HC Deb 25 June 1839 vol 48 cc829-40
Mr. Ewart

rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the allegations contained in the Wigan petition (presented by him on the 10th of June) complaining of the abduction and violence practised towards the voters at the last Wigan election. When a candidate went down to a borough with which he was previously unacquainted, upon an invitation from a large body, and when he had obtained the promises of a majority, but the voters were carried off, and so prevented from exercising their own free-will, surely the House would consider it as a more aggravated case than even corruption; it was an attack upon the Constitution of the country. The House punished corruption. The case he had to detail was, in his opinion, of a much more aggravated character, and called imperatively for the intercession of the House. But those cases were not of such an aggravated nature as the present, because, in those cases, the parties had acted under the excited feelings of the moment; but, in this case, the abduction had been premeditated many days before the intended election, and these persons had been kept away until the final close of the poll. The persons guilty of this outrage had done him the honour to select voters who had signed the requisition to him; they had not attempted to carry off any of those whose opinions might be deemed doubtful, but those had been fixed upon who, having signed the requisition, might be considered as bound to vote for him. There was another circumstance of aggravation — those who had been carried off were poor men who had not the power, the wealth, or the influence, to defend themselves. He, therefore, trusted the House would be more earnest in the defence of them, than of those whose station gave them the power of standing up in defence of their own privileges. The petition contained a detail of the circumstances of the case, into which he would not now enter. The cases of abduction might be divided into three classes. First, voters who had been confined in their own houses, and obliged to remain there, or to escape into the houses of their neighbours. Second, those voters who had been seized in the streets of Wigan, locked up and drugged with opiates, and thus prevented from recording their votes. The last class comprised those who had been violently seized in the streets and carried into back rooms, forcibly held down, drugged with opiates, and forced into chaises, conducted to a distance, many of them to Liverpool, and kept there until the poll was closed. All these voters had signed the requisition to him, and it was rather hard that, after having been deprived by these means of his voters, he should find himself assailed by an election petition. He thought this also was an aggravation of the case, that those persons who, in Liverpool, had confined these voters, and took from them their shoes, refusing to permit them to leave the rooms for any purposes whatsoever, did so for the purposes of gambling, thus, by the perpetration of one vice, encouraging another. He trusted the House would listen to the prayer of the petitioners, and vindicate at once the privileges of the electors, and the privileges of the House itself. In accordance with the wish of his constituents, he begged to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the allegations contained in the Wigan petition (presented on the 10th of June) complaining of abduction and violence practised towards the voters at the last Wigan Election.

Mr. G. W. Hope

trusted to be able, in a very few words, to show the House, that this motion ought never to have been brought forward, and that it ought not to be acceded to. The hon. Member for Wigan had divided his cases of alleged outrage into three classes. He would endeavour to take each class separately, and dispose of it. First, however, he would advert to that case which stood third on the list in the petition, and which seemed by the parties concerned to have been looked upon as of peculiar importance, from the singular circumstance that the individuals charged with the offences there stated had been prosecuted for them, brought to trial, and — acquitted. The case he referred to was that of William Riley, which was described in the petition in these words:— That, among the rest, John Riley, of Wigan, beerseller, a voter who had signed the requisition to the said William Ewart, and had promised him his vote, was, on the evening of Thursday, the seventh day of March, invited to the Eagle and Child Inn, where the said John Hodson Kearsley's committee and friends assembled. That when the said John Riley arrived opposite to the Eagle and Child Inn, he was forcibly dragged into the house, and there held down upon a chair by one man, while another held his arms, a third held up his head, and a fourth poured some liquid down his throat, which produced almost instantaneous stupor. That in that state the said John Riley was forced into a chaise, taken down to Liverpool to a public house in St. Vincent-street, kept by a man named Peter Stubbs, and there deprived of his hat and shoes, and confined up stairs, and not allowed to go out, even for the purpose of relieving; nature, until after the close of the poll on Saturday afternoon, when the parties by whom he had been taken to Liverpool brought him back to Wigan in a chaise, and set him down in one of the streets in Wigan about midnight. That whilst at Liverpool, in a state of unconsciousness, the said John Riley had spirits and narcotics administered, and was from time to time struck on the top of his head, and thrown upon the ground, and fallen upon by some of the men who took him down. That, owing to the liquids administered to him, the said John Riley remained in a state of unconsciousness from the Thursday night until the Saturday morning, and has since suffered much pain, both internally and externally, from the treatment he then received. That when restored to consciousness, the said John Riley repeatedly demanded, both of the landlord and the parties who had taken him to Liverpool, to be set at liberty, in order that he might return to Wigan; but, under various pretences, they refused to liberate him. That James Riley, of Wigan, retailer of beer, after being treated at the Shovel and Broom public-house, by voters in the interest of the said John Hodson Kearsley, was invited to go to the Eagle and Child, under the pretence that a person of the name of Nightingale, a Chartist, from Manchester, who was proposed as a candidate, wanted to see him. That the said James Riley went to the Eagle and Child, and on his arrival was forced into the same chaise with the said John Riley, and taken with him to Liverpool, and with him deprived of shoes and hat, confined until Saturday afternoon, and then brought back to Wigan at midnight. That the said James Riley resisted violently, broke the chaise windows, and threatened to stab the men unless they let him go, on which a voter and active partisan of Mr. Kearsley's, and actively engaged in forcing both John and James Riley into the chaise, with a knife inflicted a wound on the said James Riley. A clearer case, if the statements were true, could certainly not be shown, yet on the 13th of April last the parties so accused were tried and acquitted. He did not know why the hon. Member had omitted that most important fact; but it seemed most singular, that he should come down to the House and ask for a committee to try, or rather, in fact, to re-try, a question that had already been adjudicated on by the ordinary tribunals, and, at the same time, not inform the House, that such trial and acquittal had taken place. The next case he would refer to was that of a person named Blomerley, thus described in the petition:— That William Blomerley, of Wigan, manufacturer and shopkeeper, a requisitionist and voter in favour of Mr. Ewart, was, about six o'clock of the morning of the day of polling, violently seized in the open street by a number of people, forced into a public-house in Wigan-lane, called the Bowling green (where a large party of Mr. Kearsley's partisans were then assembled), confined in a room there until a post-chaise arrived, into which the said William Blomerley was forced, and taken to the Ridgway Arms public-house in Adlington, distant seven or eight miles from Wigan, and there confined until he was rescued. That there were three men in the chaise who guarded the said William Blomerley to Adlington, and after-wards acted as guards over him when confined in the Ridgway Arms public house, and frequently treated the said William Blomerley with great harshness and violence. That the said William Blomerley remonstrated strongly, and resisted violently throughout the whole proceeding, and broke the chaise windows in the attempt to make himself known and heard; and, during his confinement at Adlington, broke the windows of the room he was confined in, and remonstrated frequently with the landlord, James Fowler, and demanded his liberty, but without effect; and the said James Fowler had in attendance a number of delfmen in his employ, with weapons, for the purpose of resisting, as he said, any attempt that might be made to rescue Blomerley. That the first person who went and demanded the liberation of Blomerley was Alex. Thompson, who was threatened with violence unless he went away. Thompson then left the house, and soon afterwards returned with three others, but the doors were closed; they were refused admittance; and the people about the house began to close the window shutters. That the party again left the house, and having met Blomerley's wife and several others, they returned with them, when Mrs. Blomerley demanded to see her husband, but was refused by James Fowler, the landlord. That some of the party then came to Wigan for assistance, and returned with two police officers and about fourteen assistants in an omnibus, when Mrs. Blomerley and the police officers again demanded of Fowler that he would open the door, and liberate Blomerley, but he still refused, until the parties promised to pay for a barrel of ale to be given away by him. That Blomerley was brought to Wigan in the omnibus about two o'clock in the afternoon, and voted in favour of Mr. Ewart. There it was clear the parties were persons well known, and the alleged assaults amounted to a case of cutting and maiming. Why were they not prosecuted as for that offence? In the absence of any such prosecution, and where the offence was one clearly cognisable by the ordinary criminal law, it was really monstrous to call for a Select Committee of that House. But another opportunity of investigating the facts had been afforded by the inquiry into the validity of the return at the last Wigan election. The facts charged were indeed in some measure put in issue, the agent for the sitting Member having claimed to place on the poll the very votes in respect of which all the alleged outrages had occurred. Thus the hon. Member had not only had an opportunity of trying these persons before a court of justice, but also of bringing the facts in question before the election committee, a sworn jury, and where the witnesses were examined On oath. Yet he came down to ask that House to grant him a Select Committee to inquire into the same facts, a tribunal where the witnesses would not be examined on oath. He would refer the hon. Member to what had occurred in the case of Cromarty, where certain persons had carried off a voter, made him drunk, and it was even alleged, that they drugged him. Those persons were convicted by a jury, yet they were afterwards made justices of the peace. Surely such a case as that ought to make the hon. Gentleman less eager to call on the House to express their indignation against persons in the lower ranks of life for doing precisely the same thing. The only difference he could see between the case of Cromarty and that of Wigan was, that whereas in the former case the parties were convicted and afterwards made justices of the peace; in the latter they were acquitted, and the Government were called on to make them justices of the peace. Other cases were mentioned in the petition, as to one of which he would only observe, that one of those persons who was, in the petition, stated to have been overcome by stupor and in a state of unconsciousness, walked out of the town without assistance. Another of the persons referred to was found in a chaise in the streets, at one o'clock in the morning, on the look-out for voters of the other party; and in order to prevent him from doing mischief, he was pulled out of the chaise and shut up for a certain time. Another case stated in the petition was one where the voter was prevented by terror from coming out of his house to go and vote. The whole charge in the petition was merely, that about a hundred persons assembled before this voter's house, and that he was terrified. Look at the circumstances which occurred in the Cromarty case. They must be fresh in the recollection of the House. The parties were, in that case, actually tried and convicted; yet when the subject was afterwards brought forward in the House of Commons, it was argued that the whole affair was a mere election frolic. In the present case, all that was alleged was that a number of persons assembled before the house door of the voter the night before the election, and that he and others were frightened. The last case in the petition was that of the persons who— Entered the house of James Dobb, and while he was in bed, and notwithstanding the resistance of his wife and some whom she called upon to aid her, some forced their way up stairs, and some sat down in the house and began to smoke. It further appeared, that Mr. Kearsley's partisans resisted the constables, and it was not until James Dobb's brother threatened, to stab the first who touched his brother, that they were induced to leave the house. Why, this was one of the commonest kind of election squabbles, and surely not a case on which to found a call for the interference of a Committee of that House. The hon. Member had referred to what he conceived to be precedents for the course which he recommended. He had referred to the cases of Liverpool, Stafford, and York. Those cases, however, were very different from the present. In all those cases no election petition had been presented, and no opposition, therefore, given for substantiating the alleged cases. But in the present case not only had the parties been acquitted by a court of justice, but there had been a Committee of that House before which the costs had been put on issue, and where they might have been contested. Another point of difference between this case and those referred to by the hon. Member was, that the complaint in the present instance was of individual outrages, and not of any great and general corruption or malpractices. Matters of that sort alone, such as nearly concerned the public welfore, were made the subject of application to that House for Select Committees. The offences here complained of came under the description of simple breaches of the peace, and ought all to have been treated as such. In the cases referred to by the hon. Member as precedents, the object of the inquiry had always been to found a proposition for disfranchisement or some step of that sort, as regarded the place in which the alleged offences occurred. But no such result was proposed in regard to the borough of Wigan. What result did the hon. Member propose to himself from the present motion? Was it that abduction and cutting and maiming should be declared a crime They were a crime already. Was it that the power of prosecuting those parties should be given? That power existed already. Suppose it had been the case of Mr. Blomerley, would the House have directed the Attorney-general to prosecute a party who had already been tried by the proper tribunal and acquitted? Would they submit to the absurdity of bringing the former acquittal pleaded, as a bar to the prosecution? What then was the object of the motion? If, after the question had been tried before the regular tribunal in the case most relied upon—if after having had the opportunity of investigating the case before a sworn committee, where the evidence would have been on oath—the object of the hon. Member was, by his present motion, to have the case investigated by a committee before whom the evidence would not be on oath;—he could not but say, that such an attempt was not very creditable, and that of itself it formed a sufficient ground for the House to reject the motion.

Mr. Warburton

denied, that because there had been a criminal prosecution the House was to be precluded from entering further into the question. There might not be enough evidence to criminate a person in a court of justice, and yet quite enough to induce the House to interfere and put a stop to the practices of which they were accused. It should not be forgotten, that the object of this motion was not to criminate individuals; but to draw the attention of the House to practices that were prevalent, in order that they might interfere and put a stop to them. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had also urged, that full opportunity for an investigation of the alleged outrages had been afforded before the select committee, where the parties were examined on oath. He surely forgot what was the legitimate object of such a committee. It was for one party or the other to seat themselves as Members—that done and they had nothing more to contend for. Was it their business, at their own private expence, to investigate facts of a general nature, bearing more upon the public welfare than upon their own title to their seats? If either Members or their agents were to attempt such a course they would be guilty of the extreme of folly. In the present instance he conceived, that there was primâfacie evidence, sufficient to induce the House to go into the inquiry necessary to establish the existence and the nature of the practice complained of, and he should, therefore, support the motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Williams Wynn

had observed the present motion with surprise, having expected, that the hon. Member would have pointed out some distinct object to be attained by or to result from the inquiry. The hon. Member alleged, that the privileges of that House had been violated, and the freedom of election violated. Unquestionably that would afford good ground for inquiry, if with a view to the punishment of those who had been guilty of such offences; but it appeared, that in the present instance, the individuals had been brought to trial and acquitted. The hon. Member for Bridport had suggested another object to be attained by the inquiry—prevention of the recurrence of such offences. If they were offences that could not be punished by the law before the ordinary tribunals, the subject would be well worthy the attention of the House; but the fact was, that there was not one of the offences charged that was not cognizable by the common law. Some of the offences were made assaults; and others were in effect conspiracies to prevent the voters from going to the poll; but all were such cases, as, if moved before a court of justice, would be visited with adequate punishment. If the charges in this petition had been proved before the election committee, it would have been the duty of that committee to have reported them to the House, and the House would have ordered a prosecution. But that course not having been pursued, what was there to prevent the hon. Member or any other person from bringing those parties to trial at the very next assizes? He entertained very great objections to such inquiries being carried on before committees, before whom the witnesses were not exa mined on oath. If prosecutions were ordered on such evidence, there was the possibility of the witnesses having perjured themselves. Such a case did occur three years ago, and the accused, although prosecuted by the order of the House, was acquitted by the jury, who found that the witnesses had perjured themselves. He never would object, however, to such investigations as the present being carried on by the House, when an adequate mode of trial was not already provided by the constitution; but he certainly did object, and should always object, to any attempt to pass by the regularly constituted court, with its sworn jury and sworn witnesses, for the purpose of erecting within that House a tribunal before whom the witnesses would not be on oath.

Mr. Aglionby

thought that the arguments of the hon. Member for Bridport had not been met by those who had opposed the motion. Those arguments were unanswered and unanswerable. He regretted much that the parties had been indicted at all, and that the whole case had not been in the first instance brought before that House. In a court of justice the accused themselves could not be examined, but before a committee of that House they would be asked who had set them on to commit the outrages, and who had paid them. Such an inquiry could not fairly be expected to be gone into before an election committee, where the expense fell upon Members themselves or candidates. A Member would be a madman who entered on such an inquiry before an election committee. The inquiry was one intimately connected with the public welfare, and ought, therefore, to be carried on at the public expense. The practices which this petition brought to light would, he hoped, contribute to convince the House, as they had helped to convince him, of the necessity of the ballot as a protection to the voter. He was for having every case of corruption and intimidation brought before the House, and exposed, that the necessity for the ballot, as a protection, might be demonstrated. He hoped that the motion would be carried, as an evidence of the necessity which existed for some safeguard of the interests of the public.

Viscount Dungannon

regretted to hear the hon. and learned Member argue in favour of the ballot from this motion. He was satisfied that if the ballot became the law of the land the evils he complained of would be increased tenfold, as there would then exist a greater inducement to the rich and powerful to perpetuate corruption, from the secrecy which would accompany the exercise of the franchise. He must be allowed to say he had never heard argument more grossly misapplied.

Viscount Howick

hoped, that the discussion had on the Ballot a few evenings ago would not now be renewed. He begged most earnestly to impress upon the hon. Member for Wigan the expediency of not pressing the present motion. Although it had been most ably supported by the hon. Member for Bridport, and the hon. Member for Cockermouth, yet he must say, that they had failed to remove from his mind the plain and obvious objection to the appointment of this Committee—that it would be renewing an inquiry, already settled in a court of justice. It was urged, to be sure, that only one case out of the whole had been tried. But, in all probability, that case had been selected because it was supposed to afford the greatest prospect of a conviction—a prospect which would exist still less, perhaps, in any of the remaining cases. He hoped, under the circumstances, the hon. Member would withdraw his motion.

Sir Robert Peel

could not help adverting to the immense extent of inquiry they would be engaged in if they consented to the motion of the hon. Member. In this case there had been inquiry before an election committee, and also before a court of law; and if the House granted the motion under such circumstances, they could never refuse to grant similar motions and applications for inquiry, when there had been no previous inquiry. He presumed this inquiry was to be conducted at the public expense; and if it turned out to be frivolous, what remedy or redress would there be against the party making the complaint? Much of the complaint in the present case appeared to be frivolous above all, the case of James Dobb, when inquiry was called for on the ground, that a number of persons forced their way into his house and smoked tobacco. The petition stated, that James Dobb, of Wigan, mordaunt manufacturer, was a voter who polled for Mr. Ewart, That between five and six o'clock on the morning of the day of polling, about twenty of Mr. Kearsley's partisans went to the house of the said James Dobb, whilst he was in bed, and, notwithstanding the resistance of his wife and persons she requested to aid her, some of them forced their way into the house and up stairs, and some sat down in the house and began to smoke. That on resistance being offered by the constables and others called to protect Mr. Dobb, they were told by some of the partisans of Mr. Kearsley that it was of no use, as they were determined to have him away with them; and it was not until Mr. John Dobb, his brother, had been sent for, and had insisted upon the parties leaving the house, and threatened to stab the first person that offered to touch his brother, that the mob were induced to leave Mr. James Dobb's house. That there were other cases where voters' houses were beset, and the voters induced, by the fear of being forcibly removed, to leave their houses, and, in other instances, parties were removed to a distance and kept there for several days, and one in which a voter was put to bed at the Eagle and Child Inn, deprived of his clothes, and compelled to remain in bed from Wednesday night until Saturday morning. The person who seemed to have misconducted himself was the person who threatened to stab the others. It appeared, however, that these parties left the house of James Dobb, and he could not conceive, what legislative enactment they could pass to prevent the recurrence of such a proceeding for the future. A contested election never occurred in which, within a few days after the contest, complaints were not made by one party or the other. If they consented to such a motion as the present, the House would be constantly engaged in tedious and expensive investigations, and in hardly any case a practical result would be arrived at. He could not conceive what legislative enactment could be passed on this subject which would not be found to be most oppressive and vexatious.

Mr. Brotherton

complained of the existence of similar practices in other boroughs in Lancashire, and stated that the House ought to take effectual steps to put a stop to the system. He should support the motion of his hon. Friend, in the hope that the result would be the carrying some legislative enactment on the subject.

Mr. Wilson Patten

said, that the hon. Member for Wigan must be aware that the accusations of violence were not confined to one side in that borough, but that both parties were implicated.

Mr. Ewart

said, that he should persist in his motion, as he thought that it was the duty of the House to investigate the subject, and prevent the recurrence of such proceedings.

The House divided:—Ayes 36; Noes 81: Majority 45.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Pechell, Captain
Baines, E. Power, J.
Barnard, E. G. Pryme, G.
Berkeley, F. H. Roche, W.
Brabazon, Sir W. Scholefield, J.
Brotherton, J. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Collins, W. Steuart, R.
Duncombe, T. S. Stewart, J.
Easthope, J. Style, Sir. T. C.
Hector, C. J. Thornley, T.
Hobhouse, T. B. Vigors, N.
Hume, J. Wakley, T.
Johnson, Gen. White, A.
Lister, E. C. Williams, W.
Lushington, C. Williams, W. A.
Marsland, H. Wood, G. W.
Melgund, Lord
Muskett, G. A. TELLERS.
O'Connell, D. Ewart, W.
O'Ferrall, M. Warburton, H.
List of the NOES.
Acland, T. D. Jones, T.
Alsager, Richard Knightley, Sir C.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Labouchere, H.
Attwood, W. Lincoln, Earl of
Bagge, W. Lucas, E.
Baring, W. B. Mackenzie, W. F.
Blackstone, W. S. Miles, W.
Bowes, T. Miller, W. H.
Broadwood, H. Molesworth, Sir W.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Morpeth, Visct.
Chute, W. L. Murray, A.
Clerk, Sir G. Nicholl, J.
Corry, rt. hn. A. Norreys, Lord
Dalrymple, Sir A. O'Brien, W. S.
Darby, G. Packe, C. W.
Darlington, Earl of Palmer, G.
De Horsey, S. H. Patten, W.
D'Israeli, B Peel, Sir R.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Perceval, Col.
Dunbar, G. Plumptre, J. P.
Dungannon, Visct. Price, R.
Egerton, W. T. Richards, R.
Eliot, hon. J. E. Rose, Sir G.
Filmer, Sir E. Rutherford, A.
Forester, hon. G. Sheppard, T.
Freshfield, J. W. Somerset, Lord G.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Sugden, Sir E.
Gordon, hon. W. Talfourd, T. N.
Goulburn, H. Thomas, Col. H.
Greene, T. G. Vere, Sir C. B.
Grey, Sir G. Verner, Col.
Henniker, Lord Waddington, H. S.
Hodgson, R. Ward, G. H.
Holmes, W. Wilbraham, G.
Hope, hon. C. Wilbraham, hon. B.
Howick, Visct. Winnington, H.
Hughes, W. B. Wyndham, W.
Humphery, J. Wynn, C. W.
Hutt, W. Young, J.
Ingham, R. TELLERS.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Fremantle, Sir T.
Irving, J. Hope, G. W.