HL Deb 10 May 1833 vol 17 cc1071-3

The Earl of Radnor moved that the Stafford Election Indemnity Bill be read a second time.

Lord Lyndhurst

rose, not to oppose the Motion, but to make a few remarks to their Lordships. He thought it appeared from the Bill and the evidence, that bribery to a great extent had existed at Stafford, both on former occasions and at the late election. It appeared from the evidence, that not only the electors, but the candidates were deeply implicated in these transactions, and he considered it necessary that their Lordships should take some effectual measure to put a stop to similar proceedings. His object in rising, was only to make an observation in respect to what had come out in the Committee, that their Lordships might be prepared for the Bill. It appeared that the only proceedings now depending in the other House of Parliament, was a petition under the Grenville Act, and he knew no instance of a Bill of this kind being brought forward, while the only proceeding taken was such a petition. For this there was a good reason. The petition under the Grenville Act was a judicial proceeding; there were two parties to it, and each of which might call and examine any witnesses he liked. It was competent, therefore, for these parties to call persons as witnesses, whose evidence was of no importance, but who would, by being called, be indemnified for bribery done at the election. Such consequences would not follow from any other proceeding in that or the other House. In other cases, the whole was under the control of the House, and it could prescribe what witnesses should be called. He directed their Lordships' attention to this difference, that they might be aware of the consequences which would arise from passing the Bill in its present shape, and be induced to admit a clause to guard against them. He must make an observation or two arising out of the Bill. It was not, like the other Bills which had passed, having in view a similar object. All other Bills of the kind were only to indemnify the persons examined, but this Bill proposed something altogether different. It was impossible to read it and compare it with other Bills to the same purport, and not discover the difference. It was a Bill to indemnify all persons examined as witnesses, candidates, and all others who had violated the law and been guilty of bribery. The title of all other Bills was to indemnify persons examined under the Bill for proving the bribery of the said borough. The title of the present Bill was an Act to indemnify all persons guilty of bribery in the election of burgesses for the borough of Stafford. This was not an accident, for the first clause corresponded to the title. It was to the effect that "every person whatever, guilty of bribery at the election of Stafford, whether examined as witnesses or not, should be entirely and completely indemnified." Then followed another clause, which was altogether useless. After this first clause had indemnified all persons, the other indemnified those who might be examined as witnesses. That was intended to mislead. It reminded him of the old story of the Oxford scholar, told, he believed, by Mr. Windham in the House of Commons, who made a large hole for his cat, and a little one for his kitten. He had compared the Bill with the Indemnity Bills for East Retford, Penryn, Barnstaple, and found it different from all them. The departure from the customary form of such Bills was evidently designed, and he mentioned the circumstance to make their Lordships aware of it, and put them upon their guard against Bills coming from the other House, particularly if they professed to contemplate a laudable object.

Lord Wynford

concurred in the remarks of his noble friend. If their Lordships were to pass the Bill in its present shape, it would be an encouragement to bribery. He hoped, therefore, to see it amended in the Committee. He would allow indemnification only to those who really were examined, and he would except the candidates at past elections and their agents. Some of his observations had been much misrepresented on this point; for there could not be a greater enemy to bribery than he was; but he wished to be away with it in the most effectual way, by punishing the principals who corrupted, and if any were to escape, let it be the unfortunate misled wretches who were seduced into the offence. If there were not some alterations made, the prime movers of guilt would escape.

The Earl of Radnor

did not see, that he was answerable for the phraseology of the Bill, and, therefore, was not called upon to defend it. He did not, however, see that there was so much to find fault with, as the noble Lord appeared to make out. The enactments of it he thought precisely in conformity with the title of it. Undoubtedly there was some affinity in the present Bill to former Bills of the same nature. But there was an essential difference in this respect, for all the former Bills, except that for the indemnification of witnesses on Lord Melville's trial, had originated in that House. The present Bill, too, had been brought forward under very different circumstances from former Bills. As to what the noble Lord had said with reference to the second clause, was not exactly correct; the fact was, that while the first clause enacted a certain indemnification, the second clause limited that indemnity with reference to witnesses.

Bill read a second time, and ordered to be committed on Monday.

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