HC Deb 19 July 1869 vol 198 cc226-33

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [9th July], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


rose to move an Instruction to the Committee to include in the Bill a Commission to inquire into corrupt practices at Youghal during the last Election. He had always held the doctrine that cases might arise in which exceptional proceedings would be desirable, and without expressing an opinion on the case of Dublin, he submitted that if ever there was a case in which special measures were necessary it was the case of Youghal. The objection to raising such questions as that before the House was that they gave rise to interminable disputes, and that the Motion might be regarded as in some sort a reflection upon the Judge. Having looked through the evidence taken in other eases—including Stafford, Brecon, and Bewdley—he came to the conclusion that Youghal was exceptional altogether. He would be the last man to say that a Judge had not made a correct Report upon the evidence, but there might be corrupt practices of such a character that, while they involved the demoralization of a borough, they were not corrupt within the meaning of the statute, and it was still desirable that the House should have them investigated. The population of the town of Youghal was 6,700; there were 280 electors; and of these Mr. Weguelin, who was unseated, polled 127. Mr. Butt, Q.C., who was formerly Member for the borough, said the sum expended at the last election by Mr. Weguelin would be about £4,000, and probably £5,000 in all; Mr. Justice O'Brien said it would be even more than that; and it was but a rule-of-three sum to calculate that the 127 electors cost £39 7s.d. per head, or practically £40 each. Mr. Baron Martin tried the Westminster and Bradford petitions, and concluded that the expenditure of £9,000 in each case was of itself primâ facie evidence of the election having been carried by improper means; but at the ratio of expenditure which prevailed at Youghal, the Westminster Election would have cost the candidate petitioned against rather more than £250,000, and the Bradford Election £128,000. If £9,000 was a large sum for Westminster or Bradford, there was a fair case for inquiry with reference to Youghal. The circumstances were exceptional, and, therefore, the case ought to be dealt with in an exceptional manner. He had no sympathy with wealthy men coming to the House by means of lavish expenditure in boroughs. It was not to the advantage of the House that small boroughs should be deemed places for which anybody could be elected who would go down and spend £5,000 or £6,000, either in direct bribery or profligate expenditure. In this case the money was not spent by a gentleman resident in the place, and having any special love for it, but by a London bank director. He heard of the place, he said, in July; he did not know of its existence before, and he gave Mr. Mooney £500 for the introduction to it. A local gentleman might have a kindly feeling for a place, but the same could not be said for a perfect stranger. By the 12th of August Mr. Weguelin had spent £1,500, and the election was not held until November. Mr. Weguelin said his father had been Member for Southampton, which cost £2,300, and, therefore, he thought Youghal would cost £1,000; but by August he had spent £1,500, and by the election £5,000. Were they to be told that this was not to be inquired into because the money was not given in hard cash to the electors? It was spent in every other conceivable form of demoralization. He had asked for the evidence taken at the inquiry on the petition, but was told that it was unnecessary to print it, because it was well known what the evidence was. The bounteous heart of the candidate took pity on the little shoeless urchins found in the street and shod them at a cost of £34 10s.; stockings were also purchased for them; and £15 worth of lace was bought from Mrs. M'Growan, who was an owner of property in the town and had influence. The candidate's explanation was, that he wanted to have the ladies on his side. Money was given away in the streets to all who wanted it, whether they were electors or not, and Mr. Weguelin objected to spending money in that useless way. He estimated that the money given away went at the rate of £20 a week. Was not this a case for special legislation? There had been special legislation in the cases of St. Albans and Sudbury; and, in the former, Mr. Bell, whose object in desiring to get into Parliament was to improve the position of the pharmaceutical chemists, thought it necessary to spend £5,000, which was called "Bell metal." This form of corruption was more demoralizing than direct bribery, because it was more difficult to get at. He limited his inquiry to the election in November, and an inquiry now could not affect anybody's seat, or the balance of parties. He wished to follow the analogy of the case of St. Albans, in which Mr. Bell was declared duly elected according to the evidence; the House was not satisfied, and decreed a Commission, and the re- sult was St. Albans was disfranchised. There was no doubt that this was exceptional legislation; but he did not think there was any case that ran on all fours with this one; for in this instance upwards of £5,000 had been spent in a borough with a population of 6,000 inhabitants, in inducing 127 men to vote for Mr. Weguelin. Although this London banker deliberately went down to corrupt this borough, Youghal was worse than this young man, because there was no doubt that the borough was corrupt before he went there. Mr. Mooney, however, evidently wanted some one who understood the character of the place, and he succeeded in finding a man after his own heart. he was quite aware that the Judge had reported that corrupt practices had not prevailed at Youghal. But what he wanted was to get a notion as to how this £5,000 had been expended. There had evidently been a stream of Pactolus borne into Youghal, for it must be remembered that if £5,000 were expended on one side, the expenditure on the other probably amounted to £3,000 or £4,000. Such a great scandal as this ought not to go uninquired into, and if inquiry were not made into this case it would be idle to inquire into others. At any rate, considering the nature of the transactions that had occurred, he felt sure that the House would acknowledge he had done nothing but his duty in bringing it forward. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Instruction of which he had given notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to include in the Bill a Commission to inquire into corrupt practices at the Election for Youghal held in November last," — (Mr. Collins,) —instead thereof.


said, he had no wish to enter into the merits of the case brought forward by his hon. Friend (Mr. Collins), but he would appeal to him in common fairness not to press his Amendment at the present moment. In an analogous matter—that of a case sub judice—it was the practice of the Press of this country to forbear comment, and he would remind his hon. Friend that the petition against the sitting Member for Youghal would be coming on for trial shortly. Was it fair, in the meanwhile, to enter into a discussion which must have some effect upon that petition? As far as he understood the matter, a portion of the charge against his hon. Friend the sitting Member for Youghal was that Mr. Weguelin rendered him assistance at his election, and the question would arise whether Mr. Weguelin acted as his agent, and whether his conduct had vitiated his hon. Friend's election. Was it fair to anticipate and prejudice that inquiry by a discussion and another inquiry at the present moment? His hon. Friend desired that an inquiry should be held with a view to getting information for future legislation. One inquiry, however, had already been held, and another would shortly be held before one of the Superior Judges. That ought to satisfy his hon. Friend, who, he felt sure, was too fair and too manly to desire to prejudice the ease about to be tried.


said, he was quite ready to agree to the placing a clause in the Bill which should postpone the inquiry for which he asked until the petition against the sitting Member had been disposed of.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 184; Noes 78: Majority 106.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


took occasion to say that he had, on a former occasion, stated with some confidence that neither the long Parliamentary experience, nor the knowledge of history which any hon. Member might possess, could enable him to furnish a precedent for the institution of such an inquiry as the Government proposed to adopt in the present instance. Subsequent investigation emboldened him to go further, and to maintain that such a proposition had never before been submitted to the notice of the House of Commons. When he had spoken of the course which the Government asked the House to adopt as being unprecedented, no one on the Liberal side of the House had risen to contradict, and no attempt was made to distort the cases of Yarmouth or St. Albans into a basis for such exceptional legislation. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James), indeed, dealt with the question as if it were necessary to create a precedent, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland contended that the Government did not direct their measure against the freemen of Dublin as freemen, but that they would be prepared to deal in the same way, if necessary, with lodgers or any other class of voters. Now, he ventured to think that the Government scarcely appreciated the entirely novel nature of the proceedings which they invited the House to sanction, and he, for one, altogether objected to the institution of so exceptional an inquiry. It was only owing to the high character of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) that the Bill which he had introduced on the subject was not characterized as something very nearly approximating to a party job, and it was simply because of the high responsibility which attached to Ministers of the Crown that the measure before the House was not spoken of in similar terms. He should like to hear what the Government had further to say in the matter by way of explanation, and he should therefore move that the Chairman do now leave the Chair.


said, this subject had been often argued, and it was thoroughly exhausted. If there had been no precedent for such a measure the Report of the learned Judge was of such a character that both the Government and the House would be guilty of a gross dereliction of duty if they did not take action in the matter. But there was a precedent in the case of Yarmouth, where, upon the Report of a Committee of the House, a Bill was introduced to disfranchise the freemen, while the Government now merely proposed inquiry, not disfranchisement.


said, the earnest desire of the Government to suppress corruption had been shown by their votes on the question of Youghal, which happened to return a Whig, while Dublin had returned a Conservative.


said, that he had never heard in that House a more unfounded and unwarrantable statement than that of the hon. and gallant Member (Sir John Hay). The decisions of the House were guided not by the politics of Members returned for particular boroughs, but by the Reports of the Election Judges. In the case of Youghal the learned Judge reported that corruption did not extensively prevail, and the House would not have been justified in taking any action. But in the case of Dublin the Report of the Judge was of precisely an opposite character, and it would be disgraceful on the part of the House to take no notice of the words used in that Report.


said, it was clear that one man might steal a horse while another must not look over the hedge. If the price of votes at Dublin had been £5, at Youghal it had been £40. He had. stood five rattling contests, and they had not cost him as much as the expenses at the little miserable borough of Youghal; yet, because that borough returned a Liberal, there was to be no inquiry.


reminded hon. Members opposite of the course they had taken with regard to the Bewdley Election. This should be borne in mind when Members on the Ministerial side of the House were taunted with favouring corruption.


said, there was no analogy between the case of Bewdley and that of Youghal. The expenditure in the first case was about £3 per head, in the other about £40.

MR. SHERLOCK, referring to the Youghal case, quoted from the Report of the learned Judge, who said that seventy-eight cases of bribery had been charged, and not one of them had been substantiated. The learned Judge, therefore, declined to report that corruption extensively prevailed at Youghal; and the House, therefore, had no ground for instituting an inquiry there.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair." —(Mr. James Lowther.)

The Committee divided: —Ayes 75; Noes 189: Majority 114.


proposed to insert words in the Preamble, so that the inquiry might not be confined to the conduct of the bribed alone, but should include also the conduct of the bribers.


said, he would point out that such extended inquiry was incident to the duty which the Commissioners would have to discharge.


said, he thought that there could be no difference of opinion as to the propriety of including within the scope of the inquiry the conduct of those who administered bribes, but as the words of the hon. Member's Amendment did not appear to be most happily chosen, the proposal had better be deferred until the Report of the Bill.


observed that the Preamble was merely a recital of the Judge's Report.


said, as the Government appeared to be great purists, he wished to know if they would prosecute one who had been guilty of personal bribery; for, if so, he would find his name for them? He would ask that question of the Government on Monday next.

Amendment negatived.

Preamble agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.