HC Deb 06 July 1869 vol 197 cc1330-4

said, he rose to call attention to the statements contained in a Petition [presented 10th June], touching the recent inquiry into the last Election for the City of Coventry. He had no desire to enter into the merits of the trial of the Election Petition, or to throw any doubt upon the decision of the learned Judge. The point he wished to submit was of a totally different character. He would contend that by its rules this House was bound to see that justice was not evaded in Election Inquiries before Judges by the witnesses being tampered with or conveyed away from the place of examination. At the beginning of the present Session certain Resolutions were passed, the effect of which was that, if it should appear that any person had been elected or endeavoured to procure his election by bribery or other improper practices, this House would proceed with the utmost severity against all persons wilfully concerned in such bribery or corrupt practices; and if it appeared that any person had been tampering with witnesses in respect of the evidence to be given to this House, it should be accounted a high crime and misdemeanour, and this House would proceed with the utmost severity against the offender. Now, the Judge in an Election Inquiry was an officer of the House. He reported his finding to the House, and the evidence taken by him during the inquiry was laid on the table of the House. This Standing Order, therefore, entailed upon the House the necessity of vindicating its own law and privileges, if they had been infringed by any tampering with witnesses. It appeared before the trial that a portion of the case against the sitting Members for Coventry arose from certain alleged payments for travelling expenses, and if these sums could be proved to be paid by agents of the sitting Members, those payments would have been corrupt payments under the Act and the Members would have been unseated. Two witnesses swore that they had received payments of money for coming from a distance to vote for the sitting Members, and that these payments had been made to them by a person named John Moore. The question was, was he the agent of the sitting Members? But at the inquiry before the Judge John Moore was not to be found. It was felt on the part of sitting Members that unless he were somehow accounted for there would be a presumption against them. Therefore, when they had to open their case in defence, they produced two witnesses, who swore that John Moore had had nothing to do with the election, and was in no way connected with the sitting Members. A Mr. Seymour, who was admittedly the attorney for the sitting Members, swore distinctly that he knew nothing about Moore, and that the sitting Members could be in no way responsible for his actions. Another man, named William Dickenson, also swore that Moore took no part in the election. This was what Dickenson, who was the manager of a certain ward in Coventry, and who was admitted by the sitting Members to be an agent of theirs, said. He was asked by the counsel for the sitting Members, "Do you know anything of a man of the name of Moore?" His reply was, "I know him." "Had he anything to do with the election?" Dickenson answered, "Not to my knowledge." "Did you give him any directions or authority of any sort?" "No," replied Dickenson. In point of fact, therefore, Dickenson repudiated all connection with Moore in regard to the election. But what was the real truth? He was informed and prepared to prove that this very man had been hand in glove with Dickenson, who constantly employed him during the election in making payments to voters. Three days before the Election Inquiry commenced he induced Moore to go to a village some miles away from Coventry. Afterwards he brought him back again to Coventry one evening during the very time the Election Inquiry was pending, and took him to an inn, where, according to Moore's statement, he had personal communication with the professional agent of the sitting Members. After remaining a short time in the public-house Moore was conveyed to Nuneaton, where he was kept close until the Election Inquiry had terminated, and Dickenson visited him during his concealment. If Moore had been produced during that inquiry it is probable that the judgment pronounced by Mr. Justice Willes would have been different from what it actually was. Judgment was given in favour of the sitting Members, and that, of course, was a matter which could not be re-tried. What, however, was the House to do in a case like the present? It had passed Resolutions to the effect that it was a high crime and misdemeanour to hinder any witness from giving evidence before the House or a Committee thereof. Was this to be regarded as a mere brutum fulmen? If the House was not prepared upon proof of such facts as he had stated to vindicate their own law by punishing those who had contravened it, it would be far better to repeal the Order in question. He apprehended, however, that the proper course would be to ascertain the facts, and, on their being clearly established, to punish the man proved to be offending either by Order of the House, or by instructing the Attorney General to prosecute him in due course of law. The petitioners had, in his opinion, a right to demand of the House that it should vindicate its own character by instituting an inquiry into the, alleged facts. In conclusion, he begged to move for the appointment of a Select Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the allegations of the Petition of Charles Flint and others [presented 10th June], respecting the late inquiry into the Election of Members for the City of Coventry, and to report their opinion as to what proceedings, if any, should be taken thereon."—(Mr. Bouverie.)


said, that when he saw the Notice placed on the Paper by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) he carefully read the Petition, and he confessed he was greatly puzzled, as it was almost impossible to make anything of it in consequence of all the names being left out or indicated by asterisks. He took the trouble, however, to read all the Papers on the subject, and he did not dispute in the main the accuracy of the statement just made to the House by his right hon. Friend. Two witnesses, it appeared, swore that Moore had in one case promised and in another case paid £2 10s. to a voter for travelling expenses from London and back. But, on the other hand, it appeared that Moore was in Coventry up to the eve of the election, that he was well known to everybody, that he was not subpoenaed, and that his name was not upon the list of agents which was submitted by the petitioners to the Judge. Indeed, it did not appear that they made any search for him. [Mr. BOUVERIE: They endeavoured to subpoena him.] He did not know how that might be, but there was, at all events, no evidence on the face of the documents to show that they tried to subpoena him at all. At the inquiry the counsel for the petitioners made no effort to cross-examine Dickenson as to his acquaintance with Moore, neither was anything done by either party to secure the attendance of Moore. Now, whatever course was adopted in reference to this Petition, it was quite clear that no step could be taken which would affect the seats of the sitting Members. The House was, therefore, asked to do what it might be called upon to do in every case of bribery from which an important witness happened to be absent. If the House acceded to the prayer of the Petition, it would simply involve itself in inquiries which it was supposed it would have nothing further to do with after these questions had been transferred to the Judges. Supposing it to be true that the agents of the sitting Members had conspired to remove Moore from Coventry they might be indicted for conspiracy; and, on the other hand, if it were true that William Dickenson made false statements he might be indicted for perjury. It would not, however, be expedient to call these persons before a Committee of that House, there to give evidence not upon oath respecting what had occurred, in order that that evidence might be used if a charge were subsequently brought against any of them. Every lawyer would say that that would be a most unjust and unfair proceeding, because witnesses before a Committee might be subjected to greater pressure than could be put upon them in a court of justice. It might indeed be said that the witnesses would not be bound to criminate themselves, but supposing they were to hold their tongues altogether, what an absurd and ridiculous position the Committee would be placed in. In that event the Committee would elicit nothing except the statement of a man who, it appeared from his own account, had been a briber on behalf of some agents of the sitting Members, who had gone out of the way in order not to be examined, and who had now placed himself at the disposal of certain other parties in order to give evidence in their behalf. He was in no way vindicating the conduct of a person who withdrew a witness from an inquiry; but he was decidedly of opinion that the House ought not to interfere in a case of this description, as it had transferred its jurisdiction in these matters to a judicial tribunal. An indictment might be preferred either for conspiracy or perjury, and in his opinion one of these courses would be the proper one to adopt.


said, there was much force in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy), but he did not think they entirely disposed of the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman's observations showed that since the Act of last Session the House had less power than it had before to deal with individuals who were charged with such a gross case as the present of tampering with witnesses. Formerly no lapse of time would have prevented the House from bringing an individual guilty of such offences before the Bar of the House, and of punishing him severely. But the power of the new courts ceased with their sittings, and there was no further power to deal with offenders. He thought, therefore, his right hon. Friend had hit a blot in the new legislation, and when the question came again before the House, as it soon must, he hoped this defect would be remedied.

MR. BOUVERIE, in reply, said, the offence in question was a distinct offence against that House; and if no notice was to be taken of such offences, the House had better repeal its Sessional Orders, which would in future be a mere dead letter.

Question put, and negatived.