HC Deb 19 March 1867 vol 186 cc126-8

said, he rose to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether Mr. William Henry Leatham is the same Mr. Leatham who was found personally guilty of bribery by on Election Committee of this House after the General Election of 1859, and ordered by this House to be prosecuted by Mr. Attorney General; whether Mr. Philip Vanderbyl, who is stated in the Great Yarmouth Commission Report to have entered into a corrupt agreement with a Mr. Brogden that, in the event of his being returned, he would repay the said Mr. Brogden one-half the money advanced by him for the purposes of bribery; whether Mr. E. W. Watkin, who is mentioned in the Report of the Great Yarmouth Commission and is included in the list, Schedule D, of persons having given bribes at the Election in that Borough in 1839: and, whether Mr. Alfred Seymour, who is mentioned in the Report of the Totnes Commission as having been privy and assenting to the corrupt practices that prevailed at that Election, are Members of this House, and, if justices of the peace, it is the intention of the Govern- ment to remove them from the several Commissions to which they belong?


Sir, the Questions put to me by my hon. Friend are Questions which it is no doubt very difficult to answer; because in the annals of jurisprudence there is, it appears to me, no circumstance more startling than the frequent instances of mistaken identity. I think therefore, Sir, that any individual occupying at the present day so responsible a position as that which I have the honour to hold, ought to be extremely cautious in giving an opinion on matters with regard to which such mistakes might occur. There is certainly a startling similarity in the names which have been quoted by my hon. Friend, and those which are habitually used by some Members of this House. But then if, on the other hand, I were to judge of the accuracy of the views on this point, which he seems to entertain by the general tone of expression and conduct of the gentlemen to whom I suppose he refers, I should say, looking at the unquestioned purity of their motives, the highly liberal tone which they always adopt, and the readiness which they invariably show in condemning anything like Tory corruption, there is primâ facie evidence that they cannot really be the same persons. I regard it to be my duty, as Leader of the House, to give all the information I can to its Members, and to suggest to them on all occasions the most practical means of securing the object they wish to attain. I would, then, suggest to my hon. Friend that a Select Committee might furnish a better mode of ascertaining the truth in this instance, than any information which I have it in my power to supply.


Sir, I rely upon the good feeling of the House and its love of fair play on both sides, to allow me to read a letter I addressed to the Lord Chancellor this morning, and which as I furnished a copy to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer I had hoped he would have read, and so saved me the trouble of making any explanation to the House. I perfectly agree with the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bagge), that a man who would either give a bribe himself or wilfully and knowingly suffer a bribe to be given on his behalf, was not worthy to hold Her Majesty's Commission. The moment I saw the notice it struck me that the most honourable and manly course for me to pursue—and allow me to say that in following an honourable or manly course it is not necessary for me to take lessons in propriety from hon. Gentlemen opposite—was to immediately address the Lord Chancellor, and I accordingly wrote to his Lordship as follows:— House of Commons, March 19, 1867. My Lord,—I respectfully apply to your Lordship to order a full inquiry into my personal conduct as impugned in the Report of the Great Yarmouth Commissioners. I entertain the opinion that any man who would himself give a bribe, and knowingly or wilfully would enable, or would knowingly countenance bribery and corruption, commits a serious offence, and the fact that persons in high places may have been led into such an offence would not justify my honour or con, science did I feel myself fairly open to accusation. When the Commissioners first assembled, I think in August last, I volunteered to give evidence, but I regret to say that I was not called till October. I was my own voluntary accuser of an imprudence and indiscretion which I would rather exaggerate than excuse, and the blame of which I will not seek to lay at the door of others who might have protected me. In volunteering evidence, I felt it my duty in the public interest to assist the labours of the Commissioners, however far truth might compel me to inculpate myself; and I shall never regret the step I took, although it has enabled a more unjust and ungenerous report, which I challenge as contrary and in excess of the evidence as regards myself. The moment the Report was printed I drew up a notice for a further and a searching inquiry, but under the advice of friends, both in and out of the House, I postponed giving it. The discussion as to one of your Lordship's recent appointments has led to various notices en revanche, and although I might paas them by as factious and unworthy, I am impressed with the gravity of the question which lies behind; and therefore, in now respectfully applying to your Lordship, I beg to say that I shall refrain from acting as a magistrate until I learn your Lordship's decision.—I have the honour to remain, &c.


I think, Sir, the introduction of my name into this Question was totally uncalled for, The hon. Member for West Norfolk must be sufficiently well acquainted with the constitution of the House to know that I am a Member. With regard to the second part of the Question, as I am not in the Commission of the Peace I have nothing to do with it, and I cannot see what was the use of introducing my name into the Question. I think it is pretty well known that there must have been some peculiar motive which has induced the hon. Gentleman to put this Question upon the Paper.