HL Deb 30 September 1841 vol 59 cc1008-10

On the motion that the House do adjourn,

Lord Brougham

would take that opportunity of stating the course which he intended to pursue on a subject of great importance, to which he had called the attention of their Lordships on the first day of the Session. He had then stated, that bribery and corruption had prevailed to a frightful extent at the late general election, and he added that the House could not do a greater service, or more fairly discharge its duty to the country, than by taking the whole subject into its early and serious consideration, with the view of providing some remedy. Since that time he had maturely considered several cases of this bribery and corruption which had been brought under his notice; but, not to detain the house, he had selected, from a vast number of instances, three which were marked by the most odious of those features which, in some degree, were common to them all, and he would say, and would be able to show, from the information which had come before him, that those practices were not confined to one, but were common to each of the three great political parties which now divided the country. The first charge was brought against men who supported the views of the present Government, at that time in opposition, and over against whom he had then the honor to stand. The second case was brought as a charge against men who supported the late Government—now the opposition, as it was called—in front of which he had now the honor to take his place. [" Hear" and a laugh from Lord Melbourne.] His noble Friend, the noble Viscount lately at the head of the Government, laughed. He way at a loss to know what his noble Friend meant by the interruption. Was his noble Friend annoyed at the term "opposition."

Viscount Melbourne

begged to say a word in explanation of what had fallen from his noble and learned Friend. He certainly had marked the term "opposition," used by his noble and learned Friend, because he remembered when he was a Member of the other House, that the alluding to a Member as one of the Opposition was held to be irregular, as it was declared by the Speaker to be unparliamentary to state of any Member that he had come into the House pledged to oppose the Government.

Lord Brougham

Well, this doctrine is new to me. The noble and learned Lord then went on to say, that the third charge of this bribery and corruption was made against a party which did not belong to either of those whom he had named, but acted independently of both. Now, if he were to make known the evidence which had come before him, he would say, that this third party was more lavish of its means of bribery and corruption than either of the others. It might, and perhaps would be said, that this general corruption had arisen from the Reform Bill of 1832. He would not say that it had, though perhaps his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack might claim some credit to himself for the prediction which he had made at that time, that if the Reform Bill passed, it would have the effect of producing greater corruption amongst the constituent body than had ever existed in the worst times of the old system of Parliamentary representation. That was the opinion of nis noble and learned Friend at that time, and no doubt at the present. But let him say, that the tendency of the Reform Bill was just the reverse; and if Parliament had done its duty, the public would not have heard of such bribery and corruption as he had referred to. What was his ground for saying this? It was well known that candidates at the late general election had expended many thousand pounds, which, of course, the candidates considered to be required only for the "legal" expenses of the election, but it had so happened, that by the Reform Bill the "legal" expenses had been reduced to a comparatively small amount. The whole expenses of bringing voters from a great distance, and other expenses attending their transit, had been, done away with. The candidate therefore, who was called upon for the expenditure of many thousands must know that the greatest portion of those thousands was expended in bribery and corruption, or, at least, he must know that they were not required as the "legal" expenses of his election. If Parliament did its duty, it would put down these nefarious practices, and if it did not, the fault was not in the Reform Bill, but in Parliament, which did not take the necessary steps for instituting inquiry into the subject. He had consulted some of the highest legal and constitutional authorities on the subject, and it was their opinion that such an inquiry by their Lordships would not in any degree infringe on the rights and privileges of the Commons, provided the measures to be introduced as founded on such inquiry were prospective legislative measures, and did not interfere with individual seats. Now, he would state that his reasons for not instituting such inquiry at the present time were two-fold—first, that in the short time which remained of the present Session there would not be time for it; and the second was, that there were now about eighty election petitions to be decided upon by committees of the House of Commons, and it would not be convenient that an inquiry should be going on in a committee of their Lordships' House, on the same matters on which, in a great degree, election committees of the House of Commons would be sitting. These reasons would justify him in abstaining for the present Session from moving for the inquiry, but he would do so in the next Session, and he was sure that that inquiry would produce most important information as to the extent of the bribery and corruption to which he had alluded. It was not material to what persons or to what places this might be traced; it would be sufficient to show that it did exist, and that it called for some immediate legislative remedy.

Motion agreed to.

The House adjourned.