HC Deb 10 August 1859 vol 155 cc1315-9

said, that in the absence of the Chairman of the Select Committee which had lately reported on the Wakefield Election, he rose to move an Address for a Commission to inquire into the corrupt practices at the late election for the borough of Wakefield. The Committee met on the 27th of July, and after one day's examination of witnesses agreed to the following Resolutions:— That William Henry Leatham was by his agents guilty of bribery at the last election for the borough of Wakefield. That William Henry Leatham is not duly elected a burgess to serve in the present Parliament for the borough of Wakefield. That the last election for the said borough is a void election. That it was proved to the Committee that Thomas Beaumont has been bribed by the payment of £10; that John Jackson has been bribed by the payment of £30; that John Cousins has been bribed by the payment of £25; and that George Senior has been bribed by the payment of £30. That it was not proved that such bribery was committed with the consent of the sitting Member. That there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at the last election for the borough of Wakefield. The only point in the report of the Select Committee which seemed worthy of remark was the fact, that while only four cases of bribery appeared to have been distinctly proved, the Committee felt it their duty to report that they bad reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed. In explanation of that he might state, that after one day's evidence the sitting Member retired from the contest, but the petitioners declared that they never intended to impute bribery personally to him. Under these circumstances the Committee felt it their duty to report that in their opinion bribery had extensively prevailed at the late election. They did not call for all the evidence they might have called for on that point, but the evidence laid before them was quite sufficient to induce them to believe, he might say, unanimously, that extensive bribery had prevailed on both sides. These circumstances—first, the retirement of the sitting Member after one day's examination of witnesses; secondly, the appearance of strangers in the borough who had not been found since, although every means had been taken to ascertain their whereabouts; thirdly, the large amount that was paid to those voters who had been proved to have been bribed; fourthly, the general concurrence of all the witnesses that there never was an election at which so much money was spent as at this last election, induced the Committee unanimously to come to the conclusion that there never was a case in which a Commission of inquiry was more necessary than in the present. It was, therefore, his duty to move, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that a Commission might be appointed to inquire into the corrupt practices which prevailed at the late election for the borough of Wakefield, and that Mr. Serjeant Pigott, Mr. Henry Willes, and Mr. W. Slade, be the Commissioners.


said, it was not his duty to defend the conduct of the constituency of Wakefield at the late election, but he would appeal to the House whether there were sufficient grounds for the inquiry for which the hon. Gentleman had moved. This, he believed, was the first instance in which any charge of any description had been made with regard to the borough of Wakefield. He happened to reside in the neighbourhood, and he knew that hitherto the elections had been conducted with great purity, and he believed he was justified in saying that there was a unanimous desire on the part of both the political sections in the town and on the part of men of all classes that another election should immediately take place. His reason for saying this was that at the present moment there was considerable political excitement in the town, occasioned not so much by the late election as by the party feeling that had sprung up since the Select Committee inquired into the late election. It would be a great misfortune to the town if that state of feeling were allowed to exist throughout the recess. If any advantage could be obtained by the Commission which the hon. Member had moved for, he would at once assent to his Motion; but there was no instance on record of such Commissions having been of any service at all. In this case some more instances of bribery might probably be ascertained by a Commission, but their ascertainment would create a great deal of bad feeling and acrimony in the town. He would admit the justice of the Select Committee's decision, but he hoped that no such step would be taken against the borough as the hon. Member had suggested, inasmuch as it was not the case of a borough lying under the charge of electoral corruption on former occasions.


said, the evidence taken before a Select Committee was no test of the extent to which bribery had prevailed at an election, and the circumstances detailed by the hon. Member showed the necessity of an inquiry by a Commission in this case. If a Commission were not appointed, the country would expect that at least the Committee would continue the inquiry they had begun. But that mode of inquiry would impose too great a burden on hon. Members, and considerable expense would be incurred in bringing witnesses up to London. He therefore cordially supported the Motion for a Commission.


said, that he opposed the Motion not on the grounds stated by the hon. and gallant Colonel, but on the ground that Commissions were always jobs. He never knew an instance in which a Commission such as had been moved for was appointed that some lawyers were not enabled to make a grand job of it. For instance, a short time ago there was a Commission to inquire into certain acts of bribery which were alleged to have been committed in Galway, and what had been the result? The Commission reported, but no further step was taken. A writ was moved for Galway, and Galway, he supposed, had been entirely cleared of bribery. Why should not those who had been proved to have bribed voters at the late election at Wakefield, as well as those voters themselves, be prosecuted, as had been recommended in the case of the Beverley election? Wakefield, said the hon. and gallant Colonel, hitherto had been perfectly pure. Wakefield, no doubt, was pure till it was found out, but now that it had been found out he hoped that the bribers and the bribed would be prosecuted. He protested against putting the country to the expense of a Commission.


said, one of the objections of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was that nothing followed from the appointment of a Commission in the case of Galway. But although nothing was done in that case, the facts elicited by that Commission would probably have great effect in the discussion of the forthcoming Reform Bill next Session. In this case of Wakefield the fact that sums of £40 and £50 had been paid to voters, who, however, in every case voted against the man from whom they took the money, showed clearly that there must have been very strong reasons indeed to have influenced them thus to vote. He had sat upon the Committee. and although their inquiry had been a short one it was their unanimous opinion that there was the strongest ground for issuing a Commission.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave humbly to represent to Your Majesty, that a Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to try a Petition complaining of an undue Election and Return for the Borough of Wakefield, have reported to the House, that there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at the last Election for the said Borough of Wakefield: We therefore humbly pray Your Majesty, that Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause inquiry to be made, pursuant to the provisions of the Act of Parliament passed in the sixteenth year of the reign of Your Majesty, intituled "An Act to provide for more effectual inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament," by the appointment of Mr. Serjeant Pigott, William Henry Willes, esquire, and Wyndbam Slade, esquire, as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such corrupt practices: Ordered, That the said Address be communicated to the Lords at a Conference, and their concurrence desired thereto: Ordered, That a Conference be desired with the Lords upon the subject matter of an Address to be presented to Her Majesty, under the provisions of the Act of the 15th and 16th of Her present Ma- esty, c. 57; and that the Clerk do go to the Lords, and desire the said Conference.