HC Deb 11 April 1864 vol 174 cc854-8

said, he rose to move as a Resolution— That the Minutes of the Proceedings of, and the Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Lisburn Election Petition be laid before this House. The petition on the subject had been referred to a Committee, of which he was the Chairman. Up to the 22nd of March, the day on which the Committee adjourned, the proceedings had been regular and legal, and the evidence on both sides had been completed, and all that remained to be done was to hear the reply of the Petitioner's counsel on the whole case; but in consequence of the adjournment having, been made to a day which the statute did not authorize, a Report could not be made to the House, and the Committee also decided that they were unable to pass any Resolution. The Committee felt great regret at the position in which both parties had been placed. The petitioner had incurred great expense without obtaining that which he conceived he had a right to expect, the decision of the Committee as between himself and the sitting member, and owing to circumstances over which he had no control, he was afraid that the petitioner was without redress. With regard to the sitting member, he ventured to say that the result could hardly he satisfactory to him and his friends. He had been induced to make those observations because the circumstances attending the Committee had been such as were worthy of the consideration of the House, and it was for the House to decide whether some legislation was not necessary to remedy such a state of things.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Minutes of the Proceedings of, and the Evidence taken before, the Select Committee on the Lisburn Election Petition be laid before this House."—(Mr. Adair.)


said, the subject was one of considerable importance. He did not object to the production of the proceedings of the Committee, but resisted the production of the evidence as a thing unheard of and illegal. The Committee had not reported the evidence to the House, and, therefore, it would be irregular to lay such evidence before them. No sufficient reason had been urged for the adoption of the Motion. The proceedings of the Committee, and also of that House, with reference to Election Committees, were regulated by statute, and Mr. May's excellent work stated that the House had parted with its functions by the passing of the Act 11 Vict., and had delegated it to a Committee, and he would put it to the Attorney General to state whether the present proceeding was regular or not, and whether in these days of economy the House should be called on at ten minutes past one o'clock to discuss a subject which if carried would be irregular and entail useless expense. It was no party question, for the Motion had been moved by an hon. Member on the Government side of the House, and seconded by a Gentleman on the Opposition side. It was impossible to resuscitate that defunct Committee, and he objected to the publication of the evidence that had been taken in relation to a variety of matters connected with the election, unless it was strictly regular to do so. Two cases only of a similar character had occurred since the passing of the Act. One was the case of Great Yarmouth and the other Beverley. In the first case, the Committee declared the election void, and reported to the House that the place ought to be disfranchised. It was then ordered that the evidence should be laid upon the table of the House, but that was ordered to be done to enable the House to say if they would disfranchise the borough or not. With regard to Beverley, a similar course was taken in order to instruct the Attorney General to prosecute Mr. Glover for signing a false declaration. The Report of the Committee in each case was first laid upon the table, and the evidence was afterwards ordered to be printed and submitted to the House.


said, he so far agreed with his hon. and learned Friend that this was no party question, and he hoped the House would not make it so. It appeared to him not to be irregular but in the highest degree regular and proper that the evidence taken by the Committee should be laid upon the table of the House, and there was not one word n the Act which was an obstacle to its being done. There was a much greater reason for its being done in this case than there was in those which had been referred to, because an occurrence of an unprecedented nature had taken place. The Committee, with the best possible intentions, had miscarried, and were unable to come to a Report after they had taken all the evidence which had been adduced be-Fore them; and after the case, upon the evidence, was closed on both sides. What, therefore, was the House to do? Was the House not to inform itself of everything that had taken place regularly before that Committee whilst its powers were perfect and legal and nothing had occurred to suspend them? They had taken evidence to show whether bribery or corruption was or was not practised by the sitting Member; and it might be that it completely exonerated him and his friends and the constituents of the borough, or it might be that a state of things had prevailed in the borough which deserved the attention of the House. Under circumstances so unprecedented, it would be a dereliction of duty if the House did not take care to have all the information which the publication of the proceedings before the Committee could give them.


said, he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker whether the Committee had not ceased to exist, and whether the present proposal was irregular. The Act said the Committee might report, and by the next clause they were permitted, after having first reported, to bring any matter in connection with their inquiry before the House, and take their opinion upon it, but it must be as a Committee. The Committee had ceased to exist, and therefore this proceeding was irregular. In the other House of Parliament it was enacted that if a Committee reported the existence of corrupt practices the House should recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission. But in this case there was no Report. Still, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said the House had the same authority to proceed as if there was a Report. If so, the last Act was useless. Was there, he asked, any precedent for taking steps on the Report of a Committee which had ceased to be a Committee?


saw no reason why the evidence should not be laid before the House, for the use of those Members who desired to peruse it. No action could be founded on the evidence without a special Act of Parliament, and he did not think that any case would be made out for dealing by Act of Parliament with the borough of Lisburn. Still, if the House thought they ought to know all the circumstances of the case, the evidence could be printed and afterwards become lumber.


said, he had no objection to the Committee setting themselves right with the House, but he did object to the evidence being printed. The Committee, when once appointed by the House, derived its power from the statute, and was no further under the control of the House. If a Committee neglected to perform its duties, and thereby became defunct, there was an end of it, and its proceedings. The very counsel for the petitioning Member in his book on election law said that in the case of an illegal adjournment the Committee was defunct. The Committee had never expressed an opinion. The investigation was in the nature of a criminal proceeding; and the law presumed the innocence of a man whose guilt was not proved.


said, there was no question of the appointment of a second Committee, nor as to the validity of the last election for Lisburn. The question was whether the Chairman, having reported that the Committee were not competent to proceed, the House had not a right to know what were their proceedings while they were a competent Committee under the Act of Parliament. The House did not call on the extinct Committee for the evidence, but upon the officer of the House, in whose custody that evidence was.


contended that the evidence and the proceedings altogether of the Committee were all null and void. No action could be taken by the House except on the Report of the Committee, and in that case there was no Report. The Minutes ought to be laid before the House, because grave inconvenience might follow if that were not done. Upon that ground he was anxious that they should be produced, so that then they might take action, in order to prevent the recurrence of a similar failure of justice. He would move, as an Amendment, the omission of the words "and the evidence taken before."

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "and the Evidence taken before" —(Mr. Lygon.)


said, he was of opinion that the evidence could not be produced, because no one was in a position to say that the inquiry had been completed.


said, he hoped the hon. Member for East Worcestershire would withdraw his Amendment. This was a very anomalous and exceptional case. The evidence was complete. The sitting Member was not in this country, but his father, who was in the House, was anxious that the evidence should be printed.


said, no answer had been given to the argument. The question for the House to consider was upon what ground it was that the evidence should be printed. He asked for information from the Speaker, the highest authority on the subject.


said, he considered it would be advisable to print the real facts that had come out during the inquiry, because they had already appeared in the newspapers in a garbled form. The House might possibly, on receiving the evidence, address the Crown for a Commission to inquire into the corruption of the borough.


said, that it was for the House to decide the question. If he had seen anything in the proposition contrary to the rules of the House he should have considered in his duty to call attention to it.


said, he should support the Amendment on the ground that the Committee alone could decide upon the value of the evidence.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 114; Noes 22: Majority 90.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Minutes of the Proceedings of, and the Evidence taken before, the Select Committee on the Lisburn Election Petition be laid before this House.—(Mr. Adair.)