HC Deb 01 April 1869 vol 195 cc25-6

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:— 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 Sir Colin Blackburn, knight, one of the Judges of the Court of Queen's Bench, and one of the Judges selected for the trial of Election Petitions, pursuant to the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1868, has reported to the House of Commons, that there is reason to believe that bribery extensively prevailed at the last Election for the Borough of Bridgwater. 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 William Forsyth, esquire, one of Her Majesty's Counsel, Thomas Chisholm Anstey, esquire, Barrister at Law, and Charles Edward Coleridge, esquire, Barrister at Law, as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such corrupt practices. Address to be communicated to The Lords, and their concurrence desired thereto. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that after the remarks which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Mr. G. Hardy) on the Norwich case, it would not be necessary for him to go into the subject at any length. The right hon. Gentleman said that whenever a learned Judge reported in terms of the Act that corrupt practices had prevailed, the House ought to act on the opinion of the Judge and issue a Commission. In this case the learned Judge had reported in terms of the Act that he had reason to believe that corrupt practices did extensively prevail at the time of the last election. The case was very similar to that of Norwich, except that, in this case, the bribery was exercised on behalf of the Liberal candidates, though the Judge reported that there was no reason to implicate them in the bribery. The learned Judge, in his summing up, said the evidence had satisfied him that there was a portion of the electors going about the town, and making inquiries whether anything was going; whether any stuff was going, and so on; and he was further satisfied that hopes were held out to them that, if anything was going, those who voted early would be paid the same as those who voted later. The consequence was that, while only seventy-four votes were polled for Mr. Westrop, the Conservative candidate, between one and four, the votes on the Liberal side rose from 465 to 731 during the same period, and the learned Judge added it was impossible to resist the conclusion that these numbers were procured by bribery. He (the Attorney General) must add that Bridgwater was an old offender against the bribery laws; that it had been reported on by more than one Committee of the House; and that one Committee reported they had reason to believe bribery did extensively prevail. He hoped, therefore, the House would accede to his Motion.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter after Six o'clock.