HC Deb 01 May 1866 vol 183 cc273-9

, Chairman of the Reigate Election Committee, in rising to move for a Royal Commission to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at the last Election for the borough of Reigate, presented a petition from the inhabitants of the borough urging the necessity for such an inquiry. The petition was signed by 140 inhabitants, including the high bailiff, the mayor, the vicar, every clergyman resident in the neighbourhood, and by the chairmen of both candidates. The fact that these last-mentioned signatures were attached to the petition, in company with the signatures of a large number of the most respectable people of the borough, showed that very corrupt practices must have prevailed there, and that the more respectable among the inhabitants felt strongly aggrieved at the fact. Among the fourteen cases of bribery brought before the Committee, seven were clearly proved. They found that very many promises had been given, and that many of the electors seemed to look upon their vote as so much marketable property—in fact, it seemed to be almost a part of the political creed of a great number of the electors that they ought not to vote unless they had received a promise of some pecuniary consideration, But although the Committee were generally impressed with the corrupt state of the borough, it was impossible for them to report fully upon that point, as it was the desire of the parties who came before them rather to make out specific charges against their political opponent than to blacken the borough. The consequence was, that their conclusions must be come to rather from inference than from absolute proved facts. It was proved before the Committee that a witness named Allen Edwards stated that one Joyce, a sub-agent of the then sitting Member, had offered him £5"to vote for Gower." He promised to do so; but because he did not receive the promised £5 he voted for Mr. Richardson, a gentleman who, it appeared, had no idea of standing for the borough, as he had either proposed or seconded Mr. Monson as a candidate. It was fair to presume that eleven other persons who voted for Mr. Richardson did so from similar motives. A man named Johnson stated that Joyce had said to him, with reference to a voter named Pitt, "I did think he was square, but he wanted buy- ing the same as the others; he wanted a fiver I had promised him, and more if I could get it." From this and other evidence, the Committee came to the conclusion that "a fiver" was the price of a Reigate vote. That sum had, it appeared, been promised right and left, but in many cases nothing had been paid. The electors looked upon the bribe as so much a matter of course that one voter who was not paid had actually brought an action against the agent who promised him for the recovery of the £5 as a debt. When the case came on in the County Court, forty other voters cherishing a similar grievance were present in court, fully resolved to follow his example if he wore successful, but of course he was not. Other evidence was forthcoming touching the number of promises made. A person appeared in Reigate after the election calling himself Mr. Naylor. It: turned out subsequently that was not his name, but that he was a publican of Shore-ditch. He announced on his arrival in Reigate that he was the representative of Mr. Gower, and that he had come to settle with all those who had been promised money for their votes. A number of the "promised" voters fell into the trap, and although he diligently recorded their names, he gave them no satisfaction, and soon afterwards some one else called upon them and took down their statements in writing. Indications were given in the evidence produced before the Committee of corrupt practices having prevailed at previous elections. It was not competent for the Committee to inquire into these matters; but a Royal Commission would be able to do so, and that was one reason which led him to urge its appointment. He was not now giving the House the names of those witnesses who were reported as having been absolutely bribed. A voter named George Jupp, canvassed by Mr. Green, admitted that he had received £10 for voting for Mr. Gower. The evidence taken before the Committee was as follows:— And there, outside the Committee-room, did you see Mr. Green?—Yes. Hid he say to you anything about voting?—Yes; he said to me, "Are you coming upon our side again? You seem backward in coming forward.'I said, 'I do not know.' He said, 'Did I not behave well to you before?' I said,'Yes' 'Well,' he said,' I will do the same to you again.' That was an answer. What did he give to you before?—I cannot exactly say what it was; it was about £10. He gave you about £10 before?—Yes. Was that for voting before?—And canvassing a little. I infer from what you say that you had voted for Mr. Gower upon former occasions?—Yes. Had you canvassed for him upon a former occasion?—All that I did was to take one circular. There was also the case of the voter named Balchin, which was a peculiar one. This man admitted that he had received £5 in the first instance from the opponents of the sitting Members, and that he subsequently received £2 15s. from the agents of those Members, so that he obtained bribes from both sides. He said that he had been employed to look after voters; but it was very evident that he required a good deal of looking after himself—for the whole night previous to the election he was held in confinement, and kept in a state of drunkenness. During the night, whether he desired to go back to his former love or not, it was impossible to say; but when he made a search for his boots he was not able to find them. The next day he was taken in a cart to the polling-booth. He stated that he knew for whom he voted; but the Committee were unable to determine whether he was really aware for whom he was recording his vote. The cases he had mentioned clearly proved that corrupt practices extensively prevailed at the last election. On the whole, there could be no doubt that if ever there was a case clearly made out for the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry on account of bribery and corrupt practices it was that of the borough of Reigate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, 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 Reigate, have reported to the House, that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at the last Election for the said Borough: 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 Thomas Allen, esquire, Frederick James Smith, esquire, and T. D. Archibald, esquire, as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such corrupt practices.


said, that the remarks of the hon. Member who had just sat down forcibly showed how necessary it was that the course pointed out by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Baxter) should be adopted—namely, that the agent guilty of the act of bribery should be rendered liable to be prosecuted for the offence. In the present case it was clearly shown that Mr. Gower was innocent of the bribery which had been proved, and from his knowledge of that gentleman he was convinced that he would do all in his power to check corrupt practices. Over zealous supporters would be restrained from resorting to illegal act3 if they knew that the Attorney General would, as a matter of course, prosecute every person who was proved to be guilty of, bribery. That was the only way of effectually checking such proceedings.


, as a member of the Reigate Election Committee, said, that he did not think it was possible to conceive a worse case than that of Reigate. In the borough there was no political feeling whatever; it was entirely in the hands of the Liberals; and the consequence was that the electors, to a large extent, only looked out for the man who would pay them the most money for their votes. There was, in fact, hardly a man in the place who had not been bribed.


asked the House what they would do after these inquiries had taken place? What practical step was expected to result from the inquiries to be made by the Commission? Pour Commissions of Inquiry had already been moved for — he did not know how many more were to follow—but about £8,000 at least must be expended upon them. In his opinion not the slightest profitable result would follow those investigations. When the Corrupt Practices Bill was before the House he placed an Amendment upon the table to the effect that all Members, on being sworn, should deliver an account in writing of their expenses, and declare that those expenses were all that were incurred by them, or that they had paid, or intended to pay by themselves or their agents. That Amendment, however, was not accepted by the House; and that fact went a long way to prove that the House was not thoroughly honest in their intention to put down corruption. He hoped that the Government, for the protection of the public purse, would ask themselves, before they went further into these Commissions, what benefits would result from them.


concurred in the opinion that in order effectually to check bribery and corruption at elections, it would be necessary to instruct the Attorney General to prosecute all persons guilty of such illegal proceedings. He wished to point out to the House, however, that cases might arise, and frequently did arise in which bribery was practised, without either the candidate or his agents having had anything to do with it; and then constituencies got a bad name. He had risen to make these remarks because an impression seemed to him to prevail in the House that the course pursued by the Wakefield Committee was that of undue leniency. Now, only two cases of bribery were proved before the Committee, and they were not in the smallest degree attributable to the candidate, his committee, or his agents. In another case money was offered by a person who, in vulgar parlance, would be called a sporting man; he had entered into very largo bets on the result of the election petition, and he spent a great deal of money on his own account, in order that he might win them. In every other case where money was offered it was refused. He had taken the opportunity of vindicating the character of Wakefield, which he must say he thought had been very un- fairly aspersed. All the evidence that could be obtained was laid before the Committee, and it clearly proved that the last election for Wakefield was an extremely pure election.


, as a Member of the Wakefield Election Committee, corrobarated the statement of the hon, Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory). It was utterly impossible to connect the sitting Member or his committee with any of the cases of bribery and corruption which were proved to have occurred. It was not proved that bribery had been offered or committed by any agents of the sitting Member or by any of his committee.


said, it appeared that these Commissions did some good, because at the last election for Wakefield, it had not been shown that there was any bribery committed by the sitting Member for that borough or his agents. He wished to set his hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Buxton) right as to the law upon the subject. His hon. Friend suggested that instructions ought to be given to the Attorney General to prosecute in all cases reported to the House. Now, that was the law at present, [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: That is after a Commission.] He read it in the alternative.—either a Committee or Commission. They disfranchised Sudbury without the Report of a Commission, and St. Alban's after one. The general Act was passed for the appointment of Commissions where extensive bribery was supposed to have been practised, with the view of Parliament dealing with it afterwards. He hoped that when it could be proved that any of these boroughs had been guilty of bribery, that the House would be prepared to disfranchise them.


said, that if his right hon. Friend looked at the latter part of the clause, he would see that it contemplated the case of a Commission after the Report of a Select Committee; but he admitted the clause was not well worded, because the words were "such. Report with the evidence taken before the Committee, shall be laid before the Attorney General." He apprehended the Home Secretary would cause the evidence to be laid before the Attorney General, and he would be bound to prosecute unless he in his judgment thought that evidence to be insufficient. It by no means followed that there must be a Commission; for he had not the least doubt that, in any case where an Election Committee reported that bribery and treating had prevailed, it would be competent for that House, without a Commission, on their own Motion, to direct the Attorney General to prosecute, or to lay papers before him with a view of his prosecuting, and that on the Resolution of the House.


said, he must protest, with all due deference to the Chairman of the Wakefield Election Committee, against the statement that no bribery had been committed, because it had not been proved that the bribery was by the agents of the sitting Member. How was the Committee to know that the bribery had not been committed by some person who had been secretly commissioned to do so.


said, he had listened with great attention to all that had been stated with regard to these delinquent boroughs, and it appeared to him that the only and best remedy against bribery was the ballot. He believed they might as well try to keep sparrows out of a field by stone walls, as to prevent bribery by fencing it round without the ballot.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That the said Address be communicated to The Lords, and their concurrence desired thereto.—(Mr. Hussey Vivian.)