HC Deb 01 May 1860 vol 158 cc485-512

said, he rose to propose the Address of which he had given notice for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the manner in which the last election for Berwick had been conducted. A Committee of that House had unanimously reported their opinion that bribery extensively prevailed at that election for Berwick, and there existed an Act of Parliament authorizing an Address to the Throne upon such a Report. He was informed that his Motion, contrary to his anticipation, would be opposed, and he wished therefore to state that he had no party object of any sort to serve, but that he simply took the course he was pursuing for the purpose of discharging the duty which devolved upon him in consequence of having been the Chairman of the Berwick Election Committee, and on account of the nature of the evidence which was given before that Committee. The election which they had inquired into took place in the month of August last, a vacancy having been caused by the retirement of one of the two hon. Members who had been chosen at the previous general election. Two gentlemen appeared as competitors for the vacant seat; one, Mr. Hodgson, the petitioner before the Committee; and the other, the hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Marjoribanks), who was defending his seat. The inquiry before the Committee took the form of a scrutiny, and he would state to the House without exaggeration the effect of that scrutiny. Evidence from both sides was before them. And, first, with regard to the seat of the hon. Member, Mr. Hodgson did not succeed in showing that any of the votes which had been given for the hon. Member had been given upon any corrupt consideration; but he did succeed in showing that two of these votes were the votes of persons who had offered bribes, and those votes were therefore struck off by the Com- mittee. He (Mr. Peel) did not mean to say that these were the only acts of bribery committed on the side of the hon. Member at that election; but he felt bound, in justice to the hon. Member, to state that the cases which were proved before the Committee appeared to stand very much by themselves, and did not seem to form part of any systematic or organized plan of bribery in the town; and if the petition had been of the usual character—a petition simply to obtain the avoidance of the election and unseat the sitting Member—he did not think that the evidence given for that purpose would have warranted the Committee in coming to the conclusion that bribery had extensively prevailed at that election. But the inquiry before the Committee was a scrutiny, and the charges which were made against the hon. Member for Berwick were met by him with counter-charges against the petitioner, and the effect of those countercharges upon the poll of Mr. Hodgson was this. The votes objected to by the hon. Member were distributed into two classes. One class comprised the cases of persons who had received money; the other the cases in which money had been offered; and it was not permitted to the hon. Member to go from one class to the other. He was required, when he entered into one class, to exhaust that class before proceeding to the other; and, at the time when Mr. Hodgson desisted from the inquiry and resolved to abandon the further prosecution of his petition, the class of cases in which money was said to have been received was still under consideration, and had not been exhausted; while the other and more important class of cases in which money had been offered was not open, or under the consideration of the Committee at all. The inquiry, therefore, was altogether of an incomplete character. The hon. Member for Berwick nevertheless succeeded in proving to the satisfaction of the Committee that four of the votes polled for Mr. Hodgson had been given for money bribes, and he (Mr. Peel) believed it was the nature of the circumstances of three of these cases which caused the Committee to be of opinion that bribery had prevailed in the borough. For, in what manner had the persons been bribed whose votes had been struck off? They appeared to have gone into a house at Berwick, where they found an individual alone, whom they all recognized as Wm. M'Gall, and he appeared to have given to each of them different sums of money, with directions to go and poll. Other evidence was given which showed that a number of other voters had been directed to the same quarter, and introduced in the same way. There was reason, therefore, for the Committee to conclude that they also must have been bribed. The question, then, for the House to consider was—whether or not they would carry the inquiry further. He had already observed that the inquiry was incomplete; and that it had not entered at all into the cases on the side of Mr. Hodgson in which persons were charged with having offered bribes. It was an inquiry which was carried so far as, and no further than, it would serve the ends of the petitioner or the hon. Member in establishing the right of the latter to the seat. The question of bribery as affecting the character of the borough itself was hardly under consideration; and it was upon the character of the borough that, in his opinion, it was necessary some additional light should be thrown. The House was very well aware, in a general way, that the borough of Berwick had acquired some notoriety for corruption, and, as Chairman of the Committee, he felt bound to bear testimony to the fact that many of the voters who came before the Committee— not merely freemen, but some of the £10 householders—did appear to have an impression that a vote was something out of which they themselves were entitled to make something; that it was something which they had to give away; and that when they gave a favour they were entitled to receive a favour in return. He felt assured, therefore, that the House would not object to the adoption of any course which might tend to the uprooting of habits of corruption which were apparently so firmly established. A Committee of that House, however, would never accomplish that object. It was not the first time on which a Committee of the House of Commons had sat upon the subject of bribery and corruption at Berwick. He believed that Mr. Hodgson himself was a petitioner some years ago, and succeeded in unseating two Members for the borough for bribery and treating. He trusted, therefore, that the House would consent to an Address for the issue of a Commission. He was aware that the seats for Berwick were filled at that moment, and consequently it might not be open to the House to follow up any results from the Commission by depriving the town of its representation in the House of Com- mons; but it would be of great service if, through the medium of a Commission, the extent to which corruption had prevailed at the last election amongst the voters, and especially the freemen at Berwick, were brought to light. It would also be of great service, if it could be ascertained who were the persons who supplied the money by which they were bribed, and if it were proved that they were persons resident in the town, and the House should afterwards think proper to prosecute them, more would have been done in that way to prevent the repetition of corrupt practices than could be effected by any other means. The only objection to the Motion that occurred to his mind was the expense which attended the issue of a Commission. But the constituency of Berwick was not large. The case did not appear to be at all intricate or involved, and he did not anticipate that the inquiry would occupy many days, or that the expense would be very considerable. He should have been glad had he been able to give timely notice to the House of the gentlemen whose names he proposed to insert in the Address as Commissioners. But he had thought it best to consult the Attorney General upon the subject, and the hon. and learned Gentleman had it not in his power to acquaint him with the names he had selected until this evening. The names which the hon. and learned Gentleman had selected, and which he (Mr. Peel) now proposed on his authority, were James Vaughan, Esq., Thomas Irwin Barstow, Esq., and Franklin Lushington, Esq. The hon. Gentleman then concluded by moving that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:— Most Gracious Sovereign,—We your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave humbly to represent to your Majesty that a Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to try a Petition complaining of an undue Election and Return for the Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, have reported to the House that there is reason to believe that bribery extensively prevailed at the last Election for the Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. We, therefore, humbly pray your Majesty that your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause inquiry to be made, pursuant to the provisions of the Act of Parliament, passed in the 16th year of the reign of your Majesty, intituled 'An Act to provide for more effectual inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament,' by the appointment of James Vaughan, Esq., Thomas Irwin Barstow, Esq., and Franklin Lushington, Esq., as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such bribery. That the said Address be communicated to the Lords at a Conference, and their concurrence desired thereto. That a Conference be desired with the Lords upon the subject matter of an Address to be presented to Her Majesty, under the provisions of the Act of the 16th of Her present Majesty, c. 57, and that the Clerk do go to the Lords, and desire the said Conference.


seconded the Motion.


said, that being unused to address the House, he did not rise for the purpose of making a speech, but simply with the view of vindicating his own honour and that of his supporters in the borough of Berwick, to which he felt that justice had not been done by the Report of the Committee. What had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken fortunately rendered it unnecessary for him to make more than a few observations, and he should preface his remarks by Stating that he should have deemed it his duty to call attention to the subject under the notice of the House himself had he not been assured that it was contemplated, on the part of the Committee, that some further steps in the matter should be taken. When he had first gone to Berwick, in the spring of 1853, he found that a great number of the respectable inhabitants of that borough were disgusted with the practices which had prevailed at former elections, and had determined to give their support to no candidate who would not pledge himself to seek the suffrage of the electors by fair means, and by fair means only. That determination on the part of the gentlemen to whom he alluded was so completely in accordance with his own feelings that he had unhesitatingly given the required pledges. Not only privately, but publicly on the hustings, he declared that be never would spend a single sixpence upon a vote—not even if it were to save his election. He might add that since 1853 he had stood no less than four contested elections, the first of which had taken place previous to the passing of the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act, when the employment of colours and bands was legal, as well as the custom of chairing. That first contest had, therefore, cost him £714; but the last three, which were among the most severe on record, had cost him only the sums of £475, £448, and £432 respectively. He could say with the greatest truth that he had faithfully kept the pledge which he gave on his first appearance as a candidate at Berwick, and he might add that he had never been asked to infringe it. What was as much, perhaps, to the purpose, he could state that although he might at any of those elections have secured fifty or sixty additional votes by an illegitimate expenditure of money, he felt sure that if he had done so, in the succeeding election he should have lost more than a corresponding proportion of his respectable supporters. For the last year Berwick, politically speaking, had been sorely tried; and be doubted whether, under similar circumstances, any borough in England would come better out of the ordeal, He thought Berwick had been harshly used—though not by the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman; that was the natural consequence of the Report of the Committee, and if the Motion went to a division he should feel bound to give the right hon. Gentleman his support. He felt that neither himself nor his constituents had the slightest reason to shrink from the most searching inquiry


said, though nothing could be more fair or candid than the manner in which the Motion was brought forward, he thought there were hardly grounds sufficient to justify the House in voting an Address to the Crown for a Commission of inquiry. There were six other occasions on which Addresses of that description had been presented to the Crown since the passing of the Act, but they had all been presented for reasons which did not exist in the present instance. In 1853 Addresses were carried and Commissions were issued in the cases of Cambridge, Canterbury, Hull, and Barnstaple, but in all those cases election petitions had been presented for the purpose of unseating the sitting Members, on the ground that their returns had been vitiated by corrupt practices, and all that it was necessary to prove was that such practices had taken place through the agency of those Members. The consequence was that the inquiry before the Committee was limited to proving the existence of the minimum of bribery necessary to affect the seat, while at the same time incidental evidence was produced, which fairly gave rise to suspicions that corruption upon a much larger scale had been actually practised, and the House had very properly decided that Committees should be appointed for the purpose of ascertaining how far those suspicions were well founded. The result in each case justified the petition. Bribery, in the words of the Act of Parliament, had been extensively practised. But this was a wholly different case. The election took place upon a casual vacancy, during the sitting of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman was returned by a small majority, his opponent petitioned against him, and was unsuccessful. It was true that the Committee found that bribery had been practised on the side of the petitioner, but they also found that it had been practised without his cognizance; and there was the strongest reason to suppose that he must have thought when he demanded a scrutiny that no practices had taken place which could affect him or his agents. The right hon. Gentleman said that the inquiry into the evidence offered to the Committee was incomplete. The incompleteness was this,—a certain list of charges, as speculative, probably, as such documents usually were, was not investigated. On that the right hon. Gentleman asked the House to put the public to the expense of inquiring into the culpability of the persons on that list. It might be a very natural curiosity on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to know whether the charges of the list were true or not; but that was not sufficient reason for issuing a Royal Commission. A certain number of voters were proved to have received money through Mr. M'Gall; but the Committee found no evidence showing that M'Gall was an agent of either party. It might be very satisfactory to learn who supplied the money. But the only witness who could say that was the man accused of the malpractice, thus the mouth of the chief witness was effectually stopped. It appeared to him, on the statement of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that there was no sufficient foundation for voting an Address to the Crown. To justify such an Address there should be a distinct judicial finding by the Committee that bribery had been "extensively practised." This must mean something different from the bribery of two or three persons. The Act of Parliament did not intend that a Commission should be issued on any degree of surmise by any Member of the Committee, but only on a distinct finding that there had been extensive corruption.


said, he believed his hon. and learned Friend had fallen into some mistakes with respect to the supposed corruption in the case. His hon. and learned Friend stated that the Committee were satisfied that there was no agency which could connect the peti- tioner with the corruption which had been practised upon his side. But the fact was, that no evidence one way or the other had been offered to the Committee upon that point, and they could not, of course, undertake to pronounce any absolute decision with respect to it. The Committee left, in short, the matter in the uncertainty in which it found it. The ground for believing that extensive corruption was practised in Berwick was, not only the fact that some three or four voters had been bribed, but the existence of the machinery for corruption. M'Gall was traced to different public-houses, well-known agents were traced to him during the election; large crowds gathered at the stairs of the room in which he sat; and there was what was popularly called a "man in the moon." These were the grounds for believing that there had been bribery on the side of the petitioner, though, like the Committee, he forbore from expressing any opinion on the matter. But bribery had also been established on the side of the sitting Member; two cases had been distinctly proved to the satisfaction of the Committee, and anybody who read the evidence must be satisfied that there was a third case, of the gravest doubt. A person who had been very active on the part of the sitting Member, and who was the owner of a public-house in which these proceedings had been carried on, was convicted of bribery by the Committee. It was true that these were individual cases, but, according to all experience, it was exceedingly unlikely that these men had not bribed to a greater extent. He therefore was disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that bribery had extensively prevailed at Berwick-upon-Tweed, and that inquiry would be perfectly justifiable; but the experience which he had of the Gloucester Committee, upon which he had acted last year—he was fortunate in such matters—was precisely what rendered him very much disinclined to the passing of the Motion. He was not merely influenced by the consideration of expense, which, though by no means large, was such as he ventured to say the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he were now in his place, would feel it his duty to call attention to; but he felt that these Commissions of Inquiry were an absolute delusion and a sham. A great paraphernalia was employed, Commissioners was sent out, an act of indemnity was passed, witnesses were examined, and the evidence of corruption was published at considerable expense—corruption of the grossest kind was brought home to a borough, and then the House stayed its hand. This had been done at least ten times, and the utmost punishment inflicted was the withholding of the writ for a few months. The same course would, doubtless, be followed in the case of Wakefield and Gloucester. The House was bound to act on one of two principles. Of late a good deal had been said about the influence of wealth counteracting the effects of a reduced suffrage. If wealth were to be adopted as a constitutional safeguard, they had nothing to do but to smooth over the sore which they were content to endure; but if they were determined on eradicating bribery from the electoral system, more active measures must be adopted. He had already expressed his opinion that by lowering the suffrage so as to admit persons whose means rendered the sale of their vote a matter of serious importance to them, it was in vain—constituted as human nature was—to expect that such men would not receive a bribe. In order—he would not say wholly to eradicate, but to lessen bribery—the offending boroughs must be punished; if bribery once became confirmed in a place, it was like gangrene, and could only be cured by cutting off the whole limb. The evil effected by the purchase of twenty freemen's votes in a borough was not confined to a single election, but the neighbours of these men, seeing that the others had their rent so easily paid, became desirous of disposing of their own votes to equal advantage; and, finally, they came to regard as a right what at first was a matter of barter. When corruption had thus settled in a borough, it was like the malaria and became endemic; and a cure was not to be effected without suspending the writ until a generation had passed away. The equivocal course pursued with respect to these Commissions of Inquiry reflected no credit on the country. We prided ourselves much on the purity of our institutions and of our public men, and we were apt to declare that no such things could take place in our country as happened abroad. But what view did foreigners take? If we were to say that our Chancellors of the Exchequer were better than the Austrian Ministers, and that they had never been discovered in peculations of the public money, an Austrian would laugh at us, and reply that, although they might occasionally buy an official, they never bought a whole population. The House, by merely inquiring into these transac- tions and bringing them to light, was but disgracing the country in the eyes of foreigners. It must either resolve that these Commissions should be followed by some energetic and active measure for the suppression of bribery in the places where it was proved to have taken place, or it must entirely abandon this expensive and useless sham.


said, that his first impression, upon rather curiously reading the evidence before the Berwick Committee was, that there had been substantially no case made out for the issuing of a Commission; but the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord R. Cecil) must have satisfied every Member of the House that the case before it was pre-eminently one in which a Commission ought to be issued. Only four cases of bribery appeared to have been proved before the Committee, and it could hardly be said, à priori, that that was a sufficient ground; but the noble Lord appeared to have fully satisfied himself that the borough was highly corrupt, and certainly made out a much stronger argument for the Motion than the right hon. Gentleman who proposed it. He had felt much disinclined to support the issuing of a Commission, because, as the hon. Member for Cambridge observed, nothing seemed to result from that course. In every case in which a Commission had been issued, the Government had abstained from pledging itself to take any further action after the expenditure had been made. In moving for the appointment of the Gloucester Commission, he had stated that the Government, in his opinion, were bound to say that in the event of that Commission reporting that corrupt practices prevailed at Gloucester, they would take some action upon it; and the hon. Member for Nottingham had expressed the same opinion. It was true that the writ was suspended in that and other cases; but in the case before the House the seats were full, and he considered it to be the duty of the Government to tell the House and the country, that, in the event of the Commission issuing a Report that corrupt practices had prevailed, ulterior steps should be taken, and that they would propose the disfranchisement of the borough. Before voting for the Commission he should expect to have an answer to that effect from the Government. No doubt bribery had prevailed at Berwick, although, as he had said, the case in the Report was but slight, and not so conclu- sive as the statement of the noble Member for Stamford, which must satisfy the House that there had been extensive bribery of various kinds—gifts of money, which he would call pecuniary bribery; and gifts of drink, which he might call gastric bribery. But as he had said, unless the House took some security, that the Government would take active steps against the borough in case the Commission found that bribery prevailed there, it would leave the country to infer that its efforts to put down bribery were a mere mockery, and that those Commissions were so many proofs of the impotency of Parliament to contend with this wide-spread evil.


said, he hoped the House would not be induced to sanction the issuing of this Commission. There could be no doubt that bribery extensively prevailed at Berwick. That was satisfactorily proved enough already by the statement of the noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) without a Commission. Enough money had been uselessly spent on these Commissions already, without going to further expense merely to produce another voluminous blue-book, and to add another to the list of boroughs convicted of corruption. No good whatever had hitherto been done by these Commissions. They merely proved what everybody knew perfectly well before; and he should, therefore, oppose following the same fruitless course in this instance.


said, it was very inconvenient for the House to review the opinions of Election Committees. The Berwick Committee had reported that systematic and extensive bribery prevailed, and the evidence supported that charge. The chairman of the Committee (Mr. Peel), recommended the issuing of a Commission. On the other hand he thought the premisses and the conclusion of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford totally irreconcilable. Because Parliament had not gone as far as he wished in the way of putting down bribery he would have them retrace their steps altogether. There was much wisdom in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Birmingham, that in regard to any place reported upon by Commissions as guilty of bribery, the writ should be suspended for eight or ten years. That proposal was worth consideration. But, because this had not been done, must the House shut its eyes to the corruption that was going on? He apprehended that the mere exposure of these crimes was in it- self an advantage. There was a Committee then sitting for the purpose of considering the most efficient manner for putting an end to corrupt practices, and the most important information which it had received had been derived from the Reports of these very Commissions which were set at nought, and from the Commissioners themselves, and without which they would have had much difficulty in arriving at the conclusion to which they had come. He thought it would be a strange thing for the House to refuse to issue the Commission asked for. If it should be refused in this case he did not see how there could ever be another Commission issued.


said, the case before the House was a very exceptional one. The Committee had not reported the existence of systematic and notorious bribery at Berwick. It should be remembered also that in this case the hon. Member for that borough had been seated by the decision of the Election Committee, but if this Commission were issued, their decision might be found at variance with the Report of the Commissioners, who might find that he was not entitled to his seat. This was an inconvenience which the House ought not to lose sight of. But what advantage was derived from the appointment of these Commissions? What had been done in connection with their Reports which would prevent bribery? Why, the offenders were always indemnified, and thus escaped punishment. The Committee on Corrupt Practices, who were just going to make their Report, could not expect any information from a Commission which would not conclude its inquiry for some months to come. The House had now before it the evidence on which the Committee decided, and it appeared that the evidence was very slight. The case, therefore, did not seem to warrant the appointment of a Commission, and seeing that the Committee on Corrupt Practices might possibly recommend the discontinuance of these Commissions, he thought it a very inopportune time to bring forward the present Motion. He was quite sure that the country looked upon the appointment of these Commissions as a farce, and did not believe the House of Commons to be sincere in its wish to crush bribery at elections. The country thought that hon. Members satisfied their own consciences by the appointment of Commissions whose Reports were placed upon the table and nothing was done upon them. Believing that this would merely add another to the abortive inquiries which had before been made, and that no real cure would be thereby provided for an admitted evil, he should oppose the Motion.


said, he thought, if the House were to follow the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Cambridge (Mr. K. Macaulay) and the hon. and learned Gentleman who had spoken last, the Member for Truro, it would be in a much worse position than if the Corrupt Practices Act had never passed, because, before that Act passed, the House had its ordinary power of addressing the Crown, and of obtaining the appointment of a Commission. But since that Act passed, this power, he presumed, was no longer at their disposal, unless in such a case as that now before them, when an Election Committee had reported that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed. He had a particular interest in this matter, because he presented a petition last year from almost the whole of the Corporation of Norwich, asking the House to agree to an inquiry into the corruption alleged to have prevailed in that borough. Owing to the lapse of time, however, and owing to the fact that the Committee did not make such a Report because the moment the case was proved the parties withdrew, he was unable to obtain his Motion. After the passing of the Corrupt Practices Act of 1854 the usual plan was to send a case to a Committee who obtained not only a knowledge of the evidence, but the character of the witnesses and the manner and tone of their evidence, which was a material point for consideration. In the case before the House the Committee had examined fairly into the matter, and the House not only had the Report of the Committee, but the Members of it, not three of them as against two, or four against one, but the whole five members, agreeing to this Report. Well, then, he did not think the House was at liberty, consistently with its usual course, to say the evidence on which the Report was founded was slight—that there were only four, six, or ten cases of bribery proved. He had much rather act upon the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who composed the Committee, than of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge, who confessed to not having read the evidence at all. Two or three hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who were not great economists upon ordinary occasions, had protested against the issue of a Commission upon the ground of expense. He was in favour of economy, and would consent to a limitation in the number of Commissions, or anything that would promote that object. But the main objection to those Commissions was that their results were nil. The noble Lord had made an attack upon the corruption of the poorer voters, but perhaps he was not aware that a schedule attached to the Report of the Gloucester Commissioners showed that a great number of voters who were bribed lived in houses rented at from £20 to £30 a year. Every one knew that corruption in one shape or other attacked people who were not in the poorest circumstances. The bribe might not be in the shape of a direct gift of money, but in the form of something equally potent. But reverting to the argument that the result of those Commissions were nil he was of opinion, with regard to Gloucester and Wakefield, great good had been done by them. He knew this more particularly with regard to Wakefield, because he often went there to spend a day or two, and he was acquainted with many persons in that town. At that moment, there was, on the part of a great portion of what might be called the respectable and influential members of the constituency, great sorrow and great shame at the vicious mode in which their elections had been conducted, and at the exposures they had undergone. That he conceived to be a certain advantage, and he was satisfied with regard to both these boroughs there would, for a long time to come, be a very great improvement in the manner in which they conducted elections. When the questions of Gloucester and Wakefield were before the House, he suggested that it would be advantageous to suspend the issue of the writs until either the leprosy of corruption died out or the pure part of the constituency had become so much more powerful that corruption was not likely again to be practised. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) rather agreed with that suggestion; but he thought as a Bill was then before the House for greatly extending the constituencies it was not a time for giving effect to it. But with regard to Berwick it was said that both the Members were now sitting. That, however, was no reason why the inquiry should not refer to the electors. The Member for St. Albans sat and voted when there was no constituency because the Act had passed cutting off the representation of that borough. As to Berwick if the Commission issued, if the gross cases were brought out which the hon. and learned Member for Truro said would be brought out. [Mr. M. SMITH: No, no!] He (Mr. Bright) heard the hon. and learned Member say, that if it brought out all the evidence of gross corruption, the result would be the same.


explained that he had said, that although whatever bribery did take place would be brought out, yet the persons who had been guilty of bribery would be indemnified and thus escape punishment.


No doubt indemnities would be given, but what was wanted was information; and when that had been obtained it would be competent for any Member to introduce a Bill for the purpose of taking from the borough one Member if it was not wished wholly to disfranchise it. There were many towns, such as Dundee, Aberdeen, and Salford, asking for an additional Member; and one Member might be transferred from Berwick to one of those towns. He knew something of Berwick himself. Many years ago he was there, attending a meeting in favour of free trade, and he took the opportunity of giving a serious lecture to the electors upon the question of bribery, because it was then notoriously one of the most corrupt boroughs in the kingdom. He had also been told that upon one occasion all the ministers of religion—Churchmen and Dissenters alike —took an opportunity of preaching sermons in condemnation of the bribery that always prevailed. He never heard that either his speech or their sermons had been effectual in curing the evil or even produced any great result. He was, therefore, of opinion that when they had found a borough notoriously so corrupt, condemned unanimously by a Parliamentary Committee, when his hon. Friend the Member for the borough himself actually wished the Commission should issue, and when what he might call the least corrupt portion of the constituency were also anxious for it, the House of Commons would commit an act more perverse, he was going to say, than any he had ever known it to commit, if it were to refuse to agree to the Motion now before it. The more the evil was probed, the more the foul cancer was exposed to the public eye, the more chance there was that some day the remedy would be applied—if remedy there was to that deep stain upon the character of our representative system.


observed, that in the present state of the public finances, the House ought to be sure that some practical result would be gained before it agreed to the expense of another Commission. The expense of the Gloucester Commission was £1,924, and of Wakefield £1,423; and those sums did not include the cost of printing the Reports. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. James) had said that he would only consent to the issuing of a Commission for Berwick upon the Government pledging itself to take some decided steps afterwards. But why was Berwick, if found guilty, to be more severely dealt with than Gloucester or Wakefield? At the latter place it was shown that an hon. Gentleman now in the House, and well known to the hon. Member for Birmingham, had communicated to a relative his intention to sell £4,000 of railway stock, the produce of which was placed in that relative's hands, and the whole was spent in bribing the electors of Wakefield; but no measure had been suggested to be taken against that hon. Gentleman. In the case of Berwick, the only ground for a Commission was, that a Mr. M'Gall had been seen to go into a dark room, whither he was followed by certain electors, who were supposed to come out of it with something in their pockets; but was there not a M'Gall in every borough in the kingdom? ["No."] Did not every hon. Member know that in every borough containing 500 electors there were forty or fifty who always held back until the last? ["No."] He would like to know the happy place represented by the hon. Member who cried "No." Was it Birmingham? [Mr. BRIGHT: Yes.] He was surprised to hear the hon. Member make such a declaration. One of the hon. Gentleman's reasons for the issuing of a Commission was, that he had made a speech to the electors of Berwick against bribery, and it had produced no effect. That was not an unusual consequence of the hon. Gentleman's speeches. The best friend the Conservatives ever had was to be found in the hon. Member for Birmingham, for his extreme views always alarmed, instead of convincing, his hearers. But he wanted to know what was to be the practical result of the proposed Commission. Would it be only another blue-book? Assuming it would be proved that a certain number of voters had received bribes, what would the House do with them? But if they had received bribes there must have been persons who bribed them, and what did the House propose to do with them? Practically, the House had had some satisfaction in the cases of Gloucester and Wakefield, because the writs had been suspended; but in the case of Berwick the seats were full. He did not question the right of Parliament to disfranchise Berwick if guilty; but why was Berwick, if guilty, to be treated with greater severity than Hull, Gloucester, and Wakefield had been? Wakefield had 1,100 voters, and 184, or one-sixth, were proved to have been bribed. Disfranchisement would therefore punish the five-sixths for the misconduct of the one-sixth. He thought that if the one-sixth were punished by having their franchise taken from them, some justice and a great deal of good would result. If it were provided that any one who bribed, or received a bribe, should be for ever after prevented from voting at an election or sitting in that House, a practical result would be arrived at. But supposing the Commission to be appointed, and supposing it to come to a different conclusion to that arrived at by the Committee, they would have two competent authorities clashing with each other. In what position, then, would the matter be? He had come to the conclusion on all these grounds that the House should refuse the Motion, and he hoped they would agree in that opinion.


said, although he was unwilling to take any great part in the discussion, because it might ultimately be part of his duty to determine on other proceedings, he could not refrain from expressing his hope—nay, his conviction—that the sense of duty which animated the House of Commons did not quite rest on ground so low as that on which the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford had placed it. The hon. and learned Gentleman told the House, whatever might be its feeling of obligation, to abstain from inquiry because inquiry was costly, and to lie under the reproach of doing nothing, because previous inquiries of the kind now proposed had led, as he thought, to no adequate result. He (the Attorney General) was not of that opinion; and he now felt it right that a pledge should be given to the House that, so far as the criminal jurisdiction of the country was concerned, those inquiries should not be without their result whenever a just and proper opportunity arose for putting the law in operation. There were two things to be done; one belonging to the House of Commons, the other to the humble individual who was addressing them, so long as he held his present office. It was for the House to determine, on the Reports of the Commissioners, whether they would issue the writs or not, or adopt any other legislative measure, like that suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford, of disfranchising the culpable individuals. It was for him (the Attorney General) to determine, on the evidence contained in those Reports, whether there was sufficient cause for prosecuting persons implicated in the transactions in question, and who were not protected by the statute. He had already given directions with respect to one of the cases that had been mentioned— nay, he should have done it some time before but that the state of assize business rendered it impossible to bring on the cases at the last assizes. Gentlemen were now busily employed, under his directions, in dissecting the evidence in the Wakefield case; and he gave a pledge to the House that every man, not protected by statute, with regard to whom there was reasonable ground for believing that a conviction might be obtained, should be brought to answer for his crime. It depended on the House and himself that everything likely to operate by way of warning and example should be done in these cases. Let not hon. Members, therefore, have recourse to the mockery of abusing an Act of Parliament; but let them address themselves, with a determined spirit, to do the duty which fell on them collectively, and see that the duty which devolved on individuals was performed, and then the statute would no longer be open to the taunt of being unproductive of results. One hon. and learned Member had said the evidence was very slight, and therefore he threw a degree of discredit on the Report of the Committee. By the Act of Parliament, where a Committee had reported in certain terms, there was an obligation—he did not mean to say a legal obligation, but an obligation, if that were possible, of a far higher character—imposed on the House collectively to act on the finding of that Report. The House had no right to question the materials on which the Committee had come to a Report. When the Report was in the language of the statute, as the one before the House was, the statute contemplated that the House would feel it to be its duty to act on that Report, and pointed out the course of proceeding to be adopted. Would the House tell the world that they would disregard the law? It would be the fault of the House alone if they did not do their duty. The Act of Parliament was sufficient for its object, if the House was not wanting to that Act. He repeated the pledge he had given to the House, that so far as he was concerned his best efforts would be directed to carry the law into effect. He had no doubt that the House would find means to involve the guilty parties in an adequate punishment for their political offences, and he would take care to involve them in an adequate criminal punishment. It had been said that the Committee had not reported in the terms of the Act. That was not correct. The Committee had reported in the very words of the statute, which did not require the Committee to find as a fact that there had been extensive bribery, but allowed them to tell the House that there was reason to believe that there had been extensive bribery. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford, however, had an arrow in his quiver, and that was the acknowledgment of the prevalence of bribery in the boroughs. His hon. and learned Friend made a confession to the House. He told them that he did not know a single borough in which there did not exist a little knot of voters who waited till the last hour, and then made their bargain. [Mr. MALINS: I did not say that anything of the kind occurred at Wallingford.] Nay, nay, it was the exception that proved the universality of the rule. But these things were unworthy of the great importance of the subject. If they wished to show their sincerity, if they wished to maintain their position, they ought not to cover themselves with reproach, not to tell the public that the Reports of their Election Committees were to remain dead-letters, but to enforce the law against every person who should be proved guilty of electoral impurity.


said, he was delighted to hear that the hon. and learned Attorney General intended to use the sword of justice against guilty parties, and he hoped he would not raise it in vain, but he was afraid the hon. and learned Gentleman would find a great practical difficulty in his way. He had himself intended to move that the Attorney General should be directed to prosecute the persons who had conspired to corrupt the electors of Gloucester, but on turning to the Report of the Commissioners he found that every one of these persons had received a certificate of indemnity. Now, if a Commission should be issued in the case of Berwick, the first persons who would apply to be examined would be those whom the Attorney General would single out for prosecution, and when they had obtained certificates of indemnity from the Commissioners they might snap their fingers at the hon. and learned Gentleman and his indictment. He hoped, therefore, the House would pause before deciding that a Commission should be issued. Another question which ought to be considered was whether a certificate of indemnity protected the person holding it, not only against a legal prosecution by the Attorney General, but also against disfranchisement. If that were so the Act under which the Commissions issue ought to be amended. He thought that the expense of Commissions should be borne by the offending boroughs themselves, and not by the country at large.


said, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman that it would be a great improvement of the law if the expenses of the Commissions were borne by the places to which they were issued, and he trusted that Government would insert in the Act a provision to that effect. He trusted that the Commission would be issued in the present case, because the Commissioners would inquire into the circumstances, not only of the last election in Berwick, but also of the previous one. There were facts connected with that election, and with the compromise by which the seat was vacated, that were full of the gravest suspicion. As a Member of the Corrupt Practices Committee he could state that the Commissions of Gloucester and Wakefield were not without value from the publicity which the facts obtained, and though the indemnity was given to great extent in Gloucester the Wakefield Commissioners were much more chary in granting indemnities, notwithstanding which no prosecution had been instituted. Still he thought that the suspension of the writs would have a great effect. In places where there was proof that bribery prevailed one Member should be taken from the town, and the expense of the Commission should be charged upon it. The indemnity merely protected the voter from legal consequences, but did not give a pledge against his disfranchisement.


said, that the fact was that some difficulty existed respecting the borough of Berwick. The first Reform Bill placed the borough in the county of Northumberland—he did not know why; but the effect of its disfranchisement would be to make many of the delinquents county voters. This was not a question in which he felt greatly interested, and therefore he should leave the House of Commons to deal with it as they thought fit.


said, that as one of the Members of the Committee, he wished to say it was impossible for them not to have been unanimously of opinion that bribery had been committed at Berwick for a series of years. But what he would ask was the good of issuing Commissions if no results were to follow? He thought the best way was, to disfranchise boroughs which were corrupt. He could not see what possible good could result from a Commission. Commissions ended in nothing; they were a mere screen put up to hide the real culprits from the public; and they entailed considerable expense on the country. It had been proved before a Committee of the House that Norwich was rotten and corrupt, and yet the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, who professed to have a great horror of bribery, had included Norwich in his Bill for the enlargement of the borough and county constituencies. It was the Members of that House who were responsible for bribery at elections, and the punishment of bribery ought to fall upon the real culprits. It was all very well to punish poor voters who took a few pounds for their votes, but the remedy for the evil of bribery was to make it penal for educated and wealthy men to hold out the temptation. What a farce it would be to send down three grand inquisitors to try a few poor fishermen of Berwick, and let those who had bribed them escape. That indeed would be breaking a butterfly on a wheel. Why not break the hand that held the butterfly? He was sick of this hypocrisy, and so where the people of England. Unless Commissions were made much more drastic than they had yet been, they had better never be resorted to. He could not vote for this Commission. One of the witnesses examined before the Committee admitted that he had for years bribed for the Liberal party. That showed how real was the horror expressed on the Liberal side of the House against bribery. What would the House do when they got the Commission? Where they going to unseat the present Member? That would be an absurdity. Again they would have to exonerate those who gave evidence before the Commission. With a view of put- ting an end to bribery, he moved in the Berwick Election Committee a Resolution to the effect that the tribunal which was at present constituted for the trial of Corrupt Practices at elections was an inefficient and improperly constituted tribunal, and was not calculated to further the ends of justice.


said, the hon. Gentleman had adverted to the case of Norwich, but the Norwich Committee did did not report, in the terms of the Act of Parliament, that in their belief bribery had extensively prevailed, and consequently there was no legal power to issue a Commission. That, no doubt, was the sole reason why a Commission was not issued in the case of Norwich. But after the speech the House had heard from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long), who thought that bribery was so extensive and notorious at Berwick that they ought to pass by the ordinary form of trial, and disfranchise the borough, he must say that, if the House refused to take steps for a further inquiry, they would do that which they had never yet done—namely, refuse to take the steps pointed out to check bribery in a case in which a Committee had unanimously declared that in its opinion there had been extensive bribery. He hoped the House would not afford the public out of doors an opportunity of saying that where a Committee had done its duty, as was evident from the speech just delivered by the hon. Gentleman, the House failed to take such steps as might ultimately lead to the disfranchisement of the borough in question, if that should appear to be its proper punishment.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) had objected to the disfranchisement of a whole borough because some of the voters in it had been guilty of bribery; but when the case of Canterbury election was discussed by the House, that hon. and learned Gentleman objected to particular voters being stigmatized for bribery, and preferred the disfranchisement of Canterbury to such individual stigmata. He was sorry to find that the hon. and learned Gentleman, in changing his opinion, had changed for the worse. He (Mr. Collins) thought, however, that if Commissions for the purpose of inquiring into bribery were issued at all, the expenses should fall on the boroughs in which the inquiry took place.


said, that although he was Chairman of the Gloucester Election Committee, he had abstained from moving for the issuing of a Commission in that case, because he believed, as had, indeed, proved to be the case, that it would be perfectly valueless. Every person who had been guilty of the worst acts of bribery had been indemnified if he gave his evidence boldly before the Commission. The Attorney General had told the House that he was determined to carry out with vigour the duties of his office, but he would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether there was a single individual in Gloucester whom he could prosecute for bribery? Again, in the case of the Galway freemen, the House refused to disfranchise persons who had obtained certificates from the Commissioners. There was an hon. Member in that House who stated that he had been a party to the bribing of 250 of the electors of Galway; but his statement, instead of exciting indignation, was received with a shout of laughter, and he had not heard that it had at all affected the estimation in which that hon. Gentleman was held in the House. He was not singular in his opinion as to the valuelessness of these Commissions, for the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), in an address to his constituents, stated that their only result was the production of immense blue-books, which not three persons would read, and that, as regarded the suppression of bribery, all such proceedings ended, and were intended to end, in nothing. What, then, would follow the issuing of a Commission in the case of Berwick? They had done nothing in the case of other Commissions, except St. Albans, which was a Commission under a special Act. It was admitted that they could not deprive the sitting Members for Berwick of their seats. They could not disfranchise the borough, because they had refused to do so in other cases of the very worst description. [Sir GEORGE GREY: Not refused.] The refusal consisted in not having done it. They had not dealt with Wakefield or Gloucester at all. In the Gloucester case the hon. Member who was returned tendered his evidence to the Committee which sat. When he was asked whether he knew where the money came from, he said he had no knowledge of it; but when the Commission sat again, he said he had been misreported, and that he said he had no knowledge of it at the time of the election. In the Wakefield case means for a prosecution might have been adopted long ago; but if prosecutions took place after a Commission, for the future Commissions would not obtain the facts. For if the Commission was issued, those persons who would give evidence before it having had warning from the Attorney General that they would be prosecuted if they gave their evidence truly, they would not give evidence truly, and thus the object of the Commission would be defeated. In short, if he thought that the issuing of this Commission would tend to put down bribery, he would freely vote for it; but as he believed that they could not deal with this borough differently from others, and that, therefore, the Commission would be attended with no result at all, he should vote against the Motion.


I am willing to accept the footing upon which the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has placed this question. He says that you ought not to deal with this borough in a manner different from that in which you have dealt with others that have been similarly reported upon. That is exactly what we wish to avoid. We wish the House to deal with this borough in the same manner in which it has dealt with others that have been similarly reported against. I believe that I am correct in saying that there has been no case in which a Committee has made such a Report upon a borough as has been made in this instance in which a Commission of Inquiry has not been issued. I really should hope that the House will not listen to the arguments of those who are opposing the Motion of my right hon. Friend. The only grounds upon which I have heard that Motion objected to are— first, that the House has not settled beforehand what it will do when it gets the Report of the Commission; and next, that we ought to be deterred from making the inquiry by the expense with which it will be attended. I must say that more flimsy arguments against that which I hold it to be the duty of the House to do I never heard advanced. Is it possible that the country will believe that the Members of this House are really averse to bribery at elections, that we are in earnest in wishing to put down corruption, if we refuse to do now, in regard to Berwick, that which has been done with respect to the boroughs concerning which similar reports have been made to Parliament? It is said that the witnesses will be indemnified. In the case of Wakefield all the witnesses were not indemnified. It rests with the Commissioners to determine with regard to each witness whether he has so completely answer ed the questions put to him, and so entirely deposed to the whole truth of that which he knows, as to entitle him to the indemnity which they are legally empowered to give. In cases in which the witness has not made a clean breast of it, that indemnity has been refused, and in those cases, undoubtedly, my hon. and learned Friend would be able to institute a prosecution. I cannot bring myself to believe that the House of Commons, which is now engaged with a Bill to improve the representation of the people — which has, moreover, a Committee sitting up-stairs for the purpose of preparing measures to prevent bribery and corruption—will, in a case of manifest bribery and corruption, refuse to issue that Commission which, according to the law and practice, it is, I think, bound to issue. It has been said that you cannot disfranchise the individual. But my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General has shown that there may be individuals who may be the subject of prosecution. But, even supposing that by any circumstance all the guilty persons may individually be protected, still Parliament may disfranchise the borough, and may deal with it as it dealt with St. Albans. It is, therefore, futile to say that the issuing of a Commission can lead to no result. I think, on the contrary, that if this House should refuse to issue a Commission to inquire in what degree bribery has prevailed, it will shrink from its duty. And let it not be said that the exposure of gross delinquency of this kind has no effect. It has been justly said in the course of the debate that the very exposure of the delinquency of individuals acts as a preventive against other individuals following that example. If no other result followed from this inquiry but to expose to public censure and contempt a large portion of the electors of this borough—I say that if Parliament should take no other steps, a great public good will be accomplished. I trust that, in consideration to its own character, the House will not listen to the flimsy arguments by which this Motion has been opposed.


said, that something more substantial was wanted to put down these practices than anything either the noble Viscount or the Attorney General had promised. He remembered the Galway case, and he wondered why the Attorney General was not then animated by the virtuous indignation that now possessed him, and why he did not admonish the Attorney General of that day of his duty. He agreed that the Attorney General ought to prosecute every person who was guilty of corruption. But the Report on the Wakefield election had been lying on the table for a great many months. He should like to ask what had been done in that case.


said, he had stated distinctly that the evidence in the Wakefield case was in process of being dissected, in order to see whether the evidence affected persons who had not claimed the certificate, and to take legal proceedings against those who were not so protected.


said, he was glad to hear that the hon. and learned Gentleman was pursuing the science of legal anatomy with so much zeal, and he trusted that the House would see some obvious and satisfactory result from the anatomical operation. For himself, he should be very glad that all these corrupt boroughs should be disfranchised, He gladly voted for the disfranchisement of St. Albans, and thought the House had been too chary of many of these corrupt boroughs. He wished to ask the noble Viscount whether anybody in the commission of the peace had been refused a certificate in the Wakefield case. If so, it was a perfect farce for a Minister to affect great political prudery and a great anxiety for Parliamentary Reform, and to be very zealous for exposure, and yet when that exposure was made to refrain from doing that which he had the power to do, and not venture to strike a person reported as having committed such practices from the commission of the peace. He admitted that if they merely acted on precedent the Commission ought to issue; but what would the Government do when they got the blue-book? They did nothing in the cases of Wakefield, Gloucester, and Galway, and he believed that their present zeal would end in the same way.


said, he understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman to assert that one of the persons reported by the Wakefield Commission as guilty of bribery, and who had not received a certificate, was a borough justice. [Mr. WHITESIDE: I heard so.] The hon. and learned Gentleman then proceeded upon something he bad heard—upon mere surmise, in fact. The hon. and learned Gentleman had heard it alleged, and would have the Government proceed on rumour. He could only say that the rumour had not reached his ears. If, however, it turned out to be true, when the Attorney General instituted his prosecutions against the persons reported upon by the Commission, if that individual were convicted by a jury, he would be removed from the commission of the peace. But it would be impossible for the Executive Government, upon a provisional finding on the part of the Commission, to assume his guilt and remove him from the commission of the peace.


said, the object they had in view on that side of the House was to extract from hon. Gentlemen opposite something like a practical result from the Commissions which had already been issued. That object having been obtained as far as possible, he thought it was not desirable to oppose the Motion, and he would advise the hon. and learned Gentleman not to press for a division. But he hoped every hon. Gentleman would feel that the Commission should not be allowed to issue unless there was to be some practical result. If the present Commission failed to achieve some practical result, the issuing of any future Commission would only degrade the character of the House, and he would say in all similar cases for the future, that the House ought to resolutely set its face against it, for he was sure every Commission that was issued without any result was rather an injury than a good. He trusted, however, that the Committee then sitting on corrupt practices at elections would shadow forth some practical mode of action in these cases, and if not, that they at least would suggest the basis of future legislation.


said, he did not wish to press his Amendment to a division.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth,— Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave humbly to represent to Your Majesty, that a Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to try a Petition complaining of an undue Election and Return for the Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, have reported to the House, that there is reason to believe that bribery extensively prevailed at the last Election for the Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed: We therefore humbly pray Your Majesty, that Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause inquiry to be made, pursuant to the provisions of the Act of Parliament passed in the sixteenth year of the reign of Your Majesty, intituled "An Act to provide for more effectual inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament," by the appointment of James Vaughan, esquire, Thomas Irwin Barstow, esquire, and Franklin Lushington, esquire, as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such bribery: Ordered, That the said Address be communicated to the Lords at a Conference, and their concurrence desired thereto. Ordered, That a Conference be desired with the Lords upon the subject matter of an Address to be presented to Her Majesty, under the provisions of the Act of the 16th of Her present Majesty, c. 57; and that the Clerk do go to the Lords, and desire the said Conference.


, in moving that Mr. Attorney General be directed to prosecute William M'Gall for wilful and corrupt perjury in giving his evidence before the Berwick-upon-Tweed Election Committee, said he believed there was no offence more common than that of giving false evidence before an Election Committee. When, therefore, an opportunity presented itself for showing that that offence could not be committed with impunity, that opportunity ought not to be thrown away. There could not be a worse offender than the individual named in his Motion; and as he was a person who appeared to have great influence with the lower class of voters at Berwick, and was employed as an agent for the purpose of bribing, he ought to be made an example of. When examined before the Select Committee, M'Gall distinctly denied having paid any man money for his vote, either at the election or after it; but in the course of the inquiry various witnesses came forward and swore that they had received bribes from him. There could be no doubt then that this man had committed perjury.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That Mr. Attorney General be directed to prosecute William M'Gall for wilful and corrupt perjury in giving his Evidence before the Berwick-upon-Tweed Election Committee.