HL Deb 28 February 1860 vol 156 cc1907-9

said, a petition had been entrusted to him from an important body, the Metropolitan and Provincial Law Society, signed by their respected President Mr. Beaumont, praying their Lordships to pass the Bill, which he (Lord Brougham) had introduced, and which had been read a first time. Its object was to substitute for the question, on arraignment, "Are you not guilty, or guilty," the question, "Do you desire to be tried, or do you plead guilty?" The body of solicitors and attorneys who composed the society adduced strong reasons from experience in favour of the measure, and he could refer any one desirous of seeing the facts stated, to read an able and instructive letter of Mr. Beaumont, published last December, and a very important tract of Mr. Osborn, gaol chaplain at Bath, which contained a great body of evidence from the reverend author's correspondence with gaol chaplains, recorders, and other magistrates, showing clearly the mischievous effects of the present method of proceeding. He would take this opportunity of contradicting a statement which had been often made since the last Congress of the National Association of Social Science, and made under an entire mistake of what had passed there. He hardly ever had complained of such misstatements, nor would he now on his own account merely, but in justice to his colleagues of the Association, and in order to prevent the use made of the statement by the adversaries of all effectual measures to extirpate electoral corruption, he felt bound to set this matter right. It had been represented at different times, even since the Congress at Bradford, that he had recommended making bribery felony, and he saw in a respectable paper that morning (The Morning Post,) wonder expressed that he (Lord Brougham) the reformer of the Criminal Law, and ex-President of its Society, should have fallen into such an error. Now, happily on this there could not possibly be any mistake; for the speech was not one about which different accounts or reports could be given by those who heard it, but it was an address written and delivered by him, being the annual address as President of Council of the Association, and he held in his hand that address as printed in their Transactions. He would read the words of the address as far as related to this subject. After relating his experience of the inefficacy of pecuniary penalties to check slave trading, which his Act of 1811 had effectually abolished, as carried on by British subjects, and he really believed that this reference had occasioned the mistake, but no one would think because slave trading, the most enormous crime, involving all the worst offences, of fraud, pillage, and even murder, was properly declared to be a felony, and punishable as such, that, therefore, the same penalty should be attached to bribery—on the contrary, the address expressly stated that it should be dealt with as a criminal misdemeanour, which it is, and made punishable as such, and that candidates and their agents would no longer be guilty of it when they found that they were liable to imprisonment with hard labour, and that the road from the hustings led not to the House of Commons, but to the treadmill. Not one word was said to recommend treating the offence as a felony. That those guilty of it, both those who took, and still more, they who gave bribes, were guilty in his view, that the poor men whom they bribed, that these were guilty of a most grievous offence, and one which sapped the very foundation of our constitution, was his deliberate opinion at the time he delivered the address, and this opinion had been confirmed by whatever had since passed. He felt quite convinced that the course recommended at the Congress, and to which no one had offered the least objection, must be pursued by those elsewhere and in their Lordships' House, if they were in earnest in their efforts to extirpate bribery. No other means had the least chance of proving effectual. But treating bribery as what it is, an infamous offence, and punishing it as such, would have the happy effect of putting it down.