HC Deb 14 June 1869 vol 196 cc1784-93

said, he rose to move for a new Writ for a burgess to serve in Parliament in the room of Sir Arthur Guinness, unseated on petition.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland, to make out a new Writ fur the electing of a Citizen to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Dublin, in the room of Sir Arthur Guinness, baronet, whose Election has been determined to be void."—(Mr. Noel.)


said, he rose to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the words after the word "that," in order to add "leave be given to bring in a Bill for disfranchising the freemen of the City of Dublin." He proposed to take that course in accordance with the opinion which he had ventured to express in the discussion on the Motion for an Address to the Crown for the issue of a Commission under the Act of 1852, to inquire into the extensive bribery which was alleged to exist. On that occasion he stated that he felt considerable doubt whether the peculiar terms in which the learned Judge had reported in the Dublin inquiry brought the case within the provisions of the Act of 1852, and he only voted for the Motion in consequence of the strong opinion expressed by the hon. and learned Attorney General for England that it was right for the House to address the Crown, although there were some doubts as to the terms of the Report. He then said that, having received the Report of the learned Judge who tried the Petition, the House ought not to issue a Writ for the City of Dublin until it, in some way or other, had vindicated its own authority and taken some means for purifying the constituency of Dublin of that portion of it among which the learned Judge had reported that extensive bri- bery prevailed. The House of Lords, as they knew, had declined to concur in the Address, and, consequently, no Commission under the Act of 1852 could now issue. After the opinion which he had expressed he had no right, nor did he think anyone else had, to complain of the course taken by the House of Lords. Noble and learned Lords of very great authority stated that, in their opinion, there was much doubt as to the case falling within the terms of the Act, and that if the Commission did issue its authority might have been disputed. Under these circumstances the case came again before the House of Commons; they had the Report of the learned Judge on the table, and it was for them to say what course they were to take. The hon. Member who moved the Writ (Mr. Noel) seemed to think that the House should leave the Report unheeded, and allow the freemen of Dublin an opportunity of again committing these corrupt practices, in which case they might go on for ever, so long as the general constituency was not tainted. That House and Parliament, however, had, in passing the Act of 1852, not divested itself of the power of dealing with a case of this kind, and they would exhibit themselves in a discreditable light to the country if they were to declare that because the case did not fall within the Act of 1852 they were powerless in the matter. Mr. Justice Keogh reported that eleven freemen, who were named, had received bribes, and that there was evidence that between twenty and thirty, whose names he could not give, had also received bribes; that over 200 freemen had signed a colourable agreement to serve Sir Arthur Guinness gratuitously, and that a considerable number of them had afterwards applied for payment. He also added that corrupt practices had not generally prevailed amongst the constituency apart from the freemen. It was creditable to the general constituency of Dublin that they were free from the taint attaching to the freemen, among whom there was no doubt that extensive bribery prevailed. The late Government in passing the Act which transferred the jurisdiction in election ceases from Committees of that House to Judges of the Superior Courts, took credit for an earnest desire to provide an effectual check to bribery, and to facilitate its punishment, and therefore, he observed with some surprise, that the hon. Member for Rutlandshire (Mr. Noel), who was connected with the party opposite, had moved the Writ in this case, for his doing so seemed to imply an opinion that this corruption should go on unpunished. The Amendment he now moved had nothing to do with the question whether freemen generally should retain their franchise, but only applied to the freeman of Dublin, among whom the Judge reported that extensive bribery prevailed. The House had a precedent exactly in point, for, in 1848 an Election Committee reported that gross and systematic bribery prevailed among the freemen at Great Yarmouth, and the House, in consequence, passed a Bill for disfranchising those freemen, only the faintest opposition being made to the measure in either House of Parliament. In the present case, though the same words were not used, it was not to be supposed that gross and systematic bribery had not prevailed among the freemen of Dublin. The freemen voters in Dublin were about 2,700, in a constituency of about 13,000. Many of them—he had been told at least two-thirds—had other qualifications for the franchise, and he proposed merely to disfranchise the freemen as such, leaving those who were registered in respect of other qualifications—and many of whom he believed to be highly respectable—to exercise the franchise. He proposed also to introduce provisions into the Bill to enable those who had other qualifications, but for which they were not registered, to have their names placed on the registry with as little delay as possible. He therefore moved as an Amendment to the Motion for the issue of the Writ that leave be given to bring in a Bill to disfranchise the freemen of the City of Dublin.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "leave be given to bring in a Bill for disfranchising the Freemen of the City of Dublin,"—(Sir George Grey,) —instead thereof.


said, he hoped that the House would approach this subject with something of a judicial spirit, and that no party spirit would enter into the debate. Primâ facie the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) had made out a plausible case for the Amendment; but he thought, on closer examination, the House would come to the conclusion that it was not right to refuse to issue the Writ—not right either to Dublin at large or to the freemen in particular. It was a serious matter to leave the capital of Ireland, with its 250,000 inhabitants, halting, as it were, on one foot, with only half of its representation. Such a step could not be taken at any time except on strong grounds. But an issue most momentous to Ireland had just been submitted to the other House of Parliament. The Bill might be sent back to this House, and then most important conditions might arise, and it was especially important that on an occasion like this Dublin should, if necessary, be allowed to express its opinions in the fullest manner. From Judge Keogh's Report it was clear that by adopting the Amendment the House would be punishing the multitude who were innocent for the very few who were guilty. But would the House not also be stultifying itself? This House had lately agreed to address the Crown, asking for inquiry into the corruption, which was alleged to exist among the freemen, but the purport of the Amendment was that the House should proceed to disfranchise the freemen without any inquiry at all. Surely the House would see that, because the other House of Parliament had declined to address the Crown, it was not right to jump to a conclusion as though there had been inquiry and corruption had been proved. The right hon. Baronet had quoted a precedent, and he also would refer to several precedents. In the case of Sudbury a Committee reported that corruption was proved to have existed, but the House was not satisfied—a Commission was issued, and it, was only upon the Report of the Commission, declaring that bribery extensively prevailed, that Sudbury was disfranchised. So in the case of St. Albans, a Commission reported that bribery had long prevailed there, and on that Report the borough was disfranchised. Then there was the case of Galway, where a Commission was issued, and reported that corruption prevailed amongst the freemen. A Bill was introduced for disfranchising the borough, but it was argued there that you were punishing the innocent along with the guilty, and the Bill was withdrawn. At first sight the precedent of Great Yarmouth seemed to be on all fours with this case, but really a considerable distinction existed between the two cases. There the Committee reported not that "they had reason to believe" that bribery prevailed, but positively that gross, systematic, and extensive bribery prevailed among the freemen, and that no Writ should issue until an Act had passed for disfranchising the freemen. Here the Judge did not report in any such positive way. The Act of Parliament presented him with an alternative mode of reporting. The Judge was required to report whether corrupt practices had, or whether there was reason to believe that they had, extensively prevailed at the election. Of course, the one phrase was much stronger than the other, and Parliament must have had some reason for drawing this distinction. Judge Keogh chose the weaker phrase, and said he had reason to believe that corrupt practices had prevailed among the freemen. This showed a feeling that the evidence was not such that he could report in a positive way, and it pointed to the necessity of further inquiry before any stop was taken to disfranchise these voters. Now the whole number of freemen was 2,700, and on examining the Judge's Report it appeared that there were but eleven persons reported by name as having been bribed, and from ten to fourteen others judicated as having been bribed by promises of employment. In all, only fifty-five persons were proved to have been bribed. The freemen of Dublin were not, as in other places, poor persons who wove likely to be bribed. Nearly 1,700 of them were described as persons quite above the possibility of their being bribed, including twenty-six admirals, generals, colonels, majors, privy councillors, and members of noble families; twenty-three fellows and students of Trinity College; forty-five clergymen, sixty-five medical men, together with barristers, stock brokers, gentlemen, esquires, booksellers, and engravers. It would, perhaps, be said that some of these persons had other qualifications, but they had not put themselves on the register for those other qualifications, because it was much less trouble to register as freemen. He had, he thought, said enough to make the House pause before they assented to the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet. The late Government had evinced every disposition to put down corruption, and had proved it by their acts. The House, in seeking to punish corruption, should not allow itself' to be led into an act of injustice by disfranchising a large body of electors, in consequence of the conduct, of a few individuals, and by deferring the election of a representative for so important a constituency as Dublin at this momentous period. He hoped, therefore, that the House would assent to the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Noel) for the issuing of the Writ.


concurred with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) when he appealed to the House to view this question in a judicial light, and free from any party considerations. There were three interests involved in this question—the first was the interest of the public, the next that of the constituency of Dublin, and the third was the interest of the freemen themselves. It appeared to him that in common justice to all three the Writ should not issue. Hitherto the laws they had passed against corruption had become a dead letter; and although at the last election they were able to threaten the new constituencies with Pains and Penalties if they broke the law, their threats would be treated with ridicule if they neglected to punish the offenders in the present instance. He was willing to give the late Government full credit for their exertions to put down corrupt practices; but if they did not go farther to effect this object it was futile to say that the decisions of the new tribunals had done anything towards remedying this evil. They had been told in "another place" that it would be wrong to issue a Commission. He said that they would be doing a great hurt and injury to the country by allowing this Writ to issue. Although it might be a matter of importance that the metropolis of Ireland should not be deprived, even for a few months, of representation in that House, it was of still greater importance that the Member for Dublin should be the representative of a pure and not of a corrupt constituency. As to the freemen, it might be a hard case for those who had voted purely, but hard cases made good laws. It was better that those few should be sacrificed than that the House should proclaim to every constituency that such doings should not be punished. The freemen would, he hoped, have the opportunity before the Bill passed of defending themselves, and proving, if they could, that extensive bribery had not prevailed among them at the last election. It was because he most earnestly desired to stay the course of those corrupt practices, which caused every man to look with terror at the next General Election, that he had ventured to express himself as he had done.


said, that every one on that side was as desirous as hon. Gentlemen opposite of having a pure constituency, but they all agreed that in providing a remedy they ought not to proceed hastily or on insufficient grounds. The right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) had forgotten the course of legislation on the subject. Since the Act of 1852 there had been two precedents which the right hon. Baronet had not referred to—Galway and Canterbury. In the case of Canterbury, it was urged that to disfranchise those whose evidence had proved the existence of bribery and their own participation in corrupt, practices was a breach of faith, and the argument was felt to be irresistible. In the case of Galway, it was proposed, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth now proposed, that the whole body should be disfranchised; but this plan of confounding he innocent with the guilty was felt to be even a still greater breach of faith. The provisions which formerly gave an immunity from all consequences to witnesses giving evidence of their own corruption had, however, been repealed by the Act of 1863, as far as political indemnity was concerned, and there was not the slightest difficulty now in disfranchising the particular offenders, instead of visiting their errors and shortcomings upon the class to which they belonged. The hon. Member had proposed this Amendment because the provisions of the Act of 1852 had not been complied with. This was going back to an old and unwise principle. The idea of there being any community between the few corrupt voters of this particular class and the vast majority who were politically pure was absurd, and it was at once impolitic and unjust to visit on the many the sins of the few. Although he felt that they all had an interest in keeping elections pure, they ought not to deal with a case like the one under debate by means of the extreme machinery of Pains and Penalties.


said, that what the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Matthews) had just said was quite opposed to his own experience of Dublin, and he had had a great deal of experience of it. In the year 1842 he stood for that city and was defeated. At the close of that election a Bill was put into his hands, and he was charged £4,500 for bribing 1,500 freemen; and this, too, without his having the slightest knowledge of what had been done. The bill was presented with as much coolness and cynicism as if it had related to the purchase of so many herrings. When he again stood for Dublin, he refused to give 1d. towards the bribing of these freemen, and the consequence was that the latter all voted for the other side. He hoped the Reformed Parliament, to show that they were in earnest in putting down corruption, would give their hearty support to the hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey).


said, that the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) had lost his seat for Dublin not through the corruption of the freemen, but because he had changed his political principles, He himself was first returned for Dublin in 1852; he was returned for it again in 1857, when a petition was presented against him. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Headlam), and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), were on the Committee which tried that petition, and he appealed to them whether there was any bribery proved against the freemen. The Committee, the majority of the members serving on it being Liberals, found that he had been duly elected. He was returned for Dublin again in 1859, and he did not hesitate to say that in those three elections for Dublin £50 had not been spent which could not be accounted for to the satisfaction of the most rigid auditor. He believed that the Judge, whose Report had been quoted, would nor have said what he did had he supposed, when making his Report, that an attempt would be made to disfranchise the freemen without farther inquiry.


quoted a passage from the judgment of Mr. Justice Keogh, in which the learned Judge made some rather severe comments on "young Mr. Vance," who had interested himself for Sir Arthur Guinness."


explained that the gentleman so alluded to by the learned Judge was no relative of his, and that he had not even the honour of being acquainted with "young Mr. Vance."


said, that the course proposed by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) was without precedent. If it was the one that ought to be followed in these cases, why had Commissions been thought necessary in the cases of Bridgwater, Cashel, and other boroughs? If ever there was a case for legislation without further inquiry it was that of Youghal, where £40 per elector had been spent; but no proceeding's had been taken in consequence of that enormous expenditure, and even the publication of the evidence had been refused.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 169; Noes 215: Majority 46.

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


asked whether it was possible that the House meant to disfranchise the metropolis of Ireland in order to please a private Member. The Government Benches were full, but not one Member of the Government had risen, he supposed owing to weariness. He therefore moved that this House do now adjourn.


seconded the Motion.


said, he hoped that his rising would remove the only reason which the hon. and gallant Member had given for his Motion. The Government had been silent because they were entirely satisfied with the arguments of his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey).


said, he had no wish to disfranchise the metropolis of Ireland. He desired that the Bill might be passed as quickly as possible, in order that the Writ might be issued.


said, that the silence of the Government seemed to him very like an old Whig job; they could not make the Motion themselves, but they got an old Whig to do it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth had said that if the freemen of that borough were guilty of corrupt practices he should equally wish to see them disfranchised. But the right hon. Gentleman well knew that he was quite safe there; the freemen of Morpeth dare not give him any such opportunity.


said, the character of his right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth stood too high to need any defence. But the Conservative party would do well to show a bold front against corruption.


said, he had no wish to shield men guilty of corrupt practices; those who were guilty he hoped would be disfranchised; but the right hon. Gentleman, well knew that the Dublin freemen, all of whom he proposed to disfranchise, were, as a class, most respectable gentlemen, and his opponents in politics.

Motion made, and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Colonel Knox.)

The House divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 173: Majority 102.

Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."

MR. GREENE moved that the debate be now adjourned. Anyone one who had heard the debate would think that those who sat on the other side of the House had the patent right for purity; but he asked whether just as many on their side of the House had not been guilty of bribery as had been guilty on his side of the House? Was Dublin to be deprived of its representative because fifty-five men out of 2,000 had been guilty of bribery? He was glad that this discussion had arisen, because it exposed the hollowness of Liberal purity.


said that the time had now arrived when the majority must yield to the minority. He hoped that on another evening milder councils would prevail.

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Thursday.

House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.