HC Deb 05 July 1869 vol 197 cc1174-84

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)


, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months, said, that disguise it as they might, it was universally believed by the country that this was a Bill of a very exceptional character, an ex post facto Bill, which was not only bad in itself, but would form a most pernicious precedent. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, it was impossible to please Members on that the Opposition side, whatever form the legislation on this subject assumed. He admitted it. When the change was made in the Law of Election Petitions last year, the House was told that if they got rid of the Election Committees and transferred their jurisdiction to the Judges, all imputations upon the fairness of their de-3isions would be removed, these questrons being removed from the arena of the House. It was said that the Judges would go to the spot, that they were above all suspicion of political bias, and that when they were sent down to make these inquiries the House would have done everything that was possible. Having now trusted the Judges with this great commission, it was not for the House to go behind their backs and institute an inquiry as to whether the facts had been fairly investigated, and whether the House ought to believe their Reports. The greater the weight which ought to attach to the Report of a Judge the more necessary it was to inquire whether it justified the proceedings by which it was to be followed. He asserted, without fear of contradiction, that the House would not have taken the step which they were now asked to take if they had been acting upon the Report of an Election. Committee instead of that of a Judge. The right hon. Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) had betrayed the animus by which he and those around him had been animated; but nothing could be worse than that the House should be governed by political or party motives in taking the course that was now proposed against the freemen of Dublin. The only motives he could imagine for this Bill were either to discover a greater number of culprits for prosecution, or to discredit the freemen of Dublin, so as to lead to their disfranchisement. With regard to the prosecution of these delinquents, he would not believe that if a Commission issued it would be likely to obtain the names of any more freemen who had been bribed. It was impossible to suppose that the Election Commissioners would be in a better position than the Judge, or that they could, indeed, take so severe and stringent a course as he was enabled to pursue against the delinquents. The object of the Bill was, in fact, not to obtain an additional number of culprits, but to disfranchise the freemen of Dublin. He went to the consideration of this question with no prepossessions in favour of freemen as a body—rather the contrary. But he must say that the freemen of Dublin seemed to him to be favourable specimens of the class. The guilt of no more than fifty-nine had been proved before the Judge out of the whole body, which numbered nearly 3,000, and it was obviously unjust that the offences of the few should be visited on the heads of their innocent brethren. He found that those hon. Members who supported the Bill, however disposed they might be to punish or disfranchise the freemen of Dublin, took a very different view of freemen elsewhere, and invariably had a particular regard and esteem for those freemen of their constituencies who had voted for them. Were the Government, with a majority of some 118 at their back, so afraid of the result of a new election for the City of Dublin, which might, he hoped, be the return of a Conservative Member—that they would not allow the issue of the Writ? He believed the House would have reason deeply to repent this dead set at a small portion of a particular class in one constituency, while they shut their eyes at the practices which prevailed in so many others. The country would say that the House of Commons from party motives had determined to strain the Judge's Report, which did not justify the issuing of a Commission. It would be no imputation on the learned Judge if the House did not act on his Report. It would be better to have an inquiry into the case of freemen generally, than resort to this unconstitutional ex post facto legislation in the case of Dublin, when Bradford, York, and other places had escaped. He moved that the Bill be read a second time this day three months.


said, he must strongly protest against the Bill, which had evidently been brought forward to disfranchise the freemen of Dublin because three-fourths of them had expressed dislike to the First Lord of the Treasury and the policy he advocated. Anyone who knew the constituency of Dublin would recognize the intolerant hand which guided this action. An attempt was made to cry down the Protestants in that city. Under the plea of religious equality the greatest tyranny was exercised. A number of medical men joined in the cry; and they proceeded to such lengths as to insist that, even in the case of hospitals endowed by Protestants, Protestant doctors ought not to be appointed, because the majority of their patients were Roman Catholics. This Bill was a gross insult to a body which comprised a considerable amount of the intelligence, wealth, and respectability of the constituency. Why had not a similar Bill been introduced for Galway, Youghal, and Bradford? The same Judge (Justice Keogh), out of 449 freemen named fourteen, and mentioned that from eighty to 100 were proved to have asked money for their votes in the case of Galway. There were thus more one-fourth of the electors of Galway who had asked—he did not know whether they had received—money for their votes; while in Dublin, out of 2,700 freemen, only fifteen were named as having been guilty of corrupt practices, and forty-four not named, or about l–46th part of the whole. Yet the Judge did not, in the case of Galway, recommend any inquiry. Why? Was it because Liberal Members had been returned for Galway and the Petition was directed against a Conservative in the case of Dublin? Yet the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. James) the other night preached them a sermon on the purity of election—and almost immediately gave his vote for the impurity of party. This cry about purity was really damaging to the House, and would not gain for it the respect of the country. He begged to second the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Sir Frederick W. Heygate.)


said, the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment (Sir Frederick W. Heygate) had stated he would not go behind the Report of the learned Judge now under consideration, but he could hardly say he had adhered strictly to that course, for he had passed considerable criticism upon the conduct of the Judge on the occasion. But, however that might be, the course he professed to take was certainly not adopted by the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment (Mr. E. W. Verner). The hon. Member had in effect charged the learned Judge who tried this case with gross injustice and partiality; he had charged him in the face of the House of Commons with gross judicial corruption. Now, for him (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) to defend the conduct of Mr. Justice Keogh would be totally unnecessary; he would only say that he preferred the Report of the learned Judge to the line taken by the hon. Member (Sir Frederick Heygate) and also by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley). They had been told that the Government were reverting to the bad precedents of old times, and were re-introducing these angry discussions into the arena of the House of Commons; but they would be indeed guilty of that offence if they were to take it upon themselves to decide upon the merits of such a case when a learned Judge had pronounced upon one side with the authority which his character and position carried with it, and eminent Members of this House pronounced upon the other. Were they to take the decision of this question into their own hands? They proposed to do no such thing, but to refer the question at issue to the proper constitutional tribunal, and they therefore asked the House of Commons simply to appoint a Commission to inquire into the conduct of the Dublin freemen. It had been said that there had been a decision by the House of Lords that the Government were taking an illegal view of this question. Now, there was no judicial decision at all. The question was debated in the House of Lords, and a difference of opinion was expressed by high authorities. That difference had not shaken the opinion of the Government as to the justice and propriety of their interpretation of the Act. Nor did the House of Lords pronounce any judgment upon the merits of the case, or upon the question whether this was a proper subject for further investigation. What the majority there held was that this inquiry did not come technically within the terms of the Act now in force. Supposing that decision to be correct—and he did not admit it to be correct—this was nothing but a casus omissus in the present statute. Could it have been the intention of the statute that such a state of things as that recorded by Mr. Justice Keogh was not a proper subject for inquiry? They were told that the motives of the Government were of a party kind. But if they were to be accused of party motives because they asked for an inquiry into this matter in pursuance of the Report of a Judge, what was to be said of the motives of those who opposed any such inquiry? He denied that the Government and those who acted with them were actuated by party motives. They would have done the same whatever were the class of voters impugned, and He ventured to say, that if right hon. Gentlemen opposite had been in the position of responsibility occupied by the Government they would have found it impossible to allow Judge Keogh's Report to pass without some action. The hon. Baronet (Sir Frederick Heygate) said that an inquiry ought to have been instituted into the whole subject of freemen everywhere. But it really mattered nothing to the Government what class of voters were impugned by the Judge's Report. The fact of their being freemen was a mere accident; if they had been lodgers or rated occupiers the result would have been the same; and the House had nothing to do with the question of the freeman franchise all over the kingdom. The question before the House simply was whether they would issue a Writ for the City of Dublin in defiance of the Report of Mr. Justice Keogh, or do their duty by instituting an inquiry into the conduct of one important portion of the constituency in pursuance of the Report. In the concluding sentence of his judgment the learned Judge said— It has been proved to me by the most conclusive evidence, direct and circumstantial, that the Freemen of this City have been shown to a great extent to be corrupt voters, and I shall leave the House of Commons to deal with their ease and with the constituency as affected by them. This sentence in the judgment completely supported the Report. Were they not to deal with such a case; and if they were to deal with it, was it possible to deal with it in a more moderate or constitutional manner than that now proposed?


said, this was not a Bill to remedy a defect in the law; it was an attempt at ex post facto legislation, and therefore he opposed it. The existing Act directed that an inquiry should be made if the Judge reported that bribery extensively prevailed in the constituency, but, in his opinion, it did not authorize inquiry if the Judge reported that bribery prevailed among a portion of the constituency. The House of Lords had come to the same conclusion, and the Government did not meet the defect in the Act of Parliament, but tried to reach individuals who acted without violating the existing Act. Objection had at all times been very properly raised to the practice of making laws to meet, not a general principle, but a particular case; and it was not fair in this instance to make a special law in order to deal with that which had escaped the grasp of the ordinary law. It was better far that the freemen of Dublin, even had they been trebly guilty, should escape, than that a great principle of legislation should be set aside in order to meet their particular case. What good would come of the Commission? When the Commission, of which he had been the Chairman, sat to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at Galway, although the Report showed that bribery had been practised among the freemen of that borough, no such steps as those now proposed were taken, because it was felt that by so doing they would be practically setting aside the certificate of indemnity which had been given under the Act. No special Act had been passed in the case of Great Yarmouth, which was dealt with in the ordinary way under a Report of the House of Commons. The Report of the Judge did not reveal such an extraordinary amount of corruption existing among the whole constituency as would justify Parliament in taking unusual steps to punish it. Assuming, however, that legislative action were necessary, he had no objection to the Bill in itself, which he regarded as being fairly drawn. He had the utmost confidence in the three gentlemen whose names had been recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for insertion in the Bill.


said, that if the 2,700 freemen of Dublin had been a constituency of ordinary voters, there was not a lawyer who would say the Commission should not issue. These freemen were a privileged class, and that of itself was a sufficient reason for disfranchising them. A single vote in that House did not matter to the Liberal party; and that fact took the question at issue out of the range of party politics. It had been suggested that it was sought to disfranchise the freemen of Dublin because three-fourths of them were opposed to the policy of the First Minister of the Crown, but he (Sir Patrick O'Brien) knew, from thirty years acquaintance with them, that, for a consideration, three-fourths of them would accept the policy of the right hon. Gentleman. It was notorious in Dublin that on an elec- tion—and he did not profess to be a patriot—the first question put was—How much money will the Tories give for the freemen? and if they gave £2 10s. a vote, it would take the Liberals £5 to buy them. He would not, however, vote for the disfranchisement of these men without first giving them an opportunity of showing, on this inquiry, that they were as pure as they had been represented to be.


said, he approached this subject in no party spirit, but with the disposition to consider it on grounds of abstract justice and expediency. He made no imputations, but he could assure the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. Henry James) that the Opposition side of the House were quite as willing as the Ministerial supporters to put down bribery; and the late Government brought in and carried one of the most comprehensive measure for the suppression of bribery and corrupt practices that had ever been passed. The simple issue was, whether this was a case calling for special legislation. He had carefully read, the able judgment of the learned Judge who tried the Petition; but it seemed to him that the finding of the learned Judge in one part was inconsistent with the finding in the other, and that the Report differed from the judgment. The Report went to the extent that the learned. Judge had reason to believe that extensive bribery prevailed at the last election amongst the freemen of Dublin. It was worthy of observation that the statute provided two modes of finding for the Judge—one, that extensive bribery prevailed; the other, that he had reasonable cause to believe that bribery extensively prevailed: and as eleven persons only were actually found to have been bribed, the learned Judge had adopted the milder form of finding. It must be presumed they were freemen, though the learned Judge by no means reported that they were. Special legislation should only be resorted to in extreme cases, and he submitted that this was not a case of that description. The precedent of Great Yarmouth had been relied upon in support of this Bill; but it was, he thought, quite distinguishable from the present case. The Report relative to the freemen of Great Yarmouth alleged that ''gross, systematic, and extensive bribery prevailed at the last and previous elections." There was an- other distinction between the two cases. No Act of Parliament had then been passed for the punishment of those who were found guilty of bribery. Now, however, a most cogent and stringent punishment existed for that offence. There were other reasons why the House should not legislate specially against the freemen of Dublin. The margin between the candidates on the poll was so narrow that there was only a difference of 105 between the candidates at the top and bottom of the poll, and it might be supposed that party spirit had prompted this special interference of the Legislature. Then, again, three-fourths of the freemen were Protestants, and was this a desirable time to pass a Bill disfranchising the Protestant freemen of Dublin? The only difference between the measures of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) and that of the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Sullivan) was, that the former proposed sudden death to the freemen, and the latter a more protracted but equally certain death, supplemented by a decent interment.


said, the opposition of the last three speakers against the Bill seemed to rest on widely different grounds. The first charged the learned Judge with having given a corrupt decision, the second opposed it on the ground that it was ex post facto legislalation, and the third told them it was only when corruption had been reported to exist in a large degree they ought to inquire into the subject. One special reason in his (Mr. Denman's) opinion for appointing a Commission was that some of the principal delinquents had managed to be out of the way during the inquiry into the Election Petition, but that that could not happen in the case of a Commission, which might be extended over any length of time. All that was now being done was exactly in the spirit of what had been done before in similar cases. In such matters legislation must of necessity be ex post facto to this extent—that finding a very great piece of corruption had been committed, Parliament set to work to try and prevent corrupt persons in the future destroying the purity of elections in places where such practices had existed. Considering what cogent facts had been reported, nothing could be fairer than the appointment of a Commission, especially as it was said that the allegation of bribery was a gross libel and injustice.


said, he was glad that no hon. Member on the other side had attempted to carry the number of the persons corrupted in the Dublin constituency beyond a very limited amount. An Act of Parliament had been passed by means of which the dealing with corrupt practices was taken out of the hands of Parliament and placed in the hands of Judges. For some reason or other the learned Judge who tried this case did not bring himself within the four corners of the Act of Parliament, and it was, therefore, said that the House must try the case de novo. The Chief Secretary for Ireland asked the House to take a certain passage in the learned Judge's Report and act upon it; but high legal authority had declared that to make that statement was extra vires of the Judge, and that it was consequently no better than waste paper. If the House wished to legislate on the matter it ought to look on the evidence upon which the Report was founded, and in his opinion the evidence afforded very meagre ground for the conclusion to which the learned Judge came, and he thought it very unwise to bring these matters back again to the floor of the House of Commons. If they did so, they could not escape the suspicion of being actuated by motives other than the love of abstract purity of election; and the evil which would in that case result would be ten thousand times greater than any inconvenience which would be produced by permitting the conduct of these parties, who might be wrong, to pass without inquiry.


said, he failed to understand the argument of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), because when a Motion was made for the issue of a Commission of Inquiry, the matter to some extent must be discussed in that House; and the right hon. Gentleman had himself brought back the question upon the floor of the House by saying that the evidence in the case of the Dublin Petition did not warrant the Report of the learned Judge. The right hon. Gentleman stated that no one had ventured to carry the number of the persons corrupted beyond a very limited amount. Now, it so happened that on a previous occasion he (Mr. Sullivan) had stated that it appeared by the Judge's Report that more than 280 of the freemen of Dublin were connected with corrupt practices. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Dr. Ball) spoke of the present proceedings as being ex post facto legislation; but that was not the case. It would be ex post facto legislation to constitute acts already done by individuals into bribery, though they had never before been deemed to be acts of bribery; but the object of the present Bill was simply to inquire into corrupt practices as defined by the Legislature, and his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland had pointed out that by passing the Act of 1852, the House had not deprived itself of the jurisdiction of instituting an inquiry in such a case as the present. He hoped the House would pass the Bill, for if it were rejected the conclusion would be this—that the conduct of the freemen of Dublin—they being only a part of the constituency—could never be inquired into, and that they might, therefore, be as corrupt as they pleased. Before sitting down he must say he had heard with the deepest regret the statement of the hon. Member for Lisburn (Mr. E. Wingfield Verner), in effect accusing the learned Judge who conducted the inquiry of partiality He was sure the hon. Member for Lisburn would feel, in calmer moments, that he had not done a learned Judge anything like justice who had for the last fourteen years, by the manner in which he had discharged his judicial duties, commanded universal respect.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 246; Noes 126: Majority 120.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday.

Forward to