HL Deb 14 March 1882 vol 267 cc871-7

, in asking the Lord Chancellor, If he would accept Captain Pearson's explanations, and reinstate him in the commission of the peace, since he had not thought it necessary to remove the three magistrates censured by the Macclesfield Bribery Commissioners as the leading cause of corruption on the Liberal side? said, he had altered the Notice of the Question since he first put it down; because he thought it would be more fitting to invite the clemency alone, rather than the severity of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, and also because, as he was a neighbour to the magistrates who had been blamed by the Bribery Commissioners—and who, perhaps, deserved removal from the Bench more than Captain Pearson—he should be sorry to appear to invite that severity upon them which had befallen their colleague. He had also to correct a mistake in the Notice Paper, owing to his having put it down from memory. "The leading cause" should have been "a leading cause." As the Correspondence between the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and Captain Pearson had been laid before the House, it would not be necessary to take up the time of the House by recapitulating what was contained in those letters. Judging from the Correspondence, Captain Pearson had been removed from the Bench more on account of his answers to the Bribery Commissioners than for his act in obtaining for Mr. Eaton, one of the candidates, and for his agent, the sum of A3;200. He would first endeavour to show that Captain Pearson's act was an innocent and an unavoidable one, and then offer to the noble and learned Lord some explanations beyond those which had been already given him. Captain Pearson was at the same time an old friend and the host of Mr. Eaton, and in business relations with him, and a running account existed between them. Mr. May asked Captain Pearson for this A3;200 the night before the election, in order not to disturb Mr. Godwin, who was Mr. Eaton's treasurer. The A3;200 was handed over, and simultaneously the same day repaid by being entered to Captain Pearson's credit in the running account between him and Mr. Eaton. Captain Pearson had told the Bribery Commissioners that this money was repaid a few days afterwards, by which he meant that the running account was then balanced; but in like manner, as a sale and purchase were completed at the time of the agreement between the parties, and not at the time of payment, so this A3;200, having been entered to Captain Pearson's credit on the same day that he had handed over that amount of cash to Mr. Eaton's agent, there was no loan. If there had been a loan, interest would have capable of being charged upon it. Would the noble and learned Lord state whether in law interest could be charged upon a sum simultaneously entered into the debtor and creditor sides of a running account? If not, it followed that there was no loan, that Captain Pearson did nothing upon which the Commissioners had a right to examine him, and their examination of him was an unjustifiable and inquisitorial search into his abstract opinions as to bribery, which might equally well have been addressed to himself or the noble Earl who represented the Home Office. He was asked by the Commissioners if he understood that the money lent by him was intended for bribery, and he unguardedly answered that he supposed it was. After all the revelations that had been made as to bribery in Macclesfield, this was a very natural answer; and the only defect in it was the omission of the word "now," which would have conveyed his real meaning, and have protected him from the imputation made against him that he was careless as to bribery. He would now read to their Lordships the questions and answers given before the Bribery Commission, which had been referred to in the letter of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack. He was asked—"What particular purpose of the election did you suppose it was for at that hour of the morning, or so late at night?" and he replied—"I supposed it was for the use of the expenses of the election." He was then asked—"What class of expenses of the election? "and he answered—"I considered it was to be used for bribery." The next question was—"That is what you intended should become of it?" and the reply was—"That is what I expected would become of it. I do not know, of course." The question and answer which preceded this last should, however, be taken into consideration, as it went far to confirm Captain Pearson's statement that he only answered the Bribery Commissioners according to his later knowledge gathered from their proceedings. The want of exactitude and definiteness as to time was very excusable in a military officer who had served long in India and the Crimea, and who was without suspicion as to the tendency of the questions put to him; and the defects of composition in the printed Correspondence, for which a military man need not blush, since too much literary proficiency spoilt a Cavalry captain, proved that Captain Pearson gave a candid answer to the Secretary of Commissioners, unassisted by anyone who might have better represented the real facts of the case. He would now read to the House an extract from the Report of the Bribery Commissioners, describing the conduct of three magistrates who, more fortunate than Captain Pearson, had not been invited to a voluntary retirement from the magistracy— Your Commissioners, though they have abstained from scheduling as hirers Aldermen Wright, Bullock, and Clarke (all of them Justices of the Peace), cannot pass over without notice conduct on the part of those gentlemen which must be regarded as a leading cause of the corruption on the Liberal side. Though fully convinced at the meeting held in November, 1879, that not more than A3;500 could be legally expended by either of the candidates at the last election, the two former agreed in urging the necessity and advisability of spending double that amount, over bearing by argument the scruples which Mr. Chadwick professed to entertain, and his undoubted reluctance to pay more, if possible, than the above-mentioned sum. Alderman Wright, 'who,' said Mr. Chadwick, 'was the person who convinced me,' told us that they' were driven to consider the desirability of fighting anything but a pure election.' Most persons would think that Captain Pearson's act of facilitating Mr. Eaton's obtaining some cash at short notice, and at an untimely hour, was a trifle compared with that of over ruling the scruples of a candidate and inducing him to resort to bribery. The first observation that would be made upon these words of the Commissioners was, that they had the power to schedule as bribers these three magistrates, for a Judge did not say that he abstained from sentencing a man convicted of petty larceny to penal servitude for life, because he could not give such a sentence; if he were indiscreet, as Judges seldom are, he might say he regretted not being able to sentence him to penal servitude. Then the question arose, why did the Commissioners abstain from scheduling these three magistrates? Was it because they caused corruption only on the Liberal side? Impartiality and justice demanded that the same measure should be meted out equally to Conservatives and Liberals. It might be accidental that this was not done at Macclesfield, except that a similar mishap occurred elsewhere, and Mr. Crompton Roberts, a Conservative, had been removed from the Bench, whilst his Liberal fellow-offender had been left upon it. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack did not read this passage of the Report of the Bribery Commission, which was very long, or it was not brought under his notice; or else the noble and learned Lord might tell their Lordships that he had no occasion to doubt the impartiality and judgment of the Commissioners, and that he merely followed the schedule. This would be an all-sufficient answer if magistrates were removed from the Commission of the Peace only for legal offences; but as, on the contrary, they were constantly removed at the discretion of those who held the power of removing, for what might be described as mere indications of unfitness to be on the Commission of the Peace, the active part as to bribery taken by these magistrates could hardly have been passed over by an impartial Commission; and now that the words of the Commissioners had been brought under the notice of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, the responsibility as to impartiality or the reverse would revert to the noble and learned Lord. He hoped he had succeeded in exonerating Captain Pearson, and in showing that he had been very hardly dealt with for that which must appear to be very trifling and venial when compared with the action of other magistrates, and that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would be willing to remedy the apparent breach of impartiality on the part of the Bribery Commissioners. He also hoped he had succeeded in his endeavour to avoid using any words that might seem wanting in respect, not only to the high Office of the noble and learned Lord, but also to that respect and esteem which all of their Lordships felt for his high character.


said, he did not complain of the manner in which his noble Friend had brought forward this subject; but, as regarded one point, he might state that before the end of the last Session of Parliament, and therefore before the illness to which his noble Friend had referred, he had given every attention to it, and had considered the evidence produced before the Commissioners. With regard to the case of Captain Pearson and the other cases which his noble Friend had mentioned, he had only to say this—that he had taken the law for his guide. The principles on which he had acted in these very unpleasant cases were laid down in a letter written by his Secretary of Commissions on the 12th of September, 1881, to Captain Pearson. In that letter it was said— The Lord Chancellor has not felt that, when a gentleman in the position of taking an active part in the business of elections, as in your case, has knowingly done an act declared by the Statute to be bribery, he could be properly retained in the Commission of the Peace. On this rule he has acted in several cases, in which he would have been glad to find it consistent with his duty to take a different course. He (the Lord Chancellor) could state that not a single magistrate who had been scheduled by the Commissioners, and who before them had had an opportunity of stating his own case, and had not, by his own statement, succeeded in exonerating himself, had been retained in the Commission of the Peace. All these magistrates had been removed without any distinction of Party, and without any respect of persons. Among the gentlemen so removed was one whom he was happy to number among his personal friends, and who, he felt convinced, entertained no corrupt purpose; but he had done acts which he (the Lord Chancellor) could not hold to be, in a legal point of view, erroneously estimated by the Commissioners. There were also several other individuals among them whose faults were certainly as venial as Captain Pearson's could be supposed to be. Several Liberal magistrates at Macclesfield had been scheduled as having been guilty of bribery, and they had been all removed; one, at least, was as deserving of consideration as Captain Pearson, who had himself admitted in evidence that he had advanced A3;200 to Mr. Eaton, one of the candidates, knowing that it would be used for bribery. The circumstances, in his opinion, were such as to make it impossible to deny that the Commissioners' decision was a justifiable one; and he would have been wanting in his duty if any regard for the position and character of Captain Pearson—who, he had no doubt, was a gentleman worthy of esteem in all other respects—had induced him to make an exception in that gentleman's favour when he was removing others not more culpable from the Bench of Magistrates. The law as to the course to be followed by the Commissioners was clear, and so it was in regard to the removal of persons who might, on a regular trial, be found guilty of bribery, from the Commission of the Peace. Such persons, being found guilty, were incapable of holding any judicial office, or from acting on the Commission of the Peace. Though Captain Pearson was not tried for the offence, yet, when he found such a Report against him, after he was heard before the Commissioners, and had the opportunity of telling his own story, when he really admitted the fact, he would not have been justified in treating him as a fit person for the office of Justice of the Peace. He invited Captain Pearson to send in his resignation, and he did so; but if he had not done so he must have removed him. He was not open to the charge of having acted inconsistently in. the case of the three magistrates referred to by the Macclesfield Commissioners, for those three gentlemen had not been reported as guilty of bribery, and no sufficient evidence had been adduced against them to justify such a Report, though it was true they were censured for other acts by the Commissioners. It was not possible for him to go beyond the law. These gentlemen, whether or not they had entered out of political zeal into a competition in which they were aware that some illegal expenditure would be likely to take place on both sides, had not placed themselves in such a position as to be treated by the law as guilty of any offence. The evidence which they had given, and the evidence given against them, had failed to bring home to them any specific offence. There might be illegal expenditure, which was not bribery as defined by law, and which the law had not visited with the penalties of bribery. Therefore, though he regretted that any gentlemen in the position of magistrates should have placed themselves in a position to deserve any such censure as that which had been passed upon these three magistrates, he could not, as he had said, go beyond the law, and measure, in a manner which the law did not authorize, the precise extent of their culpability. He hoped that he had fully explained to the House how these matters really stood.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.