§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ The EARL of DERBY
, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said, that he was fully aware of the jealousy with which their Lordships would view any measure of disfranchisement intended to punish the many for the offences of a few, especially when the basis of such disfranchisement was not established upon a judicial inquiry. But if he showed to their Lordships that in this instance bribery had been practised not only at one election, but had been continued over a long series of elections; that it had not been confined to one or two electors, but had been extended to many; that it had not been limited to a small sum, but had reached a very large amount; and if, in addition to all this, he showed that all the facts of the case had been fully substantiated before a legally constituted tribunal, entering upon a judicial investigation under an Act of Parliament, he was sure that their Lordships would not desire to screen the guilty borough from the just punishment of their offences, or to interpose their authority to interrupt the course the House of Commons had thought it proper should be pursued. The noble Earl then proceeded to state that in the year 1850, by the death of one of the sitting Members, a vacancy arose in the representation of the borough of St. Albans. A contest, as was almost always the case at St. Albans, arose to fill up the vacancy, and the result was that a gentleman was returned, and that a petition was presented against that return, on the ground that the Member had been guilty of gross and notorious bribery. That petition went before a Committee of the other House of Parliament, and the evidence tendered to that Committee was sufficient to prove that gross and extensive bribery had been practised at St. Albans; but, by the escape of certain witnesses, it was found impossible to bring that bribery home to the sitting Member or his agents, and the whole matter ended by the Committee making a report to that effect. The noble 969 Earl next entered upon a short review of the alterations made in the Parliamentary law of elections since the passing of the Grenville Act up to the present time; and lamented that, although there had been great modifications and improvements made in the constitution of Election Committees of late years, the investigation into all matters of bribery and corruption still depended on the ability of those who brought such matters forward to bear the expense, and thus the inquiry into what was a public grievance had been confined to the personal and private interests of individuals. He was afraid that in many boroughs of this country great bribery and corruption prevailed; but he would not go so far as one individual who was examined before the Commissioners, and whose experience in venality and corruption was unparalleled. That gentleman, who for the last fifteen or sixteen years represented himself to have been a principal Whig agent in elections, and who stated that he knew something, as no doubt he did, of most places in England, said that if "instead of going through the register of votes, as I see by the papers Mr. Edwards has done, and marking down 'sold his vote,' I were to go through the list of boroughs, beginning with the first in the list, say Abingdon, to Stafford, and to the last letter of the alphabet, and put opposite the names of Members, 'bought his seat,' I should make quite as extraordinary a list as Mr. Edwards has made of the electors of this borough." He acknowledged the great experience and great knowledge of facts possessed by Mr. Coppock, and must certainly say, from the facts disclosed before the Commissioners, which he trusted would not be lost sight of, that whenever Mr. Coppock's name appeared in connexion with a borough, there was a strong presumption of bribery. On the investigation of the petition against the return of the sitting Member before an Election Committee, certain disclosures were made, and certain circumstances had occurred with which all of their Lordships were familiar. On the termination of these proceedings, the House of Commons thought it necessary to take up the question, not with the view to the interest of the sitting Members, but to ascertain the extent to which corruption prevailed in the borough; and they passed a Bill, which subsequently received the assent of their Lordships, for establishing a Commission, with very extensive powers, consisting of three individuals named in 970 the Act, who were to proceed to St. Albans and make such inquiries as they should think fit, not only into the last election, but into preceding elections—that they should have the power to summon persons to give evidence, granting them immunity for so doing. The disclosures before the Commissioners were as frank and open as it was possible to conceive. Various candidates made their appearance before the Commissioners, and stated the result of their experience. It appeared from the inquiries of that Commission, that before the Reform Act the number of electors at St. Albans was somewhere between 600 and 700. By the Reform Act that number was diminished—for 100 nonresident freemen were struck off the list. At the election of 1830, 623 electors voted; but in 1850 the number who voted was only 483; of these 354 were 10l. householders, 66 scot and lot voters, and 63 freemen. Before the Reform Act the principal influence was lodged in the families of Lord Spencer and of his noble Friend near him (the Earl of Verulam). During the prevalence of that influence, the giving to each voter a specific sum as head-money appeared to have been general, one guinea being paid for a single vote, and two guineas for a plumper; and a voter would have considered himself defrauded if he had not received his guineas in due time. After the Reform Act had called the 10l. householders into existence as voters, it was found, according to the statement of the Commissioners, that the new voters were more venal than the old; the sums paid were much higher, and assumed the character of direct and positive bribery. The Commissioners had come to the conclusion that the proportion of money spent in bribery at St. Albans previous to the Reform Act, was one-third of the whole money spent in the election; whereas subsequently to that Act the proportion of money so spent was two-thirds of the whole amount. The cost to the candidates in the several elections since the passing of the Reform Act, amounted in the aggregate to more than 37,000l. Taking two-thirds of that sum as having been expended in bribery, it would appear that 24,600l. and upwards must have been spent in bribing the electors during a period of nineteen years, in the course of which eight elections occurred, being an average of more than 3,000l. at each election. The Commissioners stated that in the election of 1841 the bribery oath was administered to every 971 elector who went to the poll, and every one of them took it; and yet at that time upwards of 6,000l. was spent in the purposes of the election, 4,000l. of which might be considered as having been expended in bribery. So far with regard to the amount expended, and the extent of the bribery. He would now proceed to state to their Lordships what proportion of electors were in the habit of taking bribes for their votes. 354 10l. householders voted, of whom 270 were bribed; 63 freemen voted, but of this number only 31 sold their votes. Thus half of the freemen and two-thirds of the tenpounders were bribed, and 64 out of 66 scot and lot voters. The following was the manner in which the bribery was systematically carried on. At the election of 1847, besides the family influence which he had already mentioned, there were in the borough of St. Albans a Liberal and a Conservative party. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Blagg were respectively the managers for these two parties. Besides this, there was a third party, managed by a Mr. Webster, a retired surgeon, which was known by the name of the "contest party." This party consisted of 200 electors, and was able to turn the scale of any election either way. Their practice was to hang out a key as a sign that they were going to enter into the contest; and it was then understood that the "contest party" were in the field, and that a candidate would be brought down to open the borough. There was but one opinion as to the venality which prevailed universally in the borough. There was no regard paid to principles of politics. "A man's politics at St. Albans," said of the witnesses, "was his breeches pocket." Mr. Coppock, whose experience was great, said—"To bribe or bleed has always been the object of the third party hero. The great majority of the people have always been known to be bought and sold without any regard to principle or anything else." In 1847 there were two candidates—Mr. Repton, the old Member, supported by Mr. Blagg, and Mr. Craven, a Liberal, supported by Mr. Coppock. An arrangement was made that Mr. Blagg and Mr. Coppock should each pay to Mr. Edwards 250l., in order to buy him off from a contest. The agents for the two candidates thought that by that arrangement they should have the election all their own way, and each return one of the Members. But they were never more mistaken. The key was hung out, Edwards cancelled his en- 972 gagement, and down came another person—Mr. Wilks—an extreme Liberal, who became the popular candidate. It then occurred to Mr. Edwards that if Mr. Craven did not succeed, some doubt might arise as to the payment of the 250l. by Mr. Coppock. An interview took place between Mr. Edwards and Mr. Coppock, when Mr. Edwards said—"You must either promise to pay me, whether Mr. Craven gets in or not, or else I must have a candidate." He (Mr. Coppock) would not consent to that; and the result was that Mr. Edwards put himself in communication with Mr. Raphael, who, in the language of the borough, was expected to "bleed freely," and in the event of the application to that gentleman not succeeding, an application was made by Mr. Edwards to Mr. Montagu Gore, a person of decidedly opposite principles. It turned out that Mr. Raphael accepted the offer, and came in at the head of the poll; and of the 295 persons who voted for him, there were only thirty who were not bribed by Mr. Edwards. But there was honour even among election agents. There appeared to be some apprehension that the Conservative candidate would not be returned after all, and that two Liberal candidates would be returned; and Mr. Edwards found himself obliged to comply with the terms of bringing in one and one by bribing persons to vote for the Conservative with Mr. Raphael's money. Mr. Raphael did not live long to enjoy his success procured by such unworthy means. He died in November, 1850; and Mr. Coppock immediately wrote to Mr. Edwards, and an arrangement was entered into, one portion of which Mr. Edwards stated to be a promise from Coppock, that "if he carried the thing out, he would give him a situation for his son." There was reason to believe that Mr. Coppock had some such influence, for Simpson, one of his agents, had been appointed clerk to the County Court at St. Albans. He admitted, however, that Mr. Coppock had explicitly denied that he had ever mentioned or hinted at any situation, office, or employment, to Edwards; though he might have hinted about compensation, he had never said anything about office. Mr. Edwards, in the course of the negotiation, stated that the sum of 2,500l. would be necessary for the purposes of the election. There now appeared on the stage for the first time a gentleman named Simpson, who, having been clerk to Mr. Blagg, afterwards he- 973 came clerk to Mr. Edwards, and who, finding, the trade of bribery not unprofitable, set up for himself. Simpson told Edwards that he had found a candidate, though he would not mention his name, who was prepared to spend 3,000l. on the election. He then made this proposition to Edwards—."Cannot we render this matter agreeable? Can't we arrange it in this way—that you appropriate 1,500l. and I appropriate 1,500l.?" To that friendly proposition Edwards objected, saying that he should lose his position if he accepted it. Simpson then offered Edwards 300l. if he would retire. But Edwards would not consent to be shelved in that way; and from that moment a contest became inevitable. It so happened that both Simpson and Edwards had hit on the same candidate, a Mr. Bell, a practising druggist, who desired to enter Parliament, not for the purpose of carrying any political measure, but for that of carrying some measure connected with the medical profession. Mr. Bell appeared ready to treat; but he preferred to treat with Edwards and Cop-pock, and not with Simpson. Mr. Bell expressed a strong opinion against bribery; but he was anxious to be returned, and he told Coppock that he would have nothing to do with the expenditure of the election, but would rather leave it in the hands of his friends, and settle it afterwards. It appeared, however, that that friend who looked after the expenditure of the election, was the confidential partner of Mr. Bell, and of course a man with whom he must have been in daily correspondence. 3,000l. was sent down to St. Albans, which was paid to Edwards in packets of sovereigns, as the most likely mode of evading detection. Simpson, in this state of things, determined to have another candidate, even if he brought one forward on purity principles. The noble Earl then described the adventures of this personage in search of a candidate, whom he found in Mr. Alderman Carden; and here he (the Earl of Derby) must do justice to Mr. Alderman Carden, who was extremely anxious to keep himself free from all bribery, and had been extremely desirous to be returned on bonâ fide purity principles. That was not, however, the view taken by the parties who supported him at St. Albans. They produced to him a requisition signed by forty-five electors. The worthy Alderman replied that it was a small document, and was not sufficient to induce him to go down to St. Albans. 974 Whereupon they attributed the paucity of names to the hurry in which the requisition had been got up, and promised to get up another more numerously signed in the course of the next day; for there was a party in the borough determined to purge it of its bad character. The noble Earl then read the evidence of Blanks and Webster to prove that, though they had called Alderman Carden into the borough, they never intended to conduct his election on the purity principles which they professed: for, as one of them said, "No man could get into any borough in the kingdom on such principles." Alderman Carden then proceeded to canvass the town, where his reception was most flattering. To use his own words—It gave mo inducement to believe that all the hopes and expectations held out by the party who came to me would be fully realised. Out of six-teen town-councillors, ten did me the honour of walking arm-in-arm by my carriage into St. Albans, and, out of the sixteen, twelve voted for me, two against me, and two stood neuter. I had five clergymen voted for me; in fact, I believe that the whole of the respectability of St. Albans, with few exceptions, was on my side, and I really believed that I was going to achieve a triumph, and that I should amend the borough of St. Albans, and emancipate it from the thraldom that existed.Alderman Garden's views were, however, soon disappointed. His solicitor, Mr. Law, saw through the emptiness of his hopes, and that nothing could be done without bribery. The whole sum which was spent by the Alderman did not exceed 600l.; but there was no doubt that some part of that sum was spent improperly by some of his agents without his knowledge. The result of that contest was, that on the day of the election Mr. Bell, whose supporters had been bribing right and left, polled 276, and Alderman Carden only 147 votes. The Alderman returned to town a poorer man, but with enlarged experience as to election matters; and Mr. Bell never contributed so much to the depletion of a patient by any drugs he sold, as he suffered by the drastic experiments tried upon hip purse by the electors of St. Albans; and he ought to feel highly favoured by having been allowed to sit during the present Parliament for the highly honourable borough of St. Albans. He must do Mr. Bell the justice of saying that he was the most forgiving man that he had ever met. Though the Bill introduced for the disfranchisement of the borough of St. Albans had been supported by both sides of the House of Commons, the only voice 975 raised in protestation against the disfranchisement, and uttering a lamentation over its miserable fate, was the voice of Mr. Bell, the plundered yet forgiving Mr. Bell. The noble Earl then read the recommendations of the Commissioners which formed the basis on which the other House of Parliament had passed this Bill. They were as follows:—We find that a sum of 3,500l. was advanced by Mr. Raphael to Mr. Henry Edwards for the purposes of the election in 1847; that the greater part of that sum was expended by him with the knowledge of Mr. Raphael in bribing voters, and that Mr. Raphael owed his election in 1847 to such bribery. We find that the sum of 1,200l. was expended by Mr. Blagg on behalf of Mr. Repton for the purposes of the election in 1847; that 5001., part of this sum, was advanced by Mr. Edwards to Mr. Blagg for the express purpose of bribery, and was expended by Mr. Blagg in buying votes for Mr. Repton; that Mr. Repton, during the polling, and before the election, knew that bribery was practised on his behalf, and we find that he owed his election in 1847 to such bribery. We find that nearly 1,000l. was advanced by the Hon. Mr. Craven to Mr. Edward Gibson for the purposes of the election in 1847, when he was one of the unsuccessful candidates; that 300l., part of this sum, was given by Mr. Gibson to Mr. James Vass for the purpose of bribing voters on behalf of Mr. Craven, and that the said sum of 300l. was expended by Mr. Vass in bribery. We find that Mr. Craven was not directly cognisant of any portion of the money having been expended in bribery, but that he had strong suspicions of the way in which the money had been employed. We find that a sum of 800l. was advanced by Mr. Wilks for the purposes of the election in 1847, when he also was one of the unsuccessful candidates; and that a large portion of this sum was expended by his agent, Mr. Thomas Harris, in bribery in his behalf; that Harris gave 75l. to George Perry, and 50l. to Mr. Frederick Theophilus Webster, for the purpose of bribing voters for Mr. Wilks, and that the said sums were expended by Perry and Webster in bribery. We find that at the election in 1850, 2,500l. was advanced by Mr. Thomas Hydes Hills on behalf of Mr. Bell to Mr. Henry Edwards; that the greater part of this sum was expended by Mr. Edwards in bribery, and that Mr. Hills well knew at the time that he advanced the money that it was to be so applied. We find that 2,000l. of this sum was advanced by way of loan to Mr. Hills by Messrs. Brace and Colt, who knew the purpose to which it was to be applied. We find that of the 2,500l., 2,000. was transmitted by Mr. Hills to the office of Mr. Coppock, by his direction, and was thence forwarded to Mr. Edwards, at St. Albans, by Mr. Coppock, with full knowledge on the part of the latter that it was to be expended in bribery. We find that Mr. Bell knew that money was being advanced on his behalf for the purpose of bribery, and we find that he owed his election to such bribery. We find that a sum of 650l. was advanced by Alderman Carden to Mr. Lowe, for the purposes of the election in 1850, and that the sum of 531. was afterwards expended by Mr. Lowe, and allowed by Alderman Carden. We 976 find that, under colour of payments for services, part of this sum was expended by Mr. Lowe in bribing voters on behalf of Alderman Carden, but that this was done without the knowledge and against the wishes of the alderman. We find that the voters whose names are included in the schedule hereto annexed, marked A., received bribes at the general election which took place in 1847. We find that the voters whose names are included in the schedule marked B, received bribes at the election which took place in 1850. We find that the persons whose names are included in the schedule marked C gave bribes to voters at the election which took place in 1847. We find that the persons whose names are included in the schedule marked D gave bribes to voters at the election which took place in 1850. We have given certificates, under the authority of the Act, to the persons to whose names in the several schedules an asterisk is affixed. And, finally, we report to Tour Majesty that the practice of bribery at elections of Members to serve in Parliament for the borough of St. Albans hath long prevailed in the said borough, and that bribery to a great extent was systematically committed there at the last election of a Member to serve in Parliament.He had now stated to their Lordships the substance of the Report of the Commissioners, which was sufficient to show that there was not here an isolated case of bribery, in which the whole borough was to be punished for the offence of a few of its inhabitants, but that there had been a system of corruption long and steadily continued from election to election—that two-thirds of the electors had been implicated in notorious bribery—and that so long as St. Albans was gifted with the privilege of returning Members to Parliament, so long its constituency would consent, without reference to politics or principles, to be driven like sheep to the poll under the direction of those individuals from whom they received the price of their corruption. He thought that the course which the House of Commons had adopted, namely, that of examining into these grave transactions by means of a tribunal instituted under the sanction of an Act of Parliament, was the only course which it could have taken with propriety. The evidence which that tribunal had collected was clear, conclusive, and not even attempted to be refuted; and, having now laid it before their Lordships, he hoped that they would agree with him in thinking that the borough of St. Albans ought to be disfranchised, and would give their vote for the second reading of this Bill.
§ Moved—"That the Bill be now read 2a."
§ LORD REDESDALE
, after putting the question, reminded their Lordships that a petition had been presented to the House 977 from certain of these electors, praying to be heard against the Bill by counsel at the bar. It was true the noble Lord who presented the petition, and the way in which the petition itself had been got up, impressed him with the belief that no very strong desire existed of being heard against the Bill. He had, however, searched the Journals, and found that the practice of the House had always been to hear counsel when it was desired upon Bills of a similar nature. Such had been pursued in the case of Sudbury, which was similar to the present. Of course, if their Lordships did consent to that prayer, evidence would not be taken, as that was already before the House. They might hear counsel either upon the second reading, or on the Motion for going into Committee.
§ The EARL of VERULAM
said, that he regretted very much that his neighbours had thought proper to intrust their petition to him; but as they had done so, he had thought it his duty to present it, although he disagreed with the prayer of it; but he thought after the case which had been made out by the Commissioners, it was impossible to contend against the Bill; and he pitied the counsel who should be instructed to appear at their Lordships' bar for any such purpose.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
said, the case was so strong, and the guilt of the parties so notorious, that he thought the House were in a position to legislate without hearing counsel. He wished to dissent from the doctrine that although the evidence was before them, they could not legislate without hearing counsel.
said, he must enter his protest against the doctrine which had just been laid down by the noble Marquess, because he thought the parties who were interested had a right to be heard at the bar, if they desired it. The noble Marquess said the evidence was before the House, and that it proved the case; but he thereby assumed the parties to be guilty; but it might be that the petitioners might be able to show either that the evidence was not conclusive, or that wrong inferences had been drawn from it. He had no doubt the House might legislate without hearing counsel, but in doing so they would be going against the principles of justice. The Bill being one of pains and penalties, the parties accused had a moral right to be heard. He certainly must say, at the same time, he pitied the counsel that should be instructed in the case.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
did not say their guilt was proved, but that their guilt was notorious; and, on that notoriety, he wished them to proceed. This was not a Bill of pains and penalties.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
said, he could not consider the Bill in any other light than as one of pains and penalties; but he maintained that the parties had been heard before a competent tribunal and found guilty, and that the House was warranted thereby in reading the Bill a second time without hearing counsel.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY
reminded noble Lords that it was one thing to pass a Bill for the United Kingdom, and another to single out a particular town; because the same Bill when applied to the latter case might assume a penal character, which did not attach to it in the former. He would, therefore, support a Motion for hearing counsel.
The EARL of WICKLOW
said, there was as yet no Motion before the House on the subject. But were such a Motion made, he must tell those who opposed it, that unless they could show there had been other cases where similar Bills to this had been passed without hearing counsel, he would support the Motion. It must be remembered, that though a large portion of the inhabitants had been found guilty of bribery, there was a large remaining portion who had not.
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, he had no doubt there were in St. Albans, some who were anxious not to be included in the censure which had fallen upon the venality of the borough; but in all such cases it must happen that there would be some guiltless individuals who must suffer for the sins of the rest. He was afraid some of their Lordships underrated the corruption which prevailed there. In this case, it appeared from the report that the taking of bribes was usual with many who, from their position, might be supposed least likely to accept them. It was stated by the Commissioners that professional men and tradesmen of a superior class were in the habit of receiving money for votes. The whole of the clergy, of all denominations, and a few of the principal people in the place, alone were exempted from the general charge of corruption.
§ On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, that after 979 what had passed, he considered it his duty to move, that the petitioners have leave to appear at the bar by counsel. He thought it would be undesirable, when a petition of this kind had been presented, that their Lordships should not show their readiness to hear what arguments could be urged on the behalf of the petitioners. He thought it probable that counsel would not be called in if the Motion were agreed to, because counsel must be paid their expenses, and it was not very likely that parties would incur an expense which could not fail to be attended with so little advantage.
§ Moved—"That leave be given to the petitioners [namely, certain inhabitants and electors of the borough of St. Albans, whose petition was presented this day] to be then heard by Counsel against the Bill."
supported the Motion. The parties had prayed to be heard by counsel, and he thought they were entitled to have their request granted, especially as the Bill which affected them was one of pains and penalties.
§ EARL GREY
dissented from the Motion. Without entering into the question whether the Bill was one of pains and penalties or not, he held that the Parliament, acting in the high capacity of passing such measures as were necessary for the public good, was not to be bound down by those narrow and technical rules which guided courts of justice. That principle which there was a tendency in that House to adopt, was very erroneous, and ought not to be followed for the future. They ought to pass no Bill without being satisfied that it was expedient for the public good, and consonant with justice; but that was all on which they should require to be satisfied. It would be utterly impossible for any counsel at the bar to allege reasons which would induce their Lordships to throw out this Bill. It was quite clear there were sufficient grounds for passing the measure; and would it conduce to the decorum of their proceedings to hear counsel for two or three hours at the bar endeavouring to make out a case, when their Lordships knew the facts were directly against them? The proposition of the noble Lord was an attempt to limit the House by certain technical rules, and would convert their proceedings into a farce.
§ The EARL of DERBY
should certainly have thought that it was unnecessary to bear counsel; but his noble Friend on the woolsack said that it was usual, in such cases, to concede this privilege to parties 980 who desired to avail themselves of it. He understood that counsel were heard on the second reading of the Bill for the disfranchisement of Sudbury, and that was a precedent which might be followed in the present instance. At all events, it would be more satisfactory to give to the parties that opportunity, which they considered to be an advantage.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
confessed he saw great difficulty in agreeing to the proposal for hearing counsel at the bar. If this had been a peculiar or solitary case, he would have been quite ready to assent to the Motion; but it was not. They had a precedent in the disfranchisment of Sudbury, but still it was open to the House to say whether that was just or not. The parties had already been heard before one tribunal, and he did not anticipate that any good would result from a further judicial inquiry by the House.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
denied that the parties had been heard before any judicial tribunal. The Commission appointed by Parliament was merely a reference for an inquiry; the Commission had made that inquiry, and reported the result to the House, which was really the judicial tribunal, to determine the case; but the parties had no opportunity of being heard before that Commission—no counsel appeared on either side—and all that was done was to ascertain the facts necessary for their Lordships to form their judgment upon. The parties were now before them—they petitioned to be heard in defence, and, if that was refused them, their Lordships would do a monstrous injustice, and act contrary to the practice of every other tribunal in the country. He did not mean to say, that if they were heard, the opinions of the House would he altered, because the facts were so strong that he believed no ingenuity of argument by counsel could affect or alter the impression on the minds of their Lordships; but that was no reason why they should abandon the precedent of giving the fairest hearing to parties who were accused, and about to be punished by an Act of Parliament. If any doubt existed as lo the propriety of the course, it would be better to strain a point in favour of the accused persons, than to deny them a hearing.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
agreed with Earl Grey that it would be ft mere form of mockery, derogatory to the dignity of the House, to hear counsel when nothing they could say would alter the in- 981 tention of their Lordships. It was his opinion that they must not, in such a case, act entirely in a judicial capacity.
The DUKE of ARGYLL
asked what could possibly be proved by the parties? The Commission to which that House was a party, was issued with extraordinary powers, and examined witnesses on oath. It was clearly and legally proved to the Commission that corruption existed to an enormous extent in St. Albans. Very possibly counsel at the bar might make out a case in favour of a considerable number of the inhabitants; but then came the question, how many pure voters in a constituency would authorise them in throwing out such a Bill? They had evidence on oath before them that by far the largest number of electors were guilty of bribery, and, under these circumstances, it would be almost a parody on the forms of the House to hear the parties.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
agreed with the noble Duke, but carried his objections still further. A Bill would shortly come before their Lordships which had been introduced into the other House by a noble Earl for the purpose of putting a stop to corruption at elections, and to this Bill he attached the greatest possible importance. It was based on proceedings entirely similar to those which had taken place at St. Albans, and would deal with all boroughs where practices of the same kind were proved to exist. If they followed the precedent which, perhaps, without much consideration, was adopted in the case of Sudbury, namely, allowing counsel to be heard at the bar, they would greatly weaken that mode of proceeding which he considered was a very great, though perhaps not altogether a perfect, improvement upon the old system. If they once waved the new plan, and adopted the old precedent of hearing counsel, they would, before long, have a repetition of party divisions and squabbles on questions which required an absence of all party feeling. If noble Lords would support him, he should certainly go to a division upon the Motion of the noble Earl on the woolsack.
said, it was not by any means his intention to propose a renewal of the inquiry, and to have all the evidence repeated at the bar, but to allow counsel to be heard on the effect of the evidence which so deeply concerned the electors.
The EARL of WICKLOW
observed that, being an old Member of the House, he had 982 often heard discussions of this nature. When Motions were made to hear counsel at the bar, they were met by similar arguments to those just advanced; but their Lordships' sense of justice had always overruled the objections, and if the noble Duke's proposed Amendment were passed, that would be the first instance in which they had precluded parties from being heard. He trusted the noble Duke would not proceed to a division.
§ On Question, their Lordships divided:—Content 41; Not-Content 15. Majority 26.
|List of the NOT-CONTENT.|
|Clarendon||Say and Sele|
§ Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.