HC Deb 25 June 1880 vol 253 cc938-48

in moving— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the matter contained in the last paragraph of the Judges' Report on the Gloucester Election Petition, and the circumstances under which the abandonment of the Petition against the return of Mr. Monk took place, said, he did not think it would be necessary for him to trouble the House with many remarks in calling attention to the extraordinary and somewhat striking passages contained in the Report which had been presented to the House by Mr. Justice Hawkins and Mr. Baron Pollock in reference to the Gloucester Election. The last paragraph of the Report was as follows:— Under these circumstances, we are not satisfied that the abandonment of the charge against Mr. Monk was not the result of an arrangement made with the view of withholding from us the evidence of the extensive corrupt practices which there is reason to believe have taken place at the Election. It was necessary to take the paragraph in connection with the preceding paragraphs of the Report, which was of a very remarkable character. The Judges having reported generally on the Gloucester Election, went on to say— And, in further pursuance of the said Acts, we especially report the following matters which arose in the course of the trial, an account of which, in our judgment, ought to be submitted to the House of Commons. The Petition was presented against the said Thomas Robinson and Charles James Monk jointly, and charged them, jointly and severally, with bribery, treating, and intimidation, and undue influence, before, during, and after the said Election. The Judges continued— On the day before the trial"—[And here he would observe that the Report had evidently been drawn up with the greatest possible care.]—"the Respondent, Thomas Robinson, by a notice under his hand, signified his intention not to oppose the Petition. At the trial, the Respondent, Thomas Robinson, did not appear either in person or by counsel, or otherwise, to oppose the Petition. The Respondent, Charles James Monk, did appear by counsel. The evidence of Joseph Stoddart and John Clement Morris— shorthand notes of which accompany our Report— was abundantly sufficient to satisfy us that bribery had been committed by John Clement Morris, an agent of the said Thomas Robinson; and that he bribed Joseph Stoddart, Thomas Meadows, and a third man whose name was unknown, to vote. It was curious that the Judges should have stated that the sitting Member for Gloucester appeared by counsel; and it, no doubt, meant to imply that the appearance by counsel of the sitting Member was one part of the arrangement by which the Judges suspected that the facts had been glossed over. They then proceeded to allude to the evidence of Stoddart, the first witness examined, who said he was asked by Morris to vote for Monk and Robinson. It was also curious that this should have been mentioned, unless there were other circumstances which lent a peculiar strength to it, because it showed that Morris had acted for both parties, and made a joint canvass. The Judges then say— This witness was allowed to leave the box unquestioned by Mr. Monk's counsel. It is due to Mr. Monk to say that Morris, who was afterwards called, denied that he had mentioned Mr. Monk's name; but this was after Stoddart had left the box. It would be seen that the Judges qualified that last statement in a way which rather destroyed its value. The Report continued— No other evidence was offered with respect to any one of the other cases mentioned in the particulars, and there was no attempt made to establish any one of the charges made against Mr. Monk or his agents. We have no reason to suppose that in delivering the particulars the petitioners acted otherwise than under a belief that they would be in a condition to affect both seats. It would appear from this that the learned Judges wished it to be understood that the charges were intended to be brought against both Members. And then they say— Before the trial, we believe that the charges of present bribery against Mr. Monk were abandoned, but no application was made to withdraw the charges of corrupt practices through his alleged agents, and his counsel appeared in Court as if those charges were to be persisted in. He did not wish the House to be under the impression that he committed himself to the truth of these statements, or to the inferences to be derived from them. He simply pointed out the inferences which arose on the Report. The next paragraphs were as follows:— No explanation was offered to us as to the reasons why no attempt even to prove those charges was made, notwithstanding they had never been withdrawn, and no observation was addressed to us by Mr. Monk's counsel which indicated to our minds that he was surprised at the course adopted, and at the sudden abandonment of the Petition so far as it affected Mr. Monk. Moreover, after our judgment was given declaring Mr. Monk to have been duly elected, Mr. Monk's counsel made no application for his costs, which we were prepared to award him had he asked for them, as we intimated to him; hut he declined to make any application upon the subject. That was the only passage in the Report which seemed to contain any direct evidence against the hon. Member for Gloucester. The Judges concluded with the statement which he had read on rising to address the House. By that statement it seemed to him that the Judges were under the impression that they had been baffled in their inquiry, and that, as it were, irritated by the impression, they appeared to have resolved on a victim—namely, the sitting Member for Gloucester. Now, he could not conceive a more serious charge to bring against a Member of that House than to accuse him of having been a party to a corrupt transaction of a pecuniary nature in order to compound practices which were illegal and even criminal, and also to prevent the House of which he was a Member being placed in possession of the actual facts and circumstances of a contested Election, concerning which the Judges were endeavouring to arrive at the truth. He thought it would be agreed, that if such devices were to be connived at by the House the trial of Election Petitions would become a mere form, and that the constituencies would gradually relapse into that corrupt condition from which recent legislation had endeavoured to rescue them. For that reason—if such an arrangement as was imputed in the Report were proved against a Member—it would be difficult for the House to mark its sense of the evil of such a contract too severely; otherwise, he affirmed that the character of the House would be seriously affected. On the other hand, viewing as he did, and as he thought all hon. Members must view, matters in that light, he could imagine nothing more unjust and nothing more intolerable than that the Judges should, upon grounds of mere suspicion, arising from some cause or other in their own minds, and unsupported by any clear evidence, have imputed a transaction of so corrupt a nature against a Member of the House of Commons, whom they were obliged to declare duly elected, and stigmatize in that marked and permanent manner the character of a Member in a special Report which must ever remain upon the Journals of the House. Therefore, he had brought the Report under the Notice of the House in the interest of Members and in the interest of the House, and, as he had endeavoured to explain, in no sense hostile to the hon. Member for Gloucester, for whom he had a great respect, and who, he was convinced, was incapable of such transactions as were imputed in the Report. He thought the Government had acted rightly in signifying their intention to agree to his Motion for the appointment of a Committee, and that the hon. Member had done wisely in giving it his support. Should it turn out, as he had no doubt it would, that the Committee reported there was no foundation for the charges made by the Judges, then he thought it would be the duty of the House to pass a Resolution, not indeed of censure, but of protest and strong remonstrance against judicial aspersions which would have been proved to have been far too lightly and too hastily made. He need only further remark generally that the position of a Member of Parliament was at no time a very easy one. It was a position full of difficulties, anxieties, and responsibilities. The risks which candidates had to run at Elections, without their knowledge and absolutely without their consent, were very great; and whilst it was undoubtedly the duty of the House to insist that Parliamentary Elections should be conducted with a strict and rigid adherence to the dictates of legality, morality, and purity, he ventured to suggest that it was equally the duty of the House, when those conditions had been complied with, to protect its Members from additional anxieties and unnecessary dangers, arising out of Election Petitions, which were calculated seriously to damage their reputation and character, and weaken, if not destroy, their influence for the good of their country. He, therefore, begged to move for the Select Committee of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the matter contained in the last paragraph of the Judges' Report on the Gloucester Election Petition, and the circumstances under which the abandonment of the Petition against the return of Mr. Monk took place."— (Lord Randolph Churchill.)


said, he had no objection to the noble Lord, or to any other Member of the House, calling attention to what he fully admitted with the noble Lord to be the very remarkable, not to say extraordinary, Report submitted to the House by the learned Judges whose names were appended to it. But the noble Lord, who must have seen him in his place last Thursday week, had given him no Notice that it was his intention, to call the attention of the House on a future day to the Report of the Judges. Had the noble Lord done so, he might have deemed it right at the time to offer some explanation to the House, or, at all events, he would have been prepared to state what course it was his intention to adopt. The noble Lord had now stated that he had called attention to the Report in the interests of Members of the House of Commons. He accepted the explanation of the noble Lord. He had before him the Report of which the noble Lord had read certain portions. The learned Judges stated that they made a special Report in this case, and said that the Petition was a joint Petition presented against his Colleague, Mr. Thomas Robinson, and himself, charging them jointly and severally with bribery, treating, intimidation, and undue influence before, during, and after the election. It was necessary for him to say that he thought the learned Judges must, through inadvertency, have stated— Before the trial we believe that the charges of personal bribery against Mr. Monk were abandoned"— for he held in his hand a Report of the proceedings which took place before Mr. Justice Hawkins, as Judge in Chambers, which he would read— On the 28th May in the present year, upon hearing counsel for the petitioners and for the respondent, Charles James Monk. The House would observe that this alone applied to himself, and had no reference to his Colleague— And it being stated to the said Sir Henry Hawkins by counsel on behalf of the petitioners that there was no intention to offer any evidence of personal bribery, treating, intimidation, or undue influence against the respondent, Charles James Monk, it is ordered that the Petition be amended accordingly on or before the 1st of June. And it is further ordered that the particulars be given in 24 hours; the said Sir Henry Hawkins having expressed his opinion that the particulars delivered by the petitioners are not in accordance with his Order dated 18th May, 1880. That Order was indorsed, as follows, in the handwriting of the learned Judge himself:— It being stated to me by counsel, on behalf of the petitioners, that there is no intention to offer any evidence of personal bribery, treating, intimidation, or undue influence against respondent Monk, I order that the Petition be amended accordingly. He thought it was remarkable that the learned Judges, one of whom must have had that Order in his mind, should have merely stated— We believe that the charges of personal bribery against Mr. Monk were abandoned. Those charges, as well as the charges of treating, intimidation, and undue influence, were ordered to be struck out of the Petition by one of those learned Judges himself. He also held in his hand another Order of the High Court of Justice which had been served upon him by the agent for the petitioners. It was as follows:— I hereby give you Notice that the Petition was this day amended by striking out the allegations of personal bribery, treating, intimidation, and undue influence. A Return had been ordered of the Orders made in Court and in Chambers in relation to the Petition, which would be laid before the Select Committee. But the noble Lord had laid some stress upon the fact that this was a Petition presented against both the sitting Members for Gloucester. That was perfectly true. But the statute enacted that such Petition shall be deemed to be a separate Petition against each respondent. And he begged to inform the House that his committee, his agent for election expenses, and his election agent, were entirely distinct from those of his late Colleague. Further, it had come to his knowledge, though the Petition was presented against the two sitting Members, that that Petition was presented against both, not in consequence of any desire, or in consequence of any intention, of attacking his seat; but because, as the petitioners had stated, they had been advised by counsel that it would weaken their case if they presented their Petition against Mr. Robinson alone. For that reason only, he had been given to understand, was the Petition presented against him as well as against Mr. Robinson. The Judges went on to say that— No application was made to withdraw the charges of corrupt practices through his alleged agents, and his counsel appeared in Court as though the charges were to be persisted in. He certainly attended in Court with his counsel, and he had no knowledge whatever whether any evidence would be offered with regard to those charges. His counsel was prepared to meet those charges if they had been brought forward. The noble Lord had drawn attention to a passage in the judgment to the effect that a witness deposed that he was asked by Morris to vote for Monk and Robinson. That statement was positively denied by Morris, who was after- wards called and questioned as to whether he had mentioned Mr. Monk's name. He denied having done so. The noble Lord drew the inference that this was a case of a man who went about bribing or offering to bribe persons to vote for himself and Mr. Robinson, and who offered no explanation of his conduct. When the noble Lord led the House to suppose that Morris had asked for votes for Monk as well as for Robinson, he evidently had not the evidence before him. Did the noble Lord know who Morris was? Mr. Robinson was a corn merchant in the city of Gloucester, and Morris had been for upwards of 10 years in his employment as traveller When he went into the witness-box, the learned Judge asked him if he canvassed for Mr. Monk. He said no; he only wanted to see his employer returned. When, therefore, he gave three men sums of 10s. each, he admitted that he gave them to induce the recipients to vote for his employer, Mr. Robinson. It was never pretended by the counsel for the petitioners that this money was given on his account, and, indeed, Mr. Matthews opened no case whatever against him. Counsel on his behalf appealed to the Judges as to whether there was any case against him to answer, and one of the learned Judges replied, "Certainly not." He believed the evidence on this subject would be in the hands of hon. Members in the course of a day or two, and they would find that it confirmed the accuracy of the statements he had made. It had also been said by the Judges that no explanation was offered of the reason why no attempt was made to prove the charges against him, notwithstanding that they were never withdrawn. In his opening speech, Mr. Matthews spoke of him in much higher terms than he deserved, and referred to his services as an old Member of the House in a manner far more flattering than he had any right to expect. Mr. Matthews said that it was the opinion of the petitioners that any bribery that had taken place had not taken place with his cognizance, and he spoke doubtfully as to any responsibility attaching to his agents. When that was said, it was not for his counsel to insist upon the withdrawal of charges which were not brought forward against them in Court. There was another circumstance which he wished to bring under the notice of the House. The moment the trial of the Gloucester Petition was fixed, he instructed his agent to obtain an Order for particulars. He obtained an Order from Sir Henry Hawkins that particulars should be delivered 14 days before the trial. No such application was made at that time by his Colleague. But the day before that on which particulars ought to have been delivered, a summons was taken' out by the petitioners against him to show cause why the particulars should not be delayed another six days. That motion was opposed by counsel on his behalf, and was dismissed with costs. If he had been a party to a compromise with regard to this Petition, was it not probable that he would have agreed to the proposal? But, in fact, it was out of the question for his counsel to assent to any postponement of the delivery of the particulars. He would ask the House, was it possible for any hon. Member who had sat so long in that House to allow charges of personal bribery to be made against him, and then, when an Order had been made for the delivery of particulars in respect to them, to consent to a second Order postponing the delivery of those particulars for a further time? When the particulars were delivered, there was not one charge of personal bribery, or undue influence, or intimidation brought against him. The summons which he read to the House was heard before Mr. Justice Hawkins, and every charge against him personally was ordered to be withdrawn. That brought him to the last point. The noble Lord drew attention to the fact that the Judges in the last paragraph of their Report said that Mr. Monk's counsel made no application for costs, which they were prepared to give if he had done so. He was in Court at the time, and he confessed that when his counsel did not apply for costs he was surprised. His counsel stated that he was not instructed to ask for costs. Had he been near the learned counsel at the time he would have insisted upon his asking for costs. He believed that his counsel, finding that the petitioners made no charges against him, and that they did not attempt to prove any of the cases of which they had given notice, took upon himself the responsibility of not asking for costs. The learned Judges were in error in saying that particulars were delivered to him in respect to 80 cases; 80 cases were included in the particulars with respect to his late Colleague, but only 61 were lodged against him. Had those cases been gone into at the trial it would have lasted five or six days, and the costs would have been very considerable. When he subsequently asked his counsel why he did not apply for costs, he stated that the agent had told him that if the case did not go on it would be better not to apply for costs. With regard to this matter he had no further explanation to give to the House; but he stated most distinctly that he had never at any time since the election, and until he was declared the duly elected Member for Gloucester by the learned Judges, entered into, or been a party to, a compromise enabling him to retain his seat. He begged to submit himself to the judgment of the House.


said, he should like to learn from the Solicitor General whether the two Inquiries, the one before the Royal Commission and the other before the Select Committee, were not rather antagonistic? In the case of witnesses coming before the Royal Commission, an indemnity was given to those who came forward to give evidence. But with regard to the tribunal now proposed to be constituted, there would be no such privilege. There would, therefore, be the anomaly of witnesses coming one day to give evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons and having to give evidence without being indemnified, and a little later on having to repeat that evidence before the Royal Commission which had power to guarantee them against the consequences of what they said. It did appear to him that it was a very exceptional course to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into matters which would be investigated a little later on by another tribunal.


said, that the matter into which the Committee would inquire would be different from that into which the Royal Commission would inquire. The object of the Commission was to inquire into the question of corrupt practices at the recent election, as well as at prior elections. The Committee was proposed to be appointed simply to inquire whether any imputation rested upon a Member of this House with regard to the settlement or compromise of an Election Petition.


said, that it appeared to him that, according to the terms of the Reference, the province of the Royal Commission and of the Select Committee would not be distinct.


said, it would be in the province of the Royal Commission to inquire into all matters connected with the election, but the sole question which the Select Committee would deal with was the reflection upon the conduct of a Member of that House. He had no doubt that the same question might to some extent be raised before the Royal Commission and the Committee; but, practically, the Committee would confine itself to inquire into the facts concerning the hon. Member now sitting for the City of Gloucester.

Question put, and agreed to.

Select Committee appointed," to inquire into the matter contained in the last paragraph of the Judges' Report on the Gloucester Election Petition, and the circumstances under which the abandonment of the Petition against the return of Mr. Monk took place."—(lord Randolph Churchill.)

And, on June 30, Committee nominated as follows:—Sir EDWARD COLEBROOKE, Viscount GALWAY, Mr. GIBSON, Sir HENRY JACKSON, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND, Mr. STANHOPE, and Mr. WHITBREAD:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records.