The Marquess of Normanby
moved, that their Lordships should resolve themselves into a Committee on the Bribery at Elections Bill.
fully agreed in the strong desire which had been generally expressed, that some measure should be immediately passed through the Houses of Parliament which would have the effect of putting an end to 1561 that abominable and wholesale system of bribery which had been carried on in so many cases throughout the kingdom. But however anxious he was to see such a bill passed, he must say that, in his opinion, the bill which was now before the House, and which purported to be a bill that would at once get rid of this abuse, was, on the contrary, a measure which would give every indemnity for the most wholesale bribery, and its more disastrous consequences. The bill first said, that all persons whatsoever shall be compellable (without any exception) to come forward and give evidence as to any act of bribery which may have come to their knowledge, including not only agents, including not only the parties, including not only the accessories to the bribery, but also including the evidence of the wife against the husband, without allowing any indemnity; also including the evidence of the counsel against the client, and the evidence of the solicitor and attorney against the client; yes, even the attorney was bound by the first section of this act, to give evidence against his client. If, after the client had perpetrated the offence, he came to consult his counsel or his attorney, that counsel or attorney who was to defend him, after the offence had been committed,—this confidential communication, which had been made for the purpose of aiding the defence of the client, might, by this bill, be extorted from his counsel or solicitor; and this he thought was contrary to every rule that had ever been laid down for the administration of justice. If it were said, that it had been intended to make an exception in the case of a wife as against her husband, or a solicitor or counsel against his client, that the judge would have power to make an exception in favour of these cases, he would say, that the judge had no right whatever, by the bill as it stood, to exclude any such cases at all. In fact, the question would not come on before the judges, but before the chairman of committees in the other House of Parliament. The second section enacted, "As well the candidates at any such election, or Members of the House of Commons." Now, he thought it might be as well if the word "and" was here introduced, instead of the word "or." And then it went on to say—" The chairman, by the direction of the committee, shall have a right to report to the House, if the party refuses to give 1562 evidence, for the interposition of their authority or censure." The interposition of their authority or censure ! Now, he would ask, did mortal man ever hear of an Act of Parliament drawn up in this way? Why was it not written "their authority and censure?" Surely, if the House possessed authority, they also would possess the power of marking their approval or censure. Very little care, he thought, had been taken in the drawing up of the bill. The first section compelled the disclosure of bribery. Now, if they admitted the stringency of the first clause, they would see that there was no power given of an indemnity in favour of any persons. He therefore thought, that the only indemnity which it gave was, to secure the commission of a wholesale system of bribery. It would secure those who had given and taken bribes; for all that a party had to do, who had employed a score or two of corrupt and profligate persons to distribute money for the purpose of bribery at elections,—all that a party who was engaged in the defence of the persons who had been guilty of bribery —all that such a party had to do to secure an absolute and perpetual indemnity, both from a civil suit and criminal proceedings, and the censure of Parliament, was simply to go through the ceremony of calling up every one of those corrupt persons, and putting a single question to each. The present bill, in the 7th clause, would give an indemnity to candidates, as well as agents, guilty of bribery; for while such candidates, being proved guilty of bribery, were not re-eligible under the present law, they would be re-eligible under the bill proposed. The candidate being unseated on one allegation might, after a dexterous confession of his agent, go down again to his constituents, and be re-elected. It would also, in a great degree, indemnify agents. Would their Lordships pass such a bill? But being most anxious to prevent, as much as possible, the recurrence of acts which were most dangerous to the franchise, and the freedom of election itself, as well as subversive of the rights, liberties, and morals of the people, he would be happy to support any measure calculated to put a stop to those evils. The fourth clause, he allowed, was an exception to his general censure of the bill, and therefore he would retain it.
§ Lord Abinger
concurred in all the animadversions of his noble and learned 1563 Friend. Indeed, they were unanswerable So hastily and crudely had this bill evidently been framed, that the inference from its contents naturally was, that its authors really did not intend that it should pass. A bill on such a difficult and important question of legislation should have been drawn up only after solemn and laborious consideration. But here we had a measure brought forward on the very eve of the close of the Session, most hastily put together, and yet proposing the enactment of clauses, which would be contrary to all the law and usages of this country; for such was the character of the section which would compel parties to criminate themselves. Even if it were right and just to make so great a change, surely it ought not to be done in the hasty legislation of one night. And, after all, the bill, if passed, would, as his noble and learned Friend had shown, protect bribery instead of prevent it. Still, he admitted that the fourth clause was a good one, and acquiescing in the wish of his noble and learned Friend, he would consent to its going into committee.
The Marquess of Normanby
hoped the noble and learned Lord would withdraw the insinuation he had thrown out to the effect that the author of the bill did not intend that it should pass. The bill might be objectionable in many respects; but, for all that, he could assure the noble and learned Lord, the framers of it had been actuated by none but sincere intentions for its enactment.
§ Lord Abinger
meant nothing personally offensive to the framers of the bill, he only spoke of the impression which its contents would make on the mind of any man.
§ Their Lordships in committee on the bill.
§ All the clauses in the bill, except the preamble, and the fourth clause, were rejected; and the preamble and the clause adverted to having been agreed to, the House resumed.
§ Report to be received.