§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
moved that the House should agree to the address which had been adopted by the House of Commons, praying that a Commission should be appointed to inquire into the corrupt practices that had prevailed at the last election, and at previous elections, for the city of Canterbury. He hoped their Lordships would have no difficulty in giving their assent to this address, as well as to others that were before the House of a similar description, and to those which he feared might hereafter come before them. Their Lordships had always declared their willingness to co-operate with the other House in endeavouring to diminish and check by every means in their power those corrupt practices at elections of which they and the whole country complained. 902 He believed that the time was fully come when something should be done on this subject; because if matters continued to go on as at present, a serious blow would be struck sat the very principle of the representative system in this country. He knew that some persons were accustomed to view with comparative carelessness those practices, and to undervalue their importance; and who thought they were so regarded by others: but he thought such persons very greatly mistaken. In his opinion the people of this country generally looked with increased disgust on the frequency and growth of those corrupt practices at elections. Even the lowest of the people—the persons who were deprived of the franchise themselves—were indignant at the manner in which it was used by those parties in possession of it. They had been told that the evil had not increased, and that it had existed to an equal amount in former times. That might be so, though he greatly doubted the fact; but at all events, even if that were the case, what did it prove? It might prove that the practice of former times was worse than they imagined it to have been; but at all events it could not diminish the enormity of that which they now saw passing before their eyes. He did not think it his duty to enter into the details of the evidence taken before the Committee of the House of Commons on the Canterbury Election, and which was now on their Lordships' table; indeed, he thought it would have been much better if their Lordships had left all that preliminary part of the proceedings to the House of Commons. If, indeed, this evidence formed materials on which they were to found legislative measures, then, indeed, it would be necessary to go minutely into the whole case, and to see how far it would bear out any enactment which they might be called upon to make on the subject; but as it was, he merely looked upon it as laying the grounds for inquiry, and for inquiry alone; and unless there was some reason for refusing their assent to such inquiry, he hoped they would at once agree, reserving to themselves the power of dealing with any measure to which that inquiry might possibly give rise. He had been told—but he scarcely supposed it probable—that an objection might be taken to the course which he proposed, arising out of the terms of the report of the Committee of the House of Commons, inasmuch as the report of the Committee did 903 not embody the precise terms or the Act of last year, providing for the better inquiry into the existence of corrupt practices at elections. The Committee reported, "that a system of bribery and corruption, by means of coloured tickets, prevailed at the last election, and at previous elections generally;" whereas the words of the Act required the Committee to report "that bribery extensively prevailed." The House of Commons, naturally taking what appeared to be a common-sense view of the case, considered that where bribery was systematic and general it was extensive; therefore they adopted the words of the Act in the address which they had sent up to their Lordships, very properly it appeared to him, to comply with the terms of the Act; and in their address they alleged that bribery did extensively prevail in the city of Canterbury. In doing so they adopted substantially the words of the Report of the Committee, which stated the bribery to have been systematic and general. He should regret very much if an objection so purely technical as that, and which was not sustained when the subject was mooted in the House of Commons, should be made in their Lordships' House. He thought such a proceeding would seriously endanger the belief in their Lordships' sincerity in co-operating effectually for the suppression of corrupt practices at elections. It could not be urged as an objection which at all had any application to the spirit of the proceedings that had been adopted, but would only serve to place that House in the eyes of the public in a position in which he should be very sorry to see it. He hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would agree in the address to Her Majesty which was sent up from the House of Commons, praying Her Majesty to appoint a Commission to inquire into the corrupt practices which had prevailed at elections for the city of Canterbury.
§ Moved—To fill up the blank in the Address of the Commons to Her Majesty with ("Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and")
§ LORD LYNDHURST
begged to call their Lordships' attention to the irregularity of the proceeding proposed for their adoption by his noble Friend who had just sat down. He trusted he should not be misconstrued in the observations he was about to make, for no one was more strongly convinced of the necessity of putting an end to that system of bribery which 904 had so long prevailed at elections. No one could feel more concerned at the existence of the practices brought to light by recent disclosures than himself, but his experience in courts of justice had led him to the conclusion that cases exciting strong feelings and great indignation in the public mind, led, not unfrequently, to bad laws and to forced constructions of the law; and it was necessary for their Lordships to exercise caution that they were not misled by their feelings to strain the law, and to place upon it a construction which it ought not to bear. If such a caution were necessary upon ordinary occasions, it was peculiarly necessary when what their Lordships were about to do to-night would be a precedent for the future, and when the Bill under which the commission would issue was of the most penal character. Their Lordships would allow him to refer to the address which they were called upon to support. They were desired to address Her Majesty, informing Her that a Committee of the House of Commons had reported that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the last election, and at previous elections for the city of Canterbury. They were to represent to Her Majesty, that such a report existed. Now he found that no such report had ever been made, and they were called upon to state that to Her Majesty which in terms he considered to be an untruth. His noble Friend had stated—and he believed the same argument was stated also in the other House of Parliament—that the terms made use of in the address were equivalent to those in the report. Now, he apprehended that their Lordships had no authority to draw any such conclusion. It was the duty of the Committee to draw their conclusion from the evidence; their Lordships had no power to look at that evidence for the purpose of altering the Report. The Committee were the only parties to draw that conclusion, and Parliament was bound by their report. Let their Lordships try the case by this test:—Instead of stating that which was really not the fact, let them put upon the face of this address the report in the very terms in which it had been rendered by the Committee—and then he would ask his noble and learned Friend upon the woolsack whether there was any legal authority under such circumstances for saying that this commission ought to issue? If a commission were issued, what would be the consequence? Why, that the validity of the acts of that commission might be 905 questioned if the matter were brought before a court of law. He apprehended, therefore, that they ought not to present an address to Her Majesty stating that which was in terms incorrect, drawing a conclusion which they had no right to draw from the report, and which, if put upon the face of this address, would not support the commission which it was now sought to issue. But, further than this, he did not consider that what had been reported by the Committee was equivalent to what was stated upon the face of this address. In this address it was stated that the Committee had reported that corrupt practices had "extensively" prevailed at the last election for the city of Canterbury. These were the words of the address. The Committee had found that a system of corruption had prevailed at the last election, and at previous elections "generally." Now take these clauses separately. The Committee had found that a system of corruption by means of coloured tickets prevailed at the last election. But did a system of corruption import necessarily that corruption was "extensively" carried on? What was the meaning of the term "system?" It meant parties acting in concert for a particular object. The system might be extensive, but it might also be limited. When you said "an extensive system of corruption," the word "extensive" was not mere surplusage; you could not say that it had no meaning; and, in like manner, a "system of corruption" did not import any extent of corruption. In adverting to these circumstances, therefore, the word "extensive" became of the most important character. Unless extensive corruption prevailed, their Lordships could not proceed for the purpose of punishing the electors; it was on the "extensive system" alone that the whole reason for the proceeding was founded. But then his noble Friend referred to the word "generally." "A system of corruption by means of coloured tickets prevailed at the last election, and at previous elections generally." Now that word "generally," by a misapprehension of its meaning, had been made use of in the other House in order to make it appear that an extensive system of corruption had prevailed. But the word "general" here did not mean extensive; it meant that corruption was usual at former elections:—the system, it said, prevailed at the last election, and at former elections generally; that it was usual, that is, generally prevailed at for- 906 mer elections. There was nothing, therefore, in the report of the Committee that could support the statement in the address, or which would support the noble Earl in asking them to agree to the address. Now it had been their object—a constitutional and Parliamentary object—to prevent as far as possible the House of Commons and this House from exercising any judgment in the case of elections. And why? Because such questions were in general decided upon party motives and as party questions. That was the ground upon which the Grenville Act was passed, and here they were laying down precedents which might be very mischievous, giving the House of Commons the power of saying, that as the Committee had not found that which was necessary to support the issuing of the commission, they would put a construction upon the report of the Committee which would bring it within the meaning of the Act of Parliament. He warned their Lordships against the consequence of that proceeding. His experience of courts of justice led him to this conclusion. In cases that came before courts of justice, slight departures from the strict law and from the strict meaning of Acts of Parliament sometimes occurred in cases of apparent hardship. A precedent was thus established. When a question of a similar nature came on afterwards, a further deviation took place, and so on, until the Courts, struck by the extent of the departure from the law, at length overruled all these decisions, and were compelled to go back to the strict terms of the law, from which they ought never to have departed. That showed the danger of departing from the strict letter of the law, and establishing precedents which might lead to such consequences as those he had stated. The noble Earl had said that their Lordships ought not to look to the evidence taken before the Committee to supply its defect. Undoubtedly their Lordships had nothing to do with the evidence for this purpose. Nothing could be more clear than that; though the evidence should show corruption to the greatest extent, they could not supply the defect in the report. It was the Committee that ought to have drawn the conclusion. They ought to have reported in the words of the Act of Parliament; but as they had not done so, their Lordships could not, by construction, supply the deficiency. But there was a remedy for this. The Committee appointed to inquire into the validity of the election 907 had pronounced its decision; but the same Committee might be reappointed, not, indeed, as an Election Committee, but under a recent Act. They might inquire again whether any corruption had prevailed at this election, and they might report, notwithstanding the report they had already made, in the very words required by the Act of Parliament. That would be a simple and easy remedy for the blunder which had been committed; and he called upon their Lordships most strongly not to depart from the strict rule laid down by the Act, however anxious they might be to repress an evil which they all deplored, and which was so disgraceful to the country, and in any measure for the prevention of which he would heartily concur. There had been an irregularity, but their Lordships ought not to proceed upon that irregularity, and ought not to state to the Crown an untruth, as they were called upon to state by the proposed address.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
should most deeply deplore if their Lordships suffered themselves to be convinced, even by the great authority of the noble and learned Lord, that they ought not to adopt the Resolution now proposed. He should entirely concur with the noble and learned Lord, that if they were really making themselves parties to such a proceeding as the statement of an untruth to Her Majesty, their Lordships would be doing that which would be disgraceful to themselves, and which must inevitably entail most serious and mischievous consequences. But it was because he was persuaded they were stating nothing but the truth in the proposed address, that he trusted their Lordships would have no difficulty whatever in acceding to it. He admitted it was to be regretted that the parties who had framed this Resolution had not followed literally the words of the Act of Parliament. He trusted that the express words of the Act would be followed in the reports of future Committees; but if his noble and learned Friend meant to say that nothing could warrant their Lordships in stating to Her Majesty that there had been a Resolution of a Committee declaring that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the last election for Canterbury, unless those were the ipsissima verba of the report, he differed altogether from that opinion. Suppose it had been stated in the report that at the last three elections nineteen-twentieths of the electors had been bribed, would not that warrant their Lordships in 908 stating the Committee to have reported that corruption had extensively prevailed? Nobody could doubt, when he put that extreme case, that their Lordships would have been warranted in declaring this; and therefore the question was, not whether the Committee had used the very words mentioned in the address, but whether they had reported that which necessarily meant the same thing. His noble and learned Friend had stated that their Lordships could not look at the evidence to supply a defect in the report; and that was strictly true; but they might look at it to see whether it warranted the report, and if they did, they would find that corruption was universal in the city of Canterbury. However, he would confine himself to the very language of the Resolution; and what were the words of the Committee's Resolution? They were, "that a system of corruption, by means of coloured tickets, prevailed at the last election and at previous elections for the City of Canterbury generally." Was not that at least as strong as the expression "that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed?" If their Lordships were to look at this Resolution with grammatical nicety, he asked his noble and learned Friend to define what he meant by "extensively prevailed." The word "extensively" was popularly taken to mean "to a great extent," but it did not necessarily mean that; and if they analysed the words, the statement that "a system of corruption had prevailed generally" was far more cogent and stringent than saying "that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed." The noble and learned Lord had expressed an opinion from which he (the Lord Chancellor) did not differ—that, according to the maxim of lawyers, sometimes hard cases made bad law—to meet a case where there was a particular grievance, sometimes the meaning of the law has been warped. This he admitted, but he did not think they were at all incurring this responsibility in the present instance. After all, what they were about to do was not to inflict a hardship, or to inflict anything else; they did not propose to do anything more than to lay the foundation for an inquiry, the result of which would be, that persons giving bonâ fide evidence in the course of that inquiry would be indemnified for what they said; and if it turned out that corrupt practices had prevailed, that House and the other House of Parliament could then take the matter into hand. All that was 909 asked was, that this House should interpret that which had been reported, so as to address Her Majesty in the terms of the Act of Parliament, and he was persuaded there was no one individual out of that House who would not think they were perfectly warranted in so doing, seeing that the terms of the Committee's Report went as far at least, and he thought much further, than the words in the Act. He trusted, therefore, their Lordships would concur in the proposed address.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, that their Lordships had no power to join in an address to the Crown which would lead to an inquiry on this question, except upon the Report of a Committee containing the words mentioned in the Act of Parliament. It was not the question whether an inquiry would or would not lead to the truth, or whether it was or was not desirable, but simply whether or not the House was at present entitled by the Act of Parliament to agree in this address. The matter was one of law. The Act of Parliament stated, in explicit terms, that whenever the two Houses of Parliament shall, by an address, represent to the Crown that a Committee of the House of Commons have reported that corrupt practices had, or that there was reason to believe that corrupt practices had, extensively prevailed at an election for any borough, that then a commission of inquiry should be issued. Now that part of the Act did not say that "When it appears by a Report of a Committee of the House of Commons, that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed," &c., but that "where the Select Committee have reported," and in order that the Crown might know that there was such a report, both Houses were required to join in an address representing the fact; and, until this had been done, they could not move in the matter. Now there was this singularity in the present case, that the Select Committee had not adopted the plain words of the Act of Parliament; and the House of Commons, when the report reached them, had not adopted the equally plain words used by the Select Committee:—the Act of Parliament, the House of Commons, and the Select Committee, were, therefore, all at variance. If the language used in the report of the Select Committee was equivalent to that required by the Act of Parliament, why did not both Houses state to the Crown, as they 910 were bound to do, the real fact, that such language had been used by that tribunal? The Act of Parliament bound their Lordships down to express terms. It was in the nature of an indictment, and in order that party feelings might not be brought into action in the case, the Select Committee was constituted a tribunal in itself. He would not now inquire whether the words of the address were borne out by the evidence, because the Act of Parliament expressly required that it should be founded upon and should record the use of a particular finding by the Select Committee. There was no doubt that the Act of Parliament was before the Committee; and when he saw that a distinguished lawyer was amongst its Members, he could not believe that they had, without some reason, departed from its words, and made a report which was not in accordance with the terms of the Act. He believed, therefore, that the House would violate the law by agreeing to this address, and thus, he would not say, stating what was not true, but not stating correctly what the Committee had reported. If they permitted themselves on this occasion, when it was said there was a strong case, to wander from the actual words of the report of the Select Committee, and to substitute one form of language for another; if they were to say that what was substituted was equivalent to the words used in the Act of Parliament, and were to represent to the Crown that these words had been actually used by the Committee, they would be stating that which was incorrect: and if they were once to take upon themselves to substitute other words for those used by the Select Committee, where were they to stop? It might be said, indeed, as it had been said, that it was clear, from the expressions used by the Committee, that the requirements of the Act of Parliament had been complied with; but he contended that, while the words contained in the Act were clear, those used by the Committee were ambiguous. The Act required that the address should state that a Select Committee had reported "that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed" at the last election; and then they were told the Committee had reported that there was a general system of corruption at the last election, and that a general was equivalent to an extensive system. But that was not a correct statement of the report of the Committee. The Committee, having the Act of Parliament before them, 911 reported "that a system of corruption, by means of coloured tickets, prevailed at the last election,"—and then followed these words, "on behalf of the sitting Members, and at previous elections for the City of Canterbury generally." This could only be taken to mean that the impression on the part of the Committee was, that the corruption was partial, and confined to the sitting Members at the last election, and that it was general, and not confined to the sitting Members, but that both parties were equally guilty, at previous elections. Now, according to the Act of Parliament, as he had said, they must have a report that an extensive system of corruption had prevailed at the last election. The noble Earl, in submitting the present Motion to the House, had opened a good case, but, like many other persons in a similar position, he had no evidence to support it. The point was, that the Committee had reported that at the last election the sitting Members alone were guilty of this system of corruption, and that at former elections both parties acted in this way. But did that mean that there had been an "extensive" system prevailing? There was not a word in the report about its being extensive; and, with the Act of Parliament before them, could the Committee have left out those words unless they had intended to report that the system had not been extensive? Could their Lordships, then, join in an address to the Crown without stating what the report actually declared? Suppose they affirmed in their address that the Select Committee of the House of Commons did report so and so (stating the very words of the report), which the two Houses thought was equivalent to a report that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed—would any one concur in that? And yet it was only by excluding the words which the report contained, and substituting others, that they could arrive at the address. He had no wish to stand in the way of the address; but the noble Earl who moved the Resolution, seemed to think that if their Lordships hesitated to join in this address, they might be supposed to be upholding corruption. He hoped, that no noble Lord would be induced to support this address by the fear of such a construction being put upon a contrary vote. He believed that there was not a single noble Lord in that House who had the slightest desire to screen parties guilty of these offences from the punishment they deserved; but he warned their 912 Lordships against now furnishing a precedent which would be applied to future cases, and might then give rise to very great difficulty. If, for instance, a political party desired to disfranchise any particular borough, they might not be able to get a Select Committee to report that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed, and yet they might obtain one that might afterwards be tortured into that meaning; and then, if the two Houses were induced to agree to an address to the Crown, containing the words used in the Act of Parliament, the Crown might be led to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed, contrary to the report of the Committee. If they agreed to this address, they would not be carrying into effect the report of the Select Committee, but they would be stating to the Crown that which they believed was equivalent to the report, without, at the same time, stating what that report was. Now, the words of the Act of Parliament were express, and better could not be employed; and if the Committee intended to report the fact of extensive corruption having prevailed, they had nothing to do but to state precisely what the Act contained. That House had no power to take the step to which they were now asked to assent, and in pursuance of which a commission would issue, except under the words of an Act of Parliament, and he therefore entreated them to consider well before they agreed to the address under present circumstances. The House must recollect that they were acting from no power of their own, but on a power given them expressly by the Legislature, and therefore were bound to pause before they joined in an address which was founded on an imperfect proceeding, but against which, if put upon a proper footing, not a dissentient voice would be raised. Upon that proper footing it might very easily be placed. The question at issue was not now, whether they should proceed or not, but whether they should proceed in a form not authorised by the Act of Parliament.
said, that their Lordships were now in a very grave position. The other House of Parliament had passed an Address to the Crown, in which it was represented to Her Majesty that a Select Committee of the House of Commons had reported that "bribery and corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the last and previous elections for the city of Canterbury." To that address their Lordships' assent was asked, and they were 913 hesitating as to whether the House of Commons had not represented an untruth to the Crown. This was s very serious imputation on the other House of Parliament. He found, besides, that it was not hurriedly or per incuream, but after full discussion and deliberation, that the other House had come to the determination that the Select Committee had made such a report to them; and were their Lordships now prepared to say, after they had held a conference with the other House, that they had said that which was a falsehood? He should not shrink from telling the other House that they had been guilty of a falsehood if it were so. But was it untrue? Now, the best consideration that he had been able to bestow upon the subject had led him to the conclusion that the House of Commons had affirmed nothing that was not correctly and substantially true. No doubt, if the Act of Parliament passed last Session required the construction put upon it by his noble and learned Friend who had last addressed them, the House of Commons had stated what was untrue to the Crown, because the Select Committee did not report, in those identical words, that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the last election for the city of Canterbury; but he would take it upon himself to say that such a construction would not be put upon these words in any Court in Westminster Hall. There had been repeated instances in which words substituted for those used by the Legislature had, if equivalent, been considered sufficient. Suppose the words of the report had been that bribery "had universally prevailed" at the last election, that would have been a departure from the formula given in the Act of Parliament; but would it not have justified an address from the two Houses of Parliament to the Crown, stating that a Select Committee had made such a report as that contemplated in the Act? Again, supposing that the Select Committee had reported, that out of 300 electors of the city of Canterbury, 299 had been bribed; those would not be the words used by the Act of Parliament, but would not that, in effect, be a report that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the last election? He felt, therefore, no doubt, that it was not indispensably necessary that the very words of the Act should be used, and that words which were clearly equivalent would be sufficient; but then they must see that they were so clearly equivalent, for they had otherwise no power to proceed. 914 This Act contained most stringent powers. It gave authority to examine persons on oath, and compel them to criminate themselves, and led by a very summary process to the disfranchisement of the borough itself. Their Lordships ought, therefore, to proceed with the greatest caution, and see that all its conditions had been completely complied with. Now, he had no doubt that the words used by the Committee were as effective as those contained in the Act. The words of the Act of Parliament were—"If a Select Committee have reported to the House that corrupt practices have, or that there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have, extensively prevailed at any election or elections of a Member or Members, the said House shall agree to an Address," &c. It was not necessary, therefore, for the report to state that bribery had extensively prevailed at the "last election;" if it showed that it had at "any election" for the city of Canterbury, it complied with the Act of Parliament. Now, the seventh resolution of the Committee stated that at a former election for Canterbury corrupt practices had generally prevailed. He trusted, therefore, that, instead of telling the House of Commons that they had represented to the Crown that which was a falsehood, they would agree to the address for the issuing of this Commission. He very much regretted, indeed, that the Committee had not, in their report, used the words of the Act of Parliament. It was no doubt an oversight, and he trusted that on any future occasion the Committee would take care to follow the form prescribed for them; but their neglect to do so was no reason why their Lordships should not concur in the address. He trusted that their Lordships would not suffer in the public estimation by differing from the House of Commons on such a subject. He believed that both Houses were equally desirous that all such corrupt practices shall be suppressed, and that the most effectual mode of doing so was by putting this Act of Parliament into full operation.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, that as the report on which the address was founded was that of an Election Committee, it must, in order to comply with the terms of the Act, refer to the last election, and state the corrupt practices to have extensively prevailed then, because the Committee had no power to inquire into past elections.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, that the 915 noble and learned Lord who had just addressed the House had said that it was unfortunate that the Committee of the House did not use the words described in the Act, and that he hoped that this oversight would not occur on a future occasion. He (Lord Redesdale) agreed with him in these remarks, and thought that no Committee which intended to make a report that would subject a borough to an inquiry of this sort would be likely again to commit the same error; but the true and only mode by which to secure a borough against an unjust, and oppressive, and tyrannical decision of a majority in Parliament was to say that they would insist upon the report of the Committee containing the precise words used in the Act of Parliament. If upon this the first occasion of the kind that had occurred, the House laid it down as a precedent that a majority might determine that the report might bear what meaning they thought fit to put upon it, although the Committee might not have intended to report in such a manner as to subject the borough to inquiry, he believed they would open the door to great oppression. Parliament had of late years passed several stringent enactments in order to prevent party decisions of matters of this description by Election Committees, and to secure impartial judgments. If the Committee appointed to inquire reported that bribery had "extensively prevailed," it would be known that they intended to subject the borough to an inquiry; but if the report did not contain those words, the borough should be saved from such an inquiry being issued against it by the tyranny of the party which commanded a majority in the other House of Parliament. By insisting upon this, not only would their Lordships' House give protection to those who required it, against the possible oppression of a majority of the other House, but they would save themselves from having perhaps very awkward and difficult questions sent up to them in times of great excitement and high political feeling. If their Lordships required that the words of the Act should always be found in the report of the Committee, they had a security that they never would be asked to agree to an address of this sort, unless the Committee which had heard the case and the evidence on oath were of opinion that the bribery had been of so extensive a character as to induce them to submit it to the investigation of a Commission; but if they came to the conclusion that Parlia- 916 ment might put what meaning they chose upon the report, they might perhaps have an address sent up stating that a Committee had reported that bribery had extensively prevailed in cases where there was far greater doubt as to the meaning of the Committee than in the present instance; and the course proposed to be adopted on this occasion might be quoted as a precedent for concurring in such an address. By declining to assent to this address, they did not prevent future proceedings. The House of Commons might, if they should think fit, make further inquiry into the prevalence of bribery at Canterbury. The same Members who had constituted the former Committee might be directed by the House of Commons to report whether bribery did extensively prevail at the last election; the evidence taken before them as an Election Committee might be referred to them with power to call for more should they require it, and if they then reported that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed, the address would then come before their Lordships in due form.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
said, that he was rather surprised at the remarks which had fallen from the noble Lord who had just resumed his seat, recollecting as he did the part he took when the Bill upon which this proceeding was founded was before the House. That noble Lord then warned the House against the danger of placing implicit reliance on the reports of Committees of the other House, and claimed for that House its due share in the consideration of these questions, quite independently of those previous investigations in the other House. But, nevertheless, he now told them they were not to look at the evidence before them, but were to be entirely bound by the report of the Committee of the House of Commons; and that unless they could maintain that the ipsissima verba of the Act of Parliament had been adopted by that Committee, they were not entitled to place their own interpretation either upon the report of the Committee, or upon the evidence upon which it was founded. If these were not the words of the noble Lord, such was certainly the necessary consequence of his argument. If they were to be bound by the particular words used in the report of the Committee of the House of Commons; if, as had been said, they had nothing to do with the evidence which had been adduced before that Committee, for what purpose had they gone through the farce of sending a message to 917 the other House, and requesting they would present them with a copy of the report and of the evidence taken before the Committee? They would not have done this except in order to form their own opinion, and to decide whether they should then agree to the address which had been sent up from the other House. He would not attempt to enter into the legal discussion with the three or four noble and learned Lords who had taken part in it, for as two had adopted one view and two the other, he might be spared the necessity. He would say, indeed, with all respect to those noble and learned Lords, that the question was not altogether one of dry legal technicality, but it was one on which every lay Member of the House was as capable of forming an opinion whether he was doing substantial justice as any one of those noble and learned Lords. He found, from an examination of the evidence, that not only had extensive, but almost universal, bribery been represented to prevail at Canterbury at many of the elections; and he must ask, therefore, whether it would be wise or just in their Lordships to oppose any obstacle to this the first preliminary step—not to disfranchise the borough, but simply to obtain an investigation into alleged corrupt practices? He believed, because he sat in that House and witnessed its temper and disposition, that it was sincerely desirous of checking these practices; but the public out of doors would not give them credit for this desire, if, after reading the report, and finding that bribery had prevailed, as he had already said, not only extensively, but almost universally, they yet found that that House refused to agree to this address, because the Committee of the House of Commons had omitted to use the precise words of the Act of Parliament; and that they declined to give to the words of the report a latitude of construction which the Courts in Westminster Hall would extend in matters of much more importance, and which were of a final, and perhaps of a penal character. The public would certainly, in that case, believe that their Lordships had some sinister object in screening these practices, and that they did not want them to be thoroughly investigated, if it could possibly be avoided. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord St. Leonards) said he believed the Committee of the House of Commons must have had some reason for using the words they had done, and not those prescribed by the Act. Whatever reason 918 they might have had, unquestionably those reasons did not go to mitigate their sentence, and prevent the course now taken; for who had moved the Address to the Crown in the House of Commons? The hon. Gentleman who had been the Chairman of the Committee, and to whom any reason the Committee might have had for using these words instead of others must have been known; and he took it on himself to say that it had been by inadvertence and neglect that the words of the Act of Parliament had not been used in the report, that the Committee had intended to conform their report to the Act of Parliament, and to carry their inquiry to the full limits of the Act. He (the Duke of Newcastle) said that their Lordships ought to look a little to the effect of their decision out of doors; and he was strengthened in that conviction by one of the arguments used by the noble and learned Lord opposite, who had endeavoured to extract from the address of the House of Commons an argument which would go the length of putting a very awkward interpretation on the word "extensive" used in the Act; for he stated, that whatever might be the case in reference to previous elections, as regarded the recent election, the Committee had only stated that the sitting Members were concerned in it. But the sitting Members must have been returned by a majority of the constituency, and therefore a majority of the electors for the borough of Canterbury might, for aught their Lordships knew, have been guilty of bribery; yet the noble and learned Lord had tried to extract from the Address of the House of Commons that it did not necessarily follow, but was rather an indication of the reverse, that there was extensive bribery. His noble and learned Friend said they were not entitled to interpret this report any way they pleased, but must be bound by its words. If they wanted any interpretation of the report, they had it in the fact that this address was moved by the very man who drew up the report; but they had in the report itself an interpretation which the public would understand, and which every Member of their Lordships' House understood. When they had it in evidence that two thousand colourmen had been appointed and paid on some occasions in the borough of Canterbury, and other similar facts, he hoped their Lordships would not be induced to avail themselves of a technical objection such as that now pro- 919 posed, and that in this preliminary stage of proceedings they would look at the subject in a point of view more rational than that suggested by the special pleading they had heard on this occasion. The noble and learned Lord (Lord St. Leonards) finished his address by saying that the responsibility of this proceeding would rest with the Government. On behalf of the Government, he was ready to say, that that responsibility they willingly and cheerfully accepted. They were perfectly prepared to incur any responsibility which might be thrown on them in recommending their Lordships to agree to this Address to the Crown; but one responsibility he should certainly be sorry to incur, namely, that of by any direct or indirect act of his being a party to an attempt to screen corruption in the representative system, by preventing, when a primâ facie case was made out, that investigation which he believed to be absolutely necessary from the circumstances of the case. His noble Friend who spoke last (Lord Redesdale) had expressed his view of the great uses of the House of Lords; and he said that one of these was to check hasty, and, perhaps, unfair legislation by the House of Commons. He (the Duke of Newcastle) recognised that great attribute of their Lordships; but he did think that if there was one thing more than another in which they were bound not to lag behind the spirit of the times, both in Parliament and out of it, it was this: the attempt to put an end to the prevalence of corrupt practices in the election of representatives of the people. He believed that for some years past there had been a growing feeling that this was one of the vices of our representative system most likely to destroy it; and he believed that if their Lordships were to show any disposition to adopt either such a course as was now recommended, or any other approaching to it, they would lose much of that respect of the country which he rejoiced to think their Lordships possessed at the present moment, and which he hoped they would ever continue to enjoy.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, the noble Duke had entirely misrepresented what he said on the subject of the corrupt practices stated to exist in the borough of Canterbury. He did not say that because they were confined to the sitting Members they had not been extensive, but what he did say was that the Committee had not reported that they were extensive.
§ LORD WHARNCLIFFE
was under- 920 stood to state his opinion that any inquiry by a Committee as to corrupt practices must be upon an election petition, and to ask the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) as to the construction of the Act.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
said, that a Committee might be appointed for the purpose of trying a petition, and also for other objects, independently of the petition, to inquire whether or not corrupt practices had prevailed at an election. In this case, the Committee which had reported was a Committee appointed to try the validity of an election. That Committee might be reappointed for another object, according to the Act of Parliament, to inquire generally whether corrupt practices had prevailed in the borough.
§ LORD WHARNCLIFFE
said, it would be extremely presumptuous in him to attempt any discussion with the noble and learned Lord as to the legal bearings of the question; but unless he was entirely mistaken as to the construction of the Act of Parliament, it was necessary that the report of the Committee should be a report on the election petition. If the Committee had chosen, instead of such an expression as system or systematic, to insert the word "extensive," there could have been no doubt as to the meaning of the report. He thought, however, they were fully justified, in a case of this kind, in looking at the circumstances under which this report had been made, and the general import of the terms in which it was couched, and that they would find therein full and sufficient grounds for concurring with the Committee of the other House.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
observed, that a Committee might be appointed for the purpose of inquiring whether corrupt practices had generally prevailed in the city of Canterbury, without reference to any particular petition.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, that an Election Committee could not be reassembled, but another Committee might be appointed to inquire whether bribery had extensively prevailed in the particular city or borough, to which Committee the evidence taken before the Election Committee would be referred. That was constantly done. The Chairman of the Committee had himself stated that the word had been used erroneously and by mistake, and that the Committee were of opinion that bribery had been committed extensively.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, if he thought there was anything ambiguous about the report of the Committee he should hesitate in voting for the address. The Act of Parliament required that the Committee should report that extensive corruption existed, before their Lordships could join in an address to the Crown for a commission, and the whole question rested simply upon this, —had the Committee reported that corruption had extensively existed? He maintained that to all intents and purposes the Committee had so reported. Surely the House of Commons had the opportunity of understanding the meaning of the report of the Committee. The whole House of Commons must, in the first instance, before agreeing to an address, have been convinced that the Committee had virtually reported that corruption had extensively prevailed. But, in addition to this, their Lordships had had the evidence as well as the resolutions sent up to them by the Commons, so that they had the opportunity of seeing whether the report was correct. He would put it to anybody who read in the report that "a system of corruption had prevailed at the last election, and at previous elections for the city of Canterbury generally," whether that did not plainly mean that it was a system that "extensively" prevailed? Believing that there was nothing ambiguous in the report, and that their Lordships would be acting in furtherance of the principle of purity of election, he had not the slightest difficulty in agreeing to the address.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
said, he had felt it his duty to bring the matter before their Lordships, but, after what had occurred, he should acquiesce in the Motion for the address.
was of opinion that the Commissioners were bound to proceed with all expedition, giving notice to all parties, and taking the proceedings de die in diem, with the greatest possible vigour.
§ On Question, agreed to.
§ Then it was moved, to leave out in Line penultimo the Word ("William") and to insert ("Thomas Borrow"); the same was agreed to: Then the said Address, as amended, was agreed to; and ordered to be communicated to the Commons at another Conference; and a Message sent to the Commons for a Conference; and to appoint the same To-morrow, at Five o'Clock.
§ The House adjourned till To-morrow.