HC Deb 03 July 1868 vol 193 cc675-9

, in rising to move that Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Citizen to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Bristol, in the room of John William Miles, Esquire, whoso Election has been determined to be void, said, that Bristol had for a long time past been exceedingly ill-treated, and had, in fact, been made the foot-ball of contending parties. During the passing of the Reform Bill through the House a very large minority regarded Bristol as a city of so much importance that they voted in favour of an additional Member being given her. At that time the constituency was practically represented by a single Member, the other representative abstaining from all part in the proceedings. It was, indeed, understood that the Gentleman to whom he had referred would have retired from the House, but for the fact that those in whose hands he had placed his resignation regarded the interests of party as paramount to every other consideration. Bristol was still being bandied about from party to party. It was only a very few days after the late election was declared void that an hon. Member on the other side of the House gave Notice that he would move for the issuing of the Writ. At the time the Notice was given, it was supposed that the candidate who belonged to the party opposite would have been returned without opposition, but as soon as it was found that that was not to be the case the Notice was withdrawn. A similar Notice was subsequently given by another hon. Member, and that Notice was also withdrawn. If the Committee by whom the validity of the last election had been decided had reported that bribery had extensively prevailed he should not for a moment have thought of making this Motion so soon after the issue of their Report; but the Committee reported that they "had no reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed, regard being had to the number of registered electors." His hon. Friend the Chairman of that Committee had assured him that when that evidence was in the hands of Members the Report would be fully con-finned. He trusted that, under these circumstances, the House would see the propriety of giving to Bristol its full share of representation.

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 Citizen to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Bristol, in the room of John William Miles, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void."—(Mr. Neville-Grenville.)

MR. BASS moved, as an Amendment— That no Writ be issued for the City of Bristol until sever, days after the evidence taken before the Election Committee for that city shall have been in the hands of Members. He had no doubt when the matter came to be fully discussed they would find out much more than what appeared on the surface. One of the principal citizens of Bristol, for instance, had assured him that for one case of bribery exposed before the Committee at least another dozen could have been proved, while at the present moment he believed that corruption, intimidation, treating, and bribery were being resorted to almost beyond precedent, under the idea that owing to the short time that the existence of the present Parliament was to be prolonged any examination by a Committee into the proceedings would be out of the question.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Writ be issued for the City of Bristol until seven days after the evidence taken before the Election Committee for that city shall have been in the hands of Members,"—(Mr. Bass,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


seconded the Amendment of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass). He believed that the House ought to take every opportunity in its power of discouraging the bribery and other malpractices which so extensively prevailed at elections. He protested against the notions that the amount of corruption was to be considered with relation to the size of the constituency, and that where one member of a family had been unseated for corruption, another member of the same family should step into the seat and profit by the bribery.


explained that the Motion for the issue of a Writ which he had placed on the Paper had been withdrawn out of deference to a general feeling on that side of the House against such a course being adopted, and he trusted that the Motion would not now be pressed.


said, that as Chairman of the Committee by whom the validity of the late election was decided, he would beg to remind the House that the evidence taken by the Committee had not yet been laid on the table. The Committee had, it was true, reported that bribery did not appear to have extensively prevailed, regard being had to the number of registered electors. The House should bear in mind the fact that Bristol contained 15,000 electors, while the total number of persons proved to have been guilty of corrupt practices was, if he remembered rightly, forty-six. Even supposing that double the number of cases of bribery proved before the Committee had occurred—though this had never been suggested as probable—it would not show that bribery extensively prevailed, for fifty cases out of a constituency of 15,000 were a very different thing from as many cases out of a constituency of 200. As to intimidation, though charged in the Petition, it was distinctly withdrawn by counsel, and it was admitted that Mr. Miles had no complicity in the corrupt practices which had voided his return, while on the other side no imputation was made against his competitor, Mr. Morley. Under these circumstances, he thought the reflections which had been passed on Bristol were unjust, and it should be remembered that that city had for some time been placed in a very anomalous and unfair position. He regretted, however, that this Motion had been proposed, for he thought it would be a bad precedent to press such a Motion before the House was in possession of the evidence. If the House divided upon it he should, as Chairman of the Committee, abstain from voting.


said, he concurred in the remarks of the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Howes). He had always deprecated any transfer of jurisdiction with regard to Election Petitions, and he thought the Committee in the Bristol case had given an illustration of the fairness which characterized the present tribunal. He protested, however, against the Act of Parliament under which Election Petitions were tried, and according to which it was almost impossible to fix any blame upon the candidate. The poorer classes were dealt with readily enough; not so with the classes above them. If the poorer classes bribed and received bribes, where did the money come from? Still he felt convinced that Mr. Miles, and all the family of the Mileses, were incapable of countenancing bribery. He hoped Her Majesty's Government were not making a party move of this question. He thought Her Majesty's Government ought not to countenance the issue of a Writ for Bristol. Nothing could be gained by having a Member in the House for only three weeks. No reason had been given for the Motion, while there were many reasons against it. Great excitement prevailed in the city, and violence such as was only to be found in a Bristol mob—he did not even except the "lambs" of Nottingham. It was therefore impossible to calculate the mischief and disturbance which might ensue if an election were held now.


said, that while hoping to see Mr. Miles returned on a future occasion, he thought it was unreasonable to expect that he should go through a contest in order to fill the seat for two or three weeks. He should therefore vote for the Amendment.


said, he was willing, in deference to the opinion of hon. Members, to withdraw his Motion. He denied, however, the existence in Bristol of violence or Saturnalia.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock, till Monday next.