HC Deb 22 June 1859 vol 154 cc447-55

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Baron to serve in this present

on the 9th instant had not yet been presented? The Returns related to the instructions given to the British officers accompanying the French, Sardinian, and Austrian armies in Italy; they were very brief, and he could not understand why they had not been laid upon the table.


said, that the Motion, when agreed to, had not attracted the attention of the Department, and, as there was some difficulty in making the Returns, it had been thought better by the retiring Government to leave the matter to their successors to arrange. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would recur to the subject when the noble Lord the Member for London again took his seat.

Parliament for the Town and Port of Sandwich, in the room of Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen, esquire, who, since his election for the said Town and Port, hath accepted the Office of one of the Commissioners for executing the Offices of Treasurer of the Exchequer of Great Britain and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland."

MR. STEUART moved that the Clerk should read any petition that might have been presented against the Return.

Petition of John Ralph and Henry Langley [presented 21st June], complaining of an undue Election and Return for the Town and Port of Sandwich, read.

Question again proposed.


said, that he had intended to move as an Amendment the suspension of the writ, supposing that the petition claimed the seat for the unsuccessful candidates; under which circumstance, it was not in conformity with the practice of the House that a new writ should be issued. As that was not the case, however, he was not prepared with any precise precedent in point; but he thought that the House ought to be informed what would be the consequence if the gentleman whose return was now petitioned against should be re-elected, and the Committee upon this petition should decide that he had been guilty of bribery. Having directed the attention of the House to the subject—which seemed to him to be one of some difficulty and importance—he left the matter in the hands of more experienced Members; hut he hoped that Mr. Speaker would favour them with his opinion as to what would be the effect of election of the same or any other Gentleman pending the prosecution of a petition.


said, that the circumstance of the seat being claimed or not claimed made, in his opinion, all the difference in the world, because he believed that there was no authority for suspending a writ under circumstances of this description, when the seat was not claimed. A precedent, however, occurred the other way in December, 1852, in reference to the Southampton election, when the seat not being claimed it was decided that the writ should issue.


asked what would be the effect, supposing the decision of the Committee to be that the gentleman now petitioned against had been guilty of bribery, and in the meantime he should he re-elected?


said, that the case appeared to be precisely similar to that which occurred in 1852, in the Southampton case, when, upon the question of the issue of the writ, the matter was fully discussed in that House. The course pursued in that case, therefore, would be a good precedent and rule for the House to follow, unless sub- sequent events had occurred which should induce a contrary decision. In that case there was a petition against Sir Alexander Cockburn—it was, indeed, rather a stronger case than the present, because the petition was, he believed, in a more advanced stage; and when the writ was moved the point entirely turned upon the question of whether or no the seat was claimed by the petition. As upon that occasion the seat was not claimed, the House directed that the writ should issue. In that case the petition was proceeded with; the Committee sat and gave its verdict, and there would be no difficulty, he should presume, in pursuing the same course in the present instance. The hon. and learned Member who had asked him a question on a point of law would be fully competent himself to answer what the result would be of the decision of an election Committee. He did not know that it was necessary for him, therefore, to give any opinion on the subject. The Committee would be appointed and would give its decision, and if the Member petitioned against should be declared to have been guilty of bribery, he would be subjected certainly to the consequences of such conduct.


suggested, as the case was one of considerable difficulty, that the issue of the writ should be suspended until an inquiry could take place. If the hon. Member should be re-elected, and the Committee upon the pending petition should afterwards decide that he had been guilty of corrupt practices, this extraordinary state of things would arise—that he would actually have taken his seat for a place for which he was ineligible to be a candidate.


thought that there could be no pretence for postponing this writ, and that the Southampton case afforded a clear precedent. Upon that occasion Mr. Hayter moved that a new writ should issue for the election of a member in the room of Sir Alexander Cockburn; whereupon Colonel Forester asked the opinion of the then Mr. Speaker as to whether a new writ could issue pending a petition against the former return. Upon which Mr. Speaker said, "that in the case of an election petition complaining of an undue return, or of the return of a Member in consequence of bribery, but not claiming the seat for another person, it was competent for the House to order a new writ to issue," adding, that in the case where the petition claimed the seat for another person, "it is not competent for the House to order a new writ to issue, inasmuch as the House in that case cannot know which of the two persons claiming the seat had been duly elected." No difficulty or inconvenience would result from issuing the writ in the present instance, because if the hon. Member should be opposed and returned, and in the meantime found guilty of bribery upon the pending petition, he would be disqualified from sitting in the present Parliament, and therefore from being a candidate at the second election, and the gentleman next on the poll would be entitled to he returned.


said, that there was a great constitutional principle involved in this question. The petition in this case was of the most sweeping description; the whole borough was charged with corruption—electors and elected alike. It was not, therefore, a question merely as between the House and the Members, but as between the House and the borough of Sandwich. He would refer to his own case of Hertford in 1832, as a precedent directly in opposition to that of Southampton. Upon that occasion he, being the unsuccessful candidate, petitioned against the two noble Lords who were returned. He did not claim the seat, but he alleged that great corruption had been practised by the sitting Members, and that the borough had been guilty of great corruption. The Committee sat, and in duo time reported that great corruption did prevail in the borough of Hertford; and the House thereupon suspended the issue of the writ for the remainder of that Parliament, which lasted between two or three years. Supposing that a similar case of corruption should be established against Sandwich, and that the great majority of electors who had returned the hon. Member to Parliament had been bribed, he wanted to know what redress the House would have over the corrupt borough if they at once issued a writ for the election of a new member? In the case of Harwich also, which was a most notorious borough, the same thing had occurred, and no writ was issued for some time.


said, it appeared to him that the issuing of the writ would be open to another objection. If Mr. Hugessen should again stand for Sandwich, and should obtain his re-election by a majority of one hundred to one, but should subsequently be declared incapable of sitting in consequence of a decision of the Election Committee, the opposing candidate would become the actual representative of a constituency in which he had only obtained the support of a very inconsiderable minority of the constituent body. That would be a result which it would evidently be desirable, if possible, to avoid, and he thought that in a case of that kind they ought to proceed with great caution, and to disregard the precedent of 1852. Under those circumstances it appeared to him to he desirable that they should postpone their decision upon the question, and he should therefore move that the debate be adjourned for a month.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."


could not admit that the Hertford case was at all in point, because there an inquiry had taken place before an Election Committee, who reported that corrupt practices had prevailed to a considerable extent; and the writ therefore was, very properly, suspended. But in this case there had been no proof of corrupt practices, and it would be an extraordinary thing to suspend a writ upon a mere assumption. Moreover, in the event of corrupt practices being proved to have taken place at the last election for Sandwich, it would be competent for the House to deal with the borough for those practices, whether the writ proceeded now or not. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not sanction the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, but would at once direct the issue of the writ.


supported the Amendment. In the Barnstaple case, he observed, there had been a very similar petition to the present; but when the Committee came to inquire they found that a great many electors had been actually bribed. A Commission was then appointed to inquire into the electoral state of the borough, and the result was that very many persons were struck off the list. If a similar result should follow in the present instance, it might appear that a Member had been returned by the votes of those whose unworthy exercise of the franchise required that their names should no longer remain upon the register.


was of opinion that the rule which the Speaker had laid down, founded upon the precedent of 1852, was sufficient for the guidance of the House upon the present occasion. But there was another point involved in the matter which might require further consideration, and that was the effect which would be produced under the Corrupt Practices Act. His view was that the issuing of the writ would not at all interfere with the litigation of the allegations—and at present they were only allegations—contained in the petition, for nothing had yet been proved against the sitting Members of the borough. On this account the case was quite distinct from that either of Hertford or Barnstaple. If corruption should be proved before the Committee the disqualification would take effect against both elections; and he did not see, therefore, that justice would be impeded by the issue of the writ. Under these circumstances he saw no objection to the Motion.


said, that the proceedings in this case had, no doubt, not yet arrived at the point they reached in the Hertford case; but he had put the event of wholesale corruption being proved, and then had asked what remedy the House would have against the borough if, in the meantime, the writ were issued?


said, that in the case of Harwich he himself was the Member who had been unseated. He had been unseated, however, not on account of bribery, but because the poll had been closed three minutes before the proper time. The hon. Member for Finsbury had told them that Harwich was notoriously one of the most corrupt of our constituencies, but he could state that he had himself twice contested the borough, and that he had not upon either occasion spent more than £300.


would admit the applicability of the precedent of 1852 but for the subsequent passing of the Corrupt Practices Act. The object of that Act was not to benefit individual Members, but to protect the House and put down and punish bribery. It provided that if any candidate should be declared by an Election Committee guilty of bribery or undue influence such candidate should be incapable of being returned at any election which might thereupon take place. Yet while the eligibility or ineligibility of a gentleman to be elected depended upon the decision of a Committee, they proposed, pending the investigations of the Committee, to issue a new writ.


trusted that the House would treat the question in a judicial, and not in a party spirit. The circumstances were admitted to be precisely the same as in the Southampton case, with the exception that since that time the Corrupt Practices Act had been passed. But that Act had introduced no alteration whatever in the law in this respect; because a person declared by an Election Committee to have been guilty of bribery was just as ineligible to be a candidate at the next election before the passing of that Act as since. As, then, the law of Parliament was made up of precedents he saw no reason for disturbing that of 1852.


thought, that the difference of opinion which had been expressed by hon. Members showed the necessity for the further consideration of this question; and he therefore suggested that the issuing of the writ should be deferred at least till Thursday week.


was also of opinion that it would be well to postpone the issuing of this writ.


pointed out that in all previous cases in which the issuing of writs had been suspended that course had been adopted after proof of corruption before an Election Committee. In this case, there had as yet been no such proof, and the electors of Sandwich were therefore entitled to the writ which would enable them to be represented in that House. He hoped that all hon. Members who had a regard for the law of Parliament, for the regularity of its proceedings, and for the security of their own seats would resist the Motion for delay in this instance.


asked the Speaker to state whether if Mr. Hugessen were re-elected, and a Committee afterwards declared that he had been guilty of corrupt practices, his seat would be vacated without a fresh petition.


said, that in the case of 1852, the Election Committee proceeded to investigate the allegations of the petition precisely as though no second election had taken place. It would be perfectly competent to the Committee to take the same course in the present instance; and the proof that Mr. Hugessen had been guilty of bribery would incapacitate him from sitting in Parliament after his second return. He had been asked whether the Corrupt Practices Act altered the law affecting this case. As far as he could judge, after looking at the Act, it did not make any difference. The same disability attached to the Member under the old law as attached to him at present. If he was proved guilty of bribery he was then, as he was now, unable to sit in the existing Parliament. It was not for him (Mr. Speaker) to attempt to guide or influence the decision of the House upon this question. His duty was limited to explaining what had been the law and practice of Parliament up to the present time. That law and practice had been that in cases such as this the House did not hesitate to issue the writ.


said, that as far as he understood, the rule had been established that new writs could not be issued for fourteen days after the meeting of Parliament, solely for the purpose of affording the House time to consider what course they should pursue in consequence of the presentation of election petitions.


suggested, that if the House established a precedent by suspending this writ, petitions might, under circumstances similar to those which had attended the late election, be presented against all Members who were likely to accept office under the Crown, and that great inconvenience might arise from their absence from the House.


recommended the withdrawal of the Motion for the adjournment of this debate. Towards the close of the last Session he was a member of a Committee which considered this question, the opinion of which was that the suspension of writs previous to the decision of a Committee was a practice which that House was, in justice to the constituencies, bound to avoid.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for the City of York (Mr. Westhead) that great public inconvenience would be likely to arise if the House were to adopt the principle that writs should be suspended in cases of that character.


said, that in deference to what seemed to be the general feeling of the House, he would not persevere in his Motion for the adjournment of the debate.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered,That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Baron to serve in this present Parliament for the Town and Port of Sandwich, in the room of Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen, Esquire, who, since his election for the said Town and Port, hath accepted the Office of one of the Commissioners for executing" the Offices of Treasurer of the Exchequer of Great Britain and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland.

House adjourned at Two o'clock, till Thursday 30th June