HC Deb 09 April 1869 vol 195 cc559-65

said, he rose to move that an Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying for the appointment of a Commission to inquire as to the prevalence of corrupt practices at Beverley during the last Election. Before entering upon the question he desired to supplement a statement he had made respecting the Norwich Election, to the effect that a number of half-sovereigns had been laid out upon a table at the bank. The cashier had denied this, and said he had given the half-sovereigns to the person who applied for them. It would, however, be for the Commissioners to say which of these stories was correct. In the case of the Beverley Election he proposed to confine himself to the Report of the learned Judge, for he agreed with the opinion expressed by the late Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gathorne Hardy), that the House should act upon the Report of the Judge, who above all other persons was most competent to form an opinion on the case he had tried. Not only had the Judges heard the evidence and. marked the demeanour of the witnesses in the cases which had come before them, but they were eminent public functionaries of great learning, who had devoted their lives to the hearing of evidence and the sifting of testimony. If the House entered upon an inquiry as to whether the decision arrived at was just, it would inevitably lead to interminable and fruitless debates. He would content himself by calling attention to the Report of the learned Judge. If the case of Norwich was a bad one, and if that of Bridgwater was possibly somewhat worse, the case of Beverley was much worse than both put together, for there was more corruption at Beverley than there was at the other two places. He would con- fine himself to such parts of the judgment as were material for consideration. The learned Judge reported— That the number of persons who were proved at the said trial to have been guilty of corrupt practices was one hundred and four, and that their names are written in the Schedule hereunto annexed. And, in further pursuance of the said Act, I report that corrupt practices did prevail, and that there is reason upon the evidence before me to believe that they did extensively prevail, at the said Election. The learned Judge gave an outline of the leading features of the election; and the three concluding paragraphs of the Report of Mr. Baron Martin were as follow:— I was perfectly satisfied upon the whole of the evidence that more than 800 Parliamentary Electors were bribed, and what several witnesses stated to have been said to them by the persons who bribed them—namely, that the bribes were for the Parliamentary Election as well as the Municipal Election was the truth. The persons who were alleged to have made these statements were all named, and not one of them were called to contradict it. The excuse alleged for this bribery was that the Liberal party were doing the same. It was stated by Mr. Norfolk that his reason for drawing out the money on the Monday was, that he was told the Liberal party were paying twenty-five shillings a vote with money supplied by Messrs. Maxwell and Trollope, who were at that time in the Borough as candidates. I had no means of investigating this matter as it was not in issue in the Petition before me, nor did I think it right of myself to continue the examination of the witnesses called beyond the examination and cross-examination of the learned counsel. The only witnesses called for the Respondents were Mr. Norfolk and Mr. Wreghitt and the Respondents themselves, neither Mr. Lowther or any of the other persons who paid the bribes were called. If it be thought right to have the condition of this Borough with regard to the general prevalence of bribery and corruption thoroughly investigated it can only be done by a Commission issued in pursuance of the 15 & 16 Vict. c. 57. The flimsy pretext was made that the corruption practised was intended solely to influence the municipal election, and had nothing to do with the Parliamentary election, but the learned Judge investigated that allegation, and he came to the conclusion that it was a mere pretext, that the bribes that were given at the municipal election were intended to cover the Parliamentary election, and in fact did so, and that the giving of these bribes was the cause of the return of the sitting Members. It appeared to him that the House would hardly take upon itself to say that the Judge was wrong in the conclusion he came to. As to the excuse alleged for the bribery, "that the Liberal party were doing the same," he thought that highly probable, and it only made the case for a Commission all the stronger. Far be it from him to say that all the reported bribery was on one side; and if 800 voters were bribed by one party and more were bribed by the other he should like to know how many were not bribed. The learned Judge intimated as strongly as it would be respectful in him to do that this was a case for a Commission. Having read the evidence, he thought it entirely bore out the Report of the learned Judge.

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 Sir Samuel Martin, knight, one of the Barons of the Court of Exchequer, 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 corrupt practices did prevail, and that there is reason, upon the evidence before him, to believe that they did extensively prevail at the last Election for the Borough of Beverley. 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 Michael O'Brien, esquire, Serjeant at Law, Thomas Irwin Barstow, esquire, Barrister at Law, and Homersham Cox, esquire, Barrister at Law, as Commissioners for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such corrupt practices."—(Mr. Attorney General.)


said, he quite admitted that, under ordinary circumstances, a recommendation such as the learned Judge had made in this case ought to be accepted indisputably by the House. So long as the trial of election petitions was delegated to the Judges, the representations of a Judge ought undoubtedly to be submitted to and supported. But in this case there were special and exceptional circumstances which the House ought to consider. The learned Judge reported that "no corrupt practice was proved to have been committed by or with the knowledge or consent of any of the candidates," and, therefore, the candidates—Whig or Tory—were not implicated in the corrupt practices. In one paragraph the learned Judge said— It appeared that Sir Henry Edwards first came to Beverley as a candidate in the year 1857, upon the invitation of a Mr. Wreghitt, a draper in the town, on behalf of himself and others. Sir Henry Edwards was then elected. Shortly after that time Sir Henry became the chairman of a Company carrying on its business in the Borough, called the Beverley Waggon Company, Limited. Of this Company a Mr. Norfolk here-inafter mentioned was manager, and a Mr. Usher the secretary. From and after the year 1857, and continually until the present time, Mr. Wreghitt has been and is the confidential agent of Sir Henry Edwards for the purposes and management of his Parliamentary interest in the Borough, and during this period, and from time to time, he remitted to Mr. Wreghitt sums of money to be expended by him in support of it. If it had appeared to the Judge that the money was to have been used for the benefit of Sir Henry Edwards, one would have expected he would have inquired how it was expended. What did he say in the next paragraph?— It appeared that no detailed account of the expenditure of this money was ever given to or asked for by Sir Henry Edwards, and although both he and Mr. Wreghitt were witnesses at the trial, neither of them were examined as to what amount of money was so remitted and received, or how it was expended, beyond some general questions, which were answered by a statement that money was paid for charitable purposes, and for a subscription to an agricultural association. What struck him on reading that paragraph was that the Judge did not consider it necessary to ask for any specific statement of the sums expended, he believing that they had nothing to do with bribery, but that they were for the usual purposes and for subscriptions to charitable objects. So far as this went, he could not see that it brought home a charge of corruption to Mr. Wreghitt, Sir Henry Edwards, or any of the candidates. He admitted at once that there was considerable bribery by Mr. Wreghitt for municipal purposes; and having admitted that he came to this point. The Judge said— Sir Henry Edwards and Captain Kennard came to Beverley the following day, the 3rd November, and there was no evidence that from that day any bribery took place, and Sir Henry Edwards stated that until the trial he never was told or heard of the bribery and corruption which had taken place at the Municipal Election, as it was proved that Mr. Lowther and others who were directly engaged in this bribing canvassed with him during the ensuing fortnight, it is obvious that the Municipal bribery of the 2nd of November, which must have been notorious in the Borough, was of purpose and design concealed and kept back from him. Therefore, at that time neither of the candidates was cognizant of any bribery or of any intention to bribe, as far as they were concerned. He now came to the paragraph quoted by the learned Attorney General, in which the Judge said 800 Parliamentary electors were bribed, but there was no evidence to show that that bribery was for Parliamentary election purposes. The voters were, no doubt, bribed for municipal purposes. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) must be aware that most municipal elections throughout this country were carried by the aid of the grossest bribery and corruption, and he did not believe that even Brighton itself was an exception. He was perfectly willing to acknowledge that great corruption had prevailed at the municipal elections; but not only had no bribery or corruption been traced to Sir Henry Edwards or his agents, but no corruption had been proved to have occurred in connection with the Parliamentary election. He did not, therefore, see that they were justified in visiting Beverley with so severe a punishment, and although he, for one, regarded the new mode of conducting election inquiries as perfectly successful, and believed the decisions generally to be very satisfactory, he thought that the House might fairly make an exception in this particular instance.


said, he was at a loss to understand how any Member could have read the evidence and the Report in relation to the late election at Beverley, and not have come to the conclusion that there had been for the last eleven years in the borough an organized system of bribery, carried on, too, at the instigation of the gentleman who desired to represent the borough in Parliament.


said, he did not desire to cast any imputation on the learned Judge who had tried this petition, but would leave him to the verdict of the country. He believed that, in this instance, the Members for Beverley were made to suffer for faults which were not their own. He could not see what difference there was between the cases of Bradford and Beverley; and yet in these two cases the same Judge gave different decisions. At Bradford, when evidence was being adduced to show that there had been a good deal of drinking in the borough, Mr. Baron Martin observed to Mr. Serjeant Ballantine—"It seems to me that this arises out of your cross-examination. It may be that this beer-drinking may be municipal beer-drinking and not borough beer-drinking." He should be glad to learn why municipal beer-drinking should in Bradford be regarded as harmless, while in Beverley it was to be visited with these penal consequences. He thought, too, that under the present circumstances, with a Committee which had been appointed on the Motion of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and which was now sitting upstairs, it would not be fair to accede to the Motion of the Attorney General, and to throw upon Beverley the heavy expenses which would necessarily attend such an inquiry as that now proposed. He would therefore move— That the issue of a Commission be deferred until an opportunity be afforded for an inquiry by the Select Committee on Parliamentary and Municipal Elections now sitting.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, that in a certain sense the system under which the House had abandoned its jurisdiction with regard to election petitions was as much on its trial as the particular case now under consideration. He thought the discrepancies in the decisions of the Judges were a serious matter, and he was not sure they might not lead to a resumption by the House of its privilege of trying election petitions. At all events, he thought that during the present Session the House ought to deal generously and gently even with per cant constituencies. At the end of the Session the decisions in all the cases might be laid before the Judges, with the view of seeing whether a fixed code of laws relative to election cases might not be laid down.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the issue of a Commission be deferred until an opportunity be afforded for an inquiry by the Select Committee on Parliamentary and Municipal Elections now sitting."—(Colonel Stuart Knox.)

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


said, as a reference had been made to Bradford, they might as well put an end to inquiries by the Judges if, on occasions like the pre- sent, evidence given in another case was quoted and relied on, although the Judge himself had decided that it was not worthy of consideration.


said, that if elections were to be voided, as in this case, although there was no proof of corrupt practices by the Member or his agents, no candidate would be safe, because he might be unseated for bribery committed by his enemies.


said, this case was even a stronger one for a Royal Commission than if merely the candidate or his agent was proved to have committed bribery; because, where an election was voided for bribery by an individual, there might perhaps have been only one case of that corrupt practice, while the case alleged against the borough of Beverley was that there had been wholesale bribery. As many as 800 persons were proved to have been bribed, and there was reason to believe that that was not the whole number of the bribed. Why, then, should not the inquiry be made? Simply on the flimsy pretext put forward, that the bribery was not practised at the Parliamentary, but at the municipal election? But they knew that the former followed almost immediately the latter election, and that the sums of money given to the voters at the municipal contest were far in excess of what was ordinarily given.


said, that, while he thought the decisions of the Judges should be respected, it appeared to him that the House were going beyond the lengths to which they went under the old system. A Royal Commission did not, as a matter of course, follow a strong Report of a Committee. The question whether such a Commission should issue was debated. He must also remark that he thought the observations made by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Brewer), to the effect that corrupt practices had existed for years in Beverley, was an unfair one to Sir Henry Edwards, whose absence from that House many hon. Members regretted. At the same time, he would recommend his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stuart Knox) not to press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Address to be communicated to the Lords, and their concurrence desired thereto.