HC Deb 09 April 1867 vol 186 cc1353-73

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Commissioners on Bribery and Corruption at the Elections for the Borough of Totnes; to the direct interference of the Duke of Somerset in the political affairs of Totnes, which was supposed to have ceased with the year 1863; to the ejectment of Somerset tenants after the election in that year; and to the acts of bribery, corrupt practices, and intimidation habitually practised by Mr. Michellmore, steward to the Duke, and detailed in that Report. He said that he took this course with great regret, because he thought that the punishment which the borough of Totnes was to suffer would be sufficient for all the bribery and corruption which had been practised there for a number of years; and he should have been glad if the scenes that had been there enacted should, as far as the cognizance of the House was concerned, have been buried in oblivion, But a Question had been put to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the other night, the answer to which led him to believe that an act of injustice was about to be committed by that House. He was anxious, before they sanctioned the prosecution of any individual, that they should clearly understand who were the persons most prominent in bribery, corruption, eviction, and the manufacture of votes that had taken place in that borough. Previously to the Reform Act Totnes had been a free borough, untainted with bribery and corruption; but, after the passing of that Act the boundaries of the borough of Totnes were much enlarged. He found this statement in the Report of the Commissioners— At the time of the Reform Bill the boundaries of the borough which had been the same as the Manor of Great Totnes were much enlarged, and those that were substituted, though drawn irregularly and from no fixed centre, took in that portion of the adjacent country on which most houses had been built. This portion contained the Manor of Little Totnes and also the Manor of Bridgetown, which was divided from the town proper of Totnes by the river Dart. The owner of both these Manors was the Duke of Somerset, who thus for the first time acquired weight in the political affairs of the then borough. He might observe that Totnes was not exceptional in that respect. In the settlement of the boundaries consequent on the Reform Act, whenever the property of a Liberal or Whig proprietor was found adjacent to such a place as Totnes, those who had the settlement of the boundaries managed to include that property. After the passing of the Reform Bill, the Duke of Somerset represented Totnes till the death of his father, when Lord Gifford became what was called the ducal candidate. For to such a depth had the borough of Totnes fallen that it was no longer the borough which returned a Member to represent the opinions of the burgesses of Totnes or of the inhabitants of the surrounding district, but it became plain that a Member was returned to represent the interests, and the interests alone, of the Duke of Somerset. The Report of the Commissioners further stated— In 1855 the then Duke of Somerset died, and Lord Seymour's succession to the peerage creating a vacancy in the borough, the Earl of Gifford, as the ducal representative, was elected without a contest. We had no proof of any corrupt practices having prevailed at this uncontested election; we have not, therefore, inquired into the details of preceding elections except where they throw light on the conduct of persons concerned in the elections of 1857, 1859, 1862, 1863, and 1865. After the election of the Earl of Gifford the disunion that up to that time had existed in the Liberal party became less, the two sections were brought nearer together, and agreed to work in concert for the furtherance of the Liberal cause. No unity in money arrangements existed, but the exercise of the Somerset interest in favour of the independent Liberal was clearly thought an equivalent for money to be spent by the latter. Although during the life of the Earl of Gifford money was not required to secure his seat, yet throughout the time that he represented Totnes considerable sums were spent in bribery on behalf of the independent Liberal candidate, and on the Earl of Gifford's death had to be further expended in order to protect the Somerset Member, who had hitherto been considered safe. It appeared, then, that it became necessary, in order to maintain the Duke of Somerset's power and influence, to create new votes; and, as the Reform Act of 1832 had included within the limits of the borough a large portion of the Duke of Somerset's property, the Duke and his agents were thereby enabled to manufacture qualifications.

The Report of the Commissioners said— The power of creating votes was largely increased by the quantity of meadow land brought within the limits of the borough at the Reform Bill. Sheds of a better and more expensive character than had hitherto existed were erected on the different fields, and a manufactured qualification of £10 for 'buildings with land' was thus obtained. This system of creating qualifications, though adopted by both sides, has added a large number of votes to the Liberal interest, and is now only available to any extent to that party. He would presently call the attention of the House to the use which was afterwards made of these new votes. In 1863 the Earl of Gifford died, and Mr. Alfred Seymour, at present Member for Totnes, and Mr. Dent became candidates for the vacant seat. The Commissioners' Report stated— The Earl of Gifford died in January, 1863, and immediately Mr. Alfred Seymour and Mr. Dent presented themselves as candidates. Mr. Seymour sent to Totnes the sum of £1,000, which was paid into the account of the Messrs. Michelmore with the National Provincial Bank. We cannot accurately discover the amount brought down upon this occasion by Mr. Dent or his adviser, Mr. Mitchell. The only way by which the Conservative candidate could win the election was by the purchase of a number of votes in Bridgetown, tenants of small holdings under the Duke, who might, by the temptation of very large sums, be induced to brave the penalty of certain eviction from their holdings. Fifteen of these people were thus bought at prices varying from £60 to £150 a head, but they were not enough to turn the scale in Mr. Dent's favour. Though he did not believe that the Duke of Somerset gave any direct instructions to his agent to take any particular course, he knew what was going on, and expressed no censure of the proceedings. Therefore, in some respects, the noble Duke was answerable for the acts of his steward on that occasion. The Report further stated— Immediately after the election notices to quit were served on almost all the Somerset tenants who had voted against Mr. Seymour, and they were eventually turned out, care being taken by the other party to find other houses and fields for them within the borough. These evictions were brought to the knowledge of the Duke of Somerset, who, informed by his agent (himself guilty of bribery at the same election) that the evicted tenants were turned out because they had received bribes, made no further inquiries.… In the year 1863 the Duke became lord-lieutenant of the county; the whole of the Somerset property within the borough had been worked for the manufacture of votes, by the addition of buildings to land. The tenants admitted to the holdings (all of which are tenancies from year to year) have been admitted by the Duke's agent on the understanding, expressed or implied, that they were to vote for the Somerset Member at all events. This manufacturing of votes and this understanding with the tenant, was known to and approved by the present Duke of Somerset. In his system of dealing with these persons the Duke's agent has had continually in view the strengthening the political power of his employer. It does not appear that the Duke inquired into the manner in which his agents were using their influence over the ducal tenantry. All that the Duke of Somerset really got appeared plain from the following statement in the Report:— The trouble of approving of candidate and the payment of £40 per annum to the registration seem to be all the Duke really gave up, as the Somerset influence, in the absence of any specific directions by the Duke to his agent, was still exercised in the same way and manner as it had been of old. The registration expenses, however, were not to be under the same regulations as heretofore, and consequently we find Mr. Pender and Mr. Seymour each paying a sum of £250 per annum nominally for the expenses of registration, but, in reality, for charges entailed by illegal payments made by Mr. Michelmore. He had now brought the House to the period when the Duke of Somerset refrained from active participation in the politics of the borough of Totnes; and he now came to the election of 1865. Messrs. Pender and Seymour intended to come forward as candidates again; but, as Totnes had enjoyed the luxury and expenditure of contested elections, and as that luxury was only to be obtained by getting some persons to contest the borough with Mr. Pender and Mr. Seymour, great efforts were made to find a gentleman who possessed courage enough to contest the borough. A deputation of Conservative gentlemen accordingly came up to London in search of such a party, and they applied to Mr. Spofforth, of the firm of Messrs. Baxter, Rose, and Norton, for his valuable advice and assistance in the matter. The first gentleman suggested by Mr. Spofforth, who enjoyed the reputation of being an active agent for the Conservative party, was Mr. Kennard. The latter gentleman went down to Totnes and made his observations there. On ascertaining the circumstances of the case, he refused, as became a man of the highest honour, to owe his seat in the House of Commons to Messrs. Baxter, Rose, and Norton; and thereupon declined to contest the borough. Mr. Spofforth speedily discovered another candidate in the person of Colonel Dawkins, who was willing to become a candidate at the election in question, was prepared with a sum of £2,000 for legal expenses, and with him was soon afterwards associated another gentleman—Commander Pim—and between them they spent the sum of £4,559 16s. 8d. The Liberal party, on the other hand, were not backward. Large sums were provided by them and spent in bribery, a magistrate of the borough and the Duke of Somerset's steward taking part in the transaction. On that occasion, as the Report stated— Open house was kept at this as at former elections, both on and before the polling day, at both hotels—by the Liberals at the Seymour Arms, and by the Conservatives at the Seven Stars—at the expense of the four candidates. A petition was threatened on the declaration of the poll, and as it was feared that the treating which had gone on at the Seymour Arms might vitiate the election of the Liberal Members, it was thought well so to arrange the accounts kept in the books of the hotel as to present the appearance of entries having been made to each person of the refreshments supplied to him, although these refreshments had originally been charged to one account, headed 'Pender and Seymour.' Accordingly, a Mr. Cross destroyed two pages to the day-book containing the account, and substituted other pages containing the same items, but charged to different individuals. Mr. Samuel Parnell, since that time appointed postmaster at Totnes, performed a similar operation upon the hotel ledger. These facts were done to prevent an objection to the return on account of treating from being available in case of a petition. Soon after the election Parnell was appointed to the Post Office at Totnes. Now he had no means of ascertaining who recommended this gentleman to the consideration of the Treasury. He could not suppose for a moment that any Member of that House would be willing to recommend any person for promotion in Her Majesty's service who had been concerned in such transactions, and had shown himself so active in destroying the valuable evidence which was required by the Commissioners. He could not view that appointment in any other light than as a reward for those great and eminent services which he had described. He had now shown that the noble Duke had used his influence in the manufacture of votes—he had shown that Members of Parliament had provided the means for bribery and corruption—he had shown that an active agent and steward of the Duke of Somerset had evicted those tenants who refused to vote for his Grace's candidate—he had shown that a man who had been actively engaged in bribery and getting rid of the information required by the Commissioners in order to ascertain the truth, had been promoted in the Post Office—he had shown that there were magistrates in the borough of Totnes who were acting as tools of those who provided the money for bribery—he had shown that in London there were eminent solicitors and firms prepared to find candidates of "commercial ability" for any borough where they might be wanted;—and he asked if such acts, which he ventured to characterize as offences and a disgrace to that House, could be adequately punished by proceedings against an obscure innkeeper in the borough of Totnes. If it was the opinion of the House that the offences committed at Totnes were such as to call for the immediate and decided action of the House, far be it from him to protest against that decision; he only asked, in the name of honesty and honour, that fair play and equal justice should be meted out to all. If the innkeeper of Totnes was to be brought to the bar of public opinion, let them place at the same bar those who had been the fons et origo malorum, who had created votes, evicted their tenants, found the means of bribery and the tools by which it was committed, and let even-handed justice be dealt to all. It would be a misfortune for the country if the day should ever arrive when there was found to be one law for him who was poor and had no local influence, and another for him who possessed the largest estate in the county, and enjoyed one of the noblest titles in the realm, and who was an honoured and valued servant of the Crown. He repeated, let all who were guilty or suspected of these malpractices, or any other malpractices, be sent to the same bar, and receive con- demnation or acquittal on the same terms. He might also venture to summon the House itself to the same bar, because in his conscience he could not believe that where there were so many men of eminent legal acquirement, of knowledge, research, and energy, they could not long ago have made bribery and corruption impossible, if they had chosen to apply themselves earnestly to the subject. In one of the journals of that morning appeared a letter, bearing upon this subject, from one of the most eminent and venerable men of the day—a man whose fame was already established in the history and literature of this country—he alluded to Lord Brougham. With the leave of that House he would read the observations of that noble and learned Lord—

"To the Editor of The Tines.

"Sir,—I trouble you with a few lines on the important question of household suffrage. It ought to be granted fairly mid frankly, and not loaded with conditions and exceptions which render it unavailing. The only condition that I see is an absolutely essential one is, that the house should have been owned or occupied by tenants or lodgers for two years. I should not much object to a rating of a certain amount, but I think that immaterial, as my reliance is upon the two years, for owners, or tenants, or lodgers; but I would punish with the treadmill all who receive or offer bribes. When the slave trade existed its profits were such that men ran the risk of capture and forfeiture; but when my Act made it punishable by transportation, no one chose to run the risk, and the abominable traffic was entirely extirpated. I believe the same result would happen with bribery.—I have the honour to be yours faithfully,

"Cannes, April 5."


He would not trespass longer on the attention of the House. His object now in submitting this question to the House was not to screen any one individual from justice, but simply to defend a man whom he admitted to be guilty from being supposed to be more guilty than others who were nevertheless vastly superior to him in wealth and station; to ask the House to do one thing or another, either not to proceed against this poor innkeeper or to insist that all who were implicated in these cases of bribery and corruption should stand at the same bar. He hoped he should not appeal to the House in vain, and he begged to move a Resolution to this effect— That before proceedings be taken against any of the Parties convicted of Bribery at the Totnes Election a list of those about to be prosecuted be laid upon the Table of this House,

Motion made, and Question proposed, That before proceedings be taken against any of the Parties convicted of Bribery at the Totnes Election a list of those about to be prosecuted be laid upon the Table of this House."—(Sir Lawrence Palk.)


said, it was not his duty in any way to defend the Duke of Somerset from the attack made upon him by the hon. Baronet. In the first place, he could not defend the noble Duke in this matter, because he was entirely ignorant of the mode in which his Grace managed his property. It was a matter in which he (Mr. A. Seymour) had taken no concern whatever. Whatever information he had on this subject was obtained from the same sources as those which were open to the hon. Baronet. The defence of the noble Duke he believed was in much abler hands than his; but having been referred to so personally by the hon. Baronet, and in terms—the propriety and good taste of which he might be allowed to question—he ventured to trespass on the attention of the House. He would confine himself to replying by a few remarks to what the hon. Baronet had said. In the first place, he could assure the House that he had had no communication with the Duke of Somerset upon this question, having carefully refrained from any such communication either directly or indirectly. Indeed, he was not aware what steps were to be taken in regard to his defence until he had entered the House that evening. He felt that the character of the noble Duke stood far too high in this country to render any defence of his Grace at all necessary. With regard to his (Mr. A. Seymour's) candidature for the borough of Totnes, he had one interview with his Grace, and one only. That interview was fully detailed in the blue book, which was open to the inspection of any Member who was desirous of obtaining a full account of the circumstances of the case. In that one interview his Grace plainly stated that he had no power whatever to name a Member for the borough; but that if he chose to go down as a candidate he might have his (the noble Duke's) support; but his Grace added that his success must depend on himself (Mr. A. Seymour), by making himself agreeable to the gentlemen of Totnes. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh; but he believed it was a notorious fact that the Duke of Somerset at that time did leave the choice of the Member for the borough to the leading Liberals of Totnes. Happening to have been a candidate for Exeter, his name became well known, although he would not say that his relationship to his Grace had not something to do with his nomination as a candidate for Totnes; but having arrived at that point, when he became a candidate, he must entirely decline to follow the hon. Baronet into all those questions and circumstances into which he had gone. Having been absent when the matter was previously discussed, he had had no opportunity of justifying himself before the House. He trusted that in the delicate position in which he was then placed, they would hear what he had to say in explanation, and that hon. Gentlemen would remember that if there was to be retrospective action, it should also include those hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who were implicated in the same degree as himself. He had no wish to justify anything which might have happened. He was, in fact, placed under very peculiar circumstances. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh, and he trusted that they were all of them in a position to be able to deny any accusation that might be brought against them of a similar kind. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon had made broad his phylactery, and had embroidered the hem of his garment with "purity and virtue;" but he trusted when the time came—and it might shortly occur—when the hon. Baronet went down to his own county, they would no longer hear those stories which were so rife in Devonshire and were so well known to all Devonshire men. The hon. Baronet whilst attacking his (Mr. A. Seymour's) noble Relative was endavouring to raise for himself what he might consider an appanage of his house—the enfranchisement of Torquay, and at the same time obtain a lesson of management in these matters. He trusted it would be a healthy constituency; but he could not think that a place "where wealth accumulates and men decay" could produce a healthy constituency. He cordially endorsed the sentiment which the late Attorney General uttered in reference to Lancaster. No man had a stronger opinion than he (Mr. A. Seymour) had against bribery and corruption, and he had always denounced it in public and in private. The late Attorney General said it was in the power of any constituency to prevent bribery, and that 600 pure men might have prevented it at Lan- caster. Now, he was inclined to go further than that, and to say that six leading men on each side could put a stop to bribery in any borough, however large it might be. They might legislate upon bribery and corruption; but, in his opinion, the only effectual mode of preventing it was to bring public opinion, as in the case of duelling, to bear upon it. The hon. Baronet had asked why some were to be brought to judgment whilst others were allowed to escape; but the hon. Baronet had read the blue book to little advantage, if he imagined that the innkeeper, in this instance, was to be tried for bribery. He was to be tried for direct perjury. It was possible, as the hon. Baronet had stated, that some of the great Whig landlords had increased their boroughs at the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, and so had Gentlemen who held opposite opinions and were lords paramount in other boroughs. If, as the hon. Baronet had said, Totnes only represented the ducal house, how was it that Mr. Spofforth, who was in constant communication with hon. Gentlemen opposite, recommended Gentlemen to go down, and with a commercial spirit as it was called, and with money in their pockets, to contest the borough? Could the hon. Baronet defend that conduct? Did he only see the "beam that is in our eyes" and not see the "mote that is in his own eye?" If that was the case, as there was every reason to believe, how could hon. Gentlemen opposite have the conscience to stand up in that House and raise their voices against bribery and corruption? The hon. Baronet had, however, entirely acquitted the Duke of Somerset of any improper action in the election. He said that the Duke did not instruct his agent as to any particular course he was to adopt with reference to the election. Of what, then, did he accuse him? With reference to Mr. Kennard, if the hon. Baronet had inquired a little further, he would have found that that Gentleman did not quit Totnes until he knew that if he contested the borough he would meet with certain defeat. Further inquiry would have shown the hon. Baronet that one gentleman (Colonel Dawkins, of whom he wished to speak in terms of the greatest possible respect) had been told by an agent of the Conservative party that it was of no use to go down to Totnes without an enormous sum of money. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might sneer; but let them take care that their own hands were clean. Now he (Mr. A. Seymour) would inform the House what his conduct had been in the matter. He happened to travel to Totnes in the same carriage with an intimate friend of Colonel Dawkins', and another gentleman, who it appeared was going to Totnes to take off the stray votes and stand the possible chance of coming in with Colonel Dawkins. Upon ascertaining the object they had in view, he pursued a course which he thought every Gentleman so situated should do, and which would receive the approval of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He took out of his pocket his private poll-book, which contained entries of how every elector at Totnes was expected to vote, and handed it to Colonel Dawkins' friend and the other gentleman, in order that they might form their own opinion of their chance of success; and if afterwards they spent their money, and did not come in, it would be their own fault. After looking over it carefully, one of the gentlemen, seeing that it would be hopeless to contest the election, at once returned to London, where, no doubt, he saw Mr. Spofforth. That, he thought, was the best thing he could do between gentlemen. It saved one gentleman, at any rate, from putting himself in a disagreeable position, and had Colonel Dawkins pursued a similar course it would have been better possibly for him also. Though he did not suppose that he had justified himself in the eyes of the House from the finding of the Royal Commissioners, yet he thought that if hon. Gentlemen opposite had found themselves in his position they would have acted very much as he had done. At the time that he stood for the place he was utterly ignorant of its venality, and, considering the particular influence that was offered to him, he thought the most hypercritical Gentleman opposite would have accepted, as he did, that support, and he accordingly paid a certain sum of money—certainly not an extravagant sum, he thought—with which to clear off some back debts and subscriptions. He thought hon. Gentlemen had sufficient election experience to know what back debts were; but after what had been stated by the hon. Baronet he felt bound in justice to himself to make that statement. He paid, as he had stated, not a very extravagant sum for that purpose, and some long time after finding that a certain sum besides had been spent he felt bound as a man of honour to pay that also, and he did so. He only did what every hon. Gentleman would do—repay money which he found had been spent in his service. He had been found by the Commissioners as an approving and assenting party to bribery, when in fact he was utterly and entirely ignorant of it. He had nothing further to say in defence of his conduct, and he thanked the House for having so patiently listened to his statement.


said, that in the observations which he was desirous of making in defence of the conduct of the Duke of Somerset, he should endeavour most studiously to abstain from everything which he might not reasonably hope would command the assent and approval of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, because in a matter of this description he was anxious to avoid anything like a party tone. The hon. Baronet who introduced the subject had stated that it was not his object to bring any individual under the censure of the House; but to advocate impartial justice, in order that all who were implicated in bribery and corruption at Totnes might be dealt with equally and fairly by the House. He did not oppose that principle, neither would the Duke of Somerset, on that or any other occasion. The Duke of Somerset submitted himself unreservedly to the judgment of the House, and to the bar of public opinion. The noble Duke was, the last man who would justify bribery and corruption, and he believed, moreover, that he was the last man whom the House would consider likely to have been either directly or indirectly implicated in anything of the kind. If he were so implicated great would be the sorrow and regret all would feel that a man who had hitherto stood so high in public estimation, who had done so much good service to the country, and who had been so generally esteemed, should have condescended to so great an error. On the other hand, he (Sir Roundell Palmer) felt sure that the House would not very willingly receive or believe vague accusations of that kind, but that they would candidly and fairly do that justice to the Duke of Somerset which would be due to any one of the meanest of Her Majesty's subjects. He asked no more for the Duke of Somerset. The true history of the Duke of Somerset's connection with the borough of Totnes was to be found in the Duke's evidence, appended to the Commissioners' Report, from a perusal of which it would be seen that his Grace's hands were as perfectly clean and pure from any species of participation, either directly or indirectly, in bribery or corruption, or in any other illegal or improper practice, as those of the purest Member of that House. The Duke of Somerset's connection with Totnes commenced in 1834, and he represented that borough for a period of twenty-one years, until in 1855, on the death of his father, he succeeded to the Dukedom. So far from his being indebted for his seat to the use of bribery, corruption, or intimidation, he was, in fact, from the general estimation in which he was held, supported by both Liberals and Conservatives, and was invariably returned at the head of the poll. And when, moreover, an opposition did come, it came from a certain section of the Liberals and not from the Conservatives of the borough. Since he had ceased to be the Member for the borough he had on only two occasions—and only when requested to do so—recommended gentlemen to the constituency. The first was the late Earl of Gifford (at that time he was not related or connected with the noble Duke), and afterwards the present Member for the borough but on each occasion he had acted with the distinct understanding that he could do no more than recommend those gentlemen to the constituency, and that they must do everything else for themselves. In 1863, when his Grace became the lord-lieutenant of the county of Devon, he expressed his desire to his agent to separate himself from the politics of the borough, and he declined from that time to be concerned in the personal selection or recommendation of any candidate. He even ceased to make the moderate payment of £40 towards the bonâ fide registration expenses of the borough, and beyond that he had exercised no kind of influence upon the elections for Totnes, except that which, as hon. Gentlemen were aware, was inseparable from the position of a resident neighbouring proprietor, having considerable possessions and an historical name, if he were a person well discharging his duty in public and in private life. With regard to corrupt practices, the Royal Commissioners expressly exonerated his Grace from any connection or participation in them; the very questions put to him by the Royal Commisioners showed that they had not heard anything that could in the least degree bear the appearance of implicating his Grace in any way with corrupt practices. In fact, the Commissioners stated that down to 1855 no money was spent illegally in behalf of the Somerset candidate; the Duke himself (then Lord Seymour) having been the only Somerset candidate from 1834. The Commissioners stated that bribery was first resorted to by the Conservative party in order to counteract the territorial influence of the Somerset family; and, as the House well knew, the final result was that all parties in the borough resorted to the same practices, but the Duke was in no way responsible, directly or indirectly, for the result. In 1841, when Mr. Barry Baldwin contested the borough on Conservative principles, the Duke of Somerset, fearing that money would be spent, came to an arrangement with the opposite party whereby the representation was to be divided between the Duke and a Conservative. That arrangement continued till 1855, when his Grace ceased to represent the borough; and from that time to the present there was not the slightest suggestion that his Grace was directly or indirectly cognizant that any bribery was going on by his agents or by any one over whom he could exercise any authority or control. The hon. Baronet, he believed, did not accuse the noble Duke of participating in such practices.


said, that his remarks related exclusively to the evictions practised on the Somerset property.


said, he was under the impression that that was the hon. Baronet's meaning, and his explanation relieved him (Sir Roundell Palmer) from the necessity of saying more upon that part of the question. No one could regret more than the Duke of Somerset to find by the report that persons who were undoubtedly his agents—men holding important positions in the borough, and who were the agents also of other lauded proprietors—should have connected themselves with those corrupt practices. He now came to two points, on which the hon. Baronet wished for satisfaction, and he thought he could give it to the hon. Baronet. With respect to the "manufacture of votes," he interpreted the Commissioners' words as meaning not that there had been any illegal creation of fictitious votes with the knowledge of the Duke, but that, the Reform Act having provided that land let with any description of building upon it at a bonâ fide rent of £10 should give a vote, the Duke's agents had, from time to time, made such arrangements with persons of his politics who desired to vote as would qualify them under that provision. As the law stood, there was nothing whatever illegal in the creation of votes by the erection of buildings and the letting of them with land, at a real rent, upon real tenancies, to persons who desired to vote; the tenants were not persons whom it was proposed to coerce to vote against their opinions; they, on the contrary, held the same opinions as the Duke, they wished to qualify themselves, and their wish was responded to. All the tenancies were real; not one of those created with the knowledge of the Duke was even alleged to be fictitious or colourable. Besides this, if any person declined to assent to the proposition that any party to an election might be lawfully assisted by the creation of bonâ fide votes by bonâ fide occupancies, he would present to them another consideration. The practice was, in the first instance, adopted by the Duke's agents strictly as a measure of defence, for an example had been set them by the Conservative candidate, who had manufactured votes in a similar manner upon the neighbouring estate of Gerston; which, at a later period, itself became the property of the Duke. Upon the subject of evictions, he was gratified in being able to state, without fear of contradiction, that the Report made by the Commissioners on the evidence taken before them did not show the least trace of anything like an abuse of the rights of property on the part of the Duke of Somerset. The only cases of eviction mentioned referred to some occurrences which followed the election of 1863; respecting which the Duke of Somerset stated that his agent had indeed told him after the election that he had given notices to quit to several tenants, not because of their votes, but because they publicly boasted of having taken bribes. If more than this was done, it was without the Duke's knowledge, and the Duke's agent, of course, did not state, nor had the Duke any reason to suspect, that he himself had offered bribes. The Commissioners were satisfied with that explanation and made no further inquiry upon the subject. There was one other fact which it was material he should mention—namely, that when one of the Commissioners asked the Duke if any complaints of eviction had ever been made to him, he said he never to his knowledge received any letter of that kind. During the time the Duke was Member for the borough his own conduct was pure, and he maintained the purity of the borough. As to the rights of property, it did not appear that he had on any occasion personally exercised those rights, or authorized any of his agents to exercise them, in a manner which could be regarded as harsh and oppressive. The votes created were bonâ fide according to law. He (Sir Roundell Palmer) had been anxious to lay these facts before the House, because the Duke naturally felt desirous that his name should stand before the country and the House in as fair and pure a position as it had always done.


said, he felt it to be his duty to state certain circumstances which had come to his knowledge. He had not the honour of a personal acquaintance with the Duke of Somerset; but he had had the honour of representing a county in which the Duke had a large property and considerable influence, and he could state that no steps whatever had been taken by the Duke to influence his tenantry; on the contrary, his Grace left them to act entirely as they pleased. There was the prospect of a very severe contest, and he happened to know, from personal acquaintance with the tenantry, that the Duke's tenants had not been interfered with. He and his Colleague were opposed in politics to his Grace, and had the Duke used his legitimate influence they would have been no doubt put to considerable cost and annoyance. He therefore thought it due to the noble Duke to make this statement.


said, he had happened to form a very strong opinion respecting the question of undue influence on the part of the Duke of Somerset, and nothing that had been said during the evening had disturbed that opinion. Commissioners, he noticed, were never very anxious to find fault with great men; accordingly, he was not surprised to find that the Commissioners in this case had not made a very severe report respecting the conduct of the Duke of Somerst. He would ask the hon. and learned Member for Richmond whether the maxim qui facit per alium facit per se did not apply in their cases? There were two men who acted as his Grace's agents. One was guilty of gross bribery, the other admitted that he had accused some of the Duke's tenants, who were favourable to the Tories, of bribery, and that he knew the accusation to be false. He had never read evidence that more reminded him of the Italian Majocchi at Queen Caroline's trial than that given by the Duke of Somerset. It was all non mi recordo. At first there might be a presumption that his Grace's stewards did the right thing, but when their acts became matters of publicity, found their way into the papers, and were afterwards brought out before the Commission, affairs assumed a very different aspect. Could the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether his Grace had discharged Mr. Michelmore? Because, if a man branded as this Mr. Michelmore was did not really act under the Duke's orders, did not take a nod or a wink from the Duke, his continued employment reflected upon the character of his employer.


said, that it was Mr. Michelmore's son who was now agent to the Duke.


Of course; and he would continue to be his agent; and as the Duke's agent, if opportunity offered in the borough of Totnes, things would go on precisely as before. Then it was said that the Duke's tenants were disposed to vote a particular way, and only acted up to their previous intentions; but there was direct evidence that Mr. Michelmore said, "If you don't vote so-and-so, you do not stay." So much, therefore, for the alleged free will of the voters. Nobody had accused the Duke directly of bribery or corrupt practices. But the Duke had broken the Sessional Orders of the House—the value of which no man ought to know better than himself, having been a Member of the House. That those Sessional Orders had been laughed at and utterly put aside by the Duke's stewards or agents there could be no more doubt than that he was now addressing the House. The only thing that he complained of was, that this case was brought forward alone, and that the Resolution had not been made more general, as there were many more names of Peers and Commoners of both parties which were capable of being questioned. There could be no doubt that a very large proportion of Members in that House had been returned by means which violated the rules of the House. No manner of doubt could exist that Members of the Peerage interfered with elections. The evil would go on flourishing and increasing till the House devised some very stringent means of putting it down. Hitherto, instead of being treated as a matter of shame and reproach, occurrences of the kind had been regarded as things of daily occurrence. But now that the light of day had been thrown upon such abuses they became a reproach to the Constitution, and if the House of Commons made light of them they would become a disgrace to the country.


said, that as he first brought this matter before the House by means of a Question, he was glad that the subject had given rise to some discussion. He felt strongly that since the country had incurred the expense of issuing Election Commissions, and the humiliation in the eyes of foreign nations of dragging to light all the abuses of our electoral system, something practical ought to follow the investigation. A different spirit, he believed, animated the House now from that existing in former years, so that these Reports were no longer likely to be cast into the waste-paper basket. He bore willing testimony to the fairness with which the hon. Baronet had stated the case; he had not shrunk from accusing his own party, while substantiating the case against his opponents. But he brought forward the question distinctly as a party question. And it was well that he did so. For if a certain amount of party feeling could be raised, and each side confined itself to attacking the malpractices of its opponents, they might hope that in time those evils would be exposed and checked. The question he himself had put was not at all of a party nature—it related to the alleged embezzlement of £1,200 belonging to Colonel Dawkins. The hon. Baronet made an appeal on the ground that this was a case of high against low, of the rich man against the poor. But if the Government should be advised to take ulterior proceedings, it must be recollected that this fund of £1,200 was available for the defence. He had pointed out that at Totnes perjury and subornation of perjury had been committed, and he had mentioned the name of "Heath and others" instead of including the whole list. The hon. Baronet had taken exception to his mention of Mr. Heath's name singly. He had done so with a view of avoiding unnecessary prolixity, but he would take care on a future occasion to repeat the entire list of names, Liberal as well as Conservative. It was said there was a great difference between the position of the Duke of Somerset and of an innkeeper. That point might be granted, but there was also a considerable difference in the offences with which they were charged. The hon. Baronet was rather late with the Motion he had submitted; and it would be a mere waste of money to go to the expense of printing such documents. In matters of corrupt practices there was, unfortunately, a Statute of Limitations, which he hoped would be removed by the proposed Bribery Bill of the Government. The gravity of offences did not depend upon the penalty which the law imposed. Duelling was regarded long ago in legal contemplation as murder, and yet public opinion always condoned the offence. So it was with bribery and undue influence in the present day. There were numbers of persons, not only in the House, but throughout the country, who regarded such offences as very trivial indeed. In the North of England they well knew that it was not merely the great landowners who exercised undue influence. Manufacturers, shopkeepers, attorneys, the humblest man who felt a sufficiently warm interest in politics were all as ready as a Duke could be to exercise undue influence. He did not think an Attorney General would be well employed in prosecuting for the embezzlement of money supplied for an illegal purpose. But the question of subornation of perjury stood on very different ground, and the Commissioners in their Report insisted strongly upon the fact that they had great difficulty in obtaining information from the witnesses examined before them at Totnes—three separate cases being instanced where parties had been guilty of perjury or subornation of perjury. This was a question which juries and Judges frequently treated with leniency, but it was one which the House of Commons ought to have fairly and fully before their eyes; and therefore he proposed after Easter to bring the whole matter prominently forward. The question of the Duke of Somerset's influence seemed to lie in a nutshell. His hon. and learned friend the Member for Richmond had made a very ingenious defence for the Duke; but the long and the short of it was that the Duke having sat many years ago as Member for Totnes—which was neither better nor worse than the pocket and nomination boroughs represented, not exclusively by noblemen, on both sides of the House—had, since that time, been endeavouring to shake himself free from all evil practices in regard to the borough. No one could doubt that, who read the Report of the Royal Commission in a candid spirit. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House knew that what he was about to assert, as a dockyard Member, was strictly and liter ally true. The Duke of Somerset was the first chief of the Admiralty, on either side of the House, who, as far as he had been able to ascertain, had deliberately set his face against jobbing in the dockyards. As a Member for a dockyard town himself, he could state that Government influence in the dockyards was of no value now to any candidate, and he hoped that system which rendered it valueless would be continued by the present Government. He thought that circumstance ought to be mentioned to the credit of the Duke of Somerset; because he thought that if a man spent his own money and used his own influence for his friends it was not so bad as if he spent the Government money and used the Government influence. It was only by dealing with particular cases and individuals they had put down bribery and corrupting; and certainly he should attack peccant boroughs and peccant individuals whenever he had a chance.


said, he rose only to make one remark in consequence of the concluding observations of the hon. Member who had just sat down—that the Duke of Somerset was the first chief of the Admiralty who had set his face against jobbery in the dockyards. He had the greatest respect for the Duke of Somerset personally, and for the impartiality with which he distributed his patronage; but a more unfounded statement than that of the hon. Member had never been made in that House. He would not go further back in disproof of it than to the Administration of his right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for War. In 1858, when his right hon. Friend went to the Admiralty, a strong opinion prevailed in many quarters that promotion in the dockyards was influenced by political favouritism on the part of inferior officers. In consequence, his right hon. Friend wrote a private letter to the superintendents of the different dockyards, requesting them to control such improper influences by every means in their power, and during the whole of the fifteen months in which he continued in office he (Mr. Corry) did not believe a single appointment or promotion was made except on the recommendation of the superintendents. He could certainly say that that was the case in respect of the promotions to subordinate ranks which was at his own disposal as Secretary.


said, he had no doubt whatever of the correctness of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and he must have been misinformed as to the Duke of Somerset having taken the initiative in the matter referred to. This circumstance only showed how unsafe it was to trust to one-sided statements.


said, it had been brought as a charge by the hon. Member for Bristol against the members of the Commission that they were not over fond of bringing accusations against persons in high places. He thought this was a most unfounded charge to be brought against the Commissioners for Totnes, who had done their duty, and spared no one. He agreed entirely with his Friend the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Bounden Palmer) that the evidence at Totnes had been fairly taken; and he contended that the charge made against the noble Duke by the hon. Baronet to the extent to which it was made was fairly justified by that evidence. The hon. Baronet had expressly stated that he did not charge the noble Duke with bribery or corruption, but with the manufacture of votes. The evidence of the manufacture of votes was confined to certain cases that were specified; while as to the ousting of voters, it appeared that the noble Duke was utterly ignorant that this was done on any other ground than that the voters had received bribes of a very aggravated character, and that they acknowledged having done so. Having gone through the evidence with great care, he thought it right to say that, in his opinion, there was not the smallest pretence for alleging that the Duke was in any way open to the charge of bribery and corruption in the usual sense of the terms; and as regarded the ouster of tenants, it appeared from the evidence that the Duke was not aware that they were removed for any other reason than that of their having received bribes. He believed that the proportions to which the charges were to be reduced were those to which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond had reduced them.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.