HL Deb 25 February 1853 vol 124 cc630-1

postponed until Monday the Committee on the Law of Evidence (Scotland) Bill, and took occasion to advert to the effect of the change in the law making the parties themselves competent witnesses, as it bore upon the conduct of inquiries before Election Committees. He had hoped originally, a year or two ago, that this important alteration in the law would operate to prevent bribery and corruption at elections; but he must confess that the event had disappointed that expectation, for he believed there had hardly ever been a general election in this country at which more bribery and corruption had prevailed than at the last—he feared he might go further, and say, so much had prevailed upon no former occasion. But he would fain hope, still, that when the operation of the Act compelling the parties themselves to he examined before Election Committees came home to them by the Act being put in force, and examination being actually had, and by the results of that examination, it would have its salutary effect in deterring from the commission of the grievous offence to which he referred. But he was bound to add that though he had no doubt this would be its operation ultimately, if not immediately, upon the parties themselves and their agents, another change in the law of evidence would be required to give complete and full effect to it—namely, the adoption of the provision contained in the new Evidence Bill which he had brought in before the late recess, and which was now on the table, compelling persons to answer questions, although the answers might tend to criminate themselves; not, of course, enabling any person to take advantage of their depositions by giving them in evidence against them in other process or proceedings, as prosecutors, but protecting the party from the effects of his self-crimination in all proceedings afterwards, except indictment for perjury. The adoption of that principle would, he thought, more than any other, prevent corruption at elections; and he felt convinced that it would be right, in all cases whatever, to adopt this principle, and not to allow any man to object to answer a question on the ground of self-crimination.