman for the other side. The gentlemen concerned could not, of course, conduct their own case, and the hon. Member for Birmingham could scarcely expect the Committee to initiate the inquiry.


said, he would suggest that the Committee should call the agents before them, and then decide upon the best course to be pursued.


said, the evidence in the case was in the hands of so few persons that no difficulty could arise as to how they should take it or go into it. He was not the accuser of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, and therefore he should not conduct the case against him.

Committee appointed:

Mr. WALPOLE, Mr. EDWARD CRAUFURD, Captain JERVIS, Lord ROBERT CLINTON, Mr. SELWTN, Mr. PHILIPPS, and Mr. GLYN:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum:—

Leave given to the Committee to sit this day during the sitting of the House.