HC Deb 21 April 1885 vol 297 cc383-90

rose for the purpose of moving an Amendment, in page 110, line 5, to leave out "33 & 34 Vic. c. 38 An Act to disfranchise the boroughs of Sligo and Cashel," when——


said, he would ask the permission of the Committee in order to make a statement in regard to the Schedule, which, he thought, would relieve the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) from the necessity of moving his Amendment. This question had been raised on Clauses 26 and 27. On Clause 27 the question as to what disfranchisement should be given to the electors reported on by the Commissioners in 1880 arose, and the Government accepted a proposition which came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), to the effect that the penalty imposed on these voters should be seven years' disfranchisement from the date of the Report—for an offence at one election, and one election only. That was the view of the House—it might have been right or it might have been wrong, but they proceeded upon that principle; and, so far as he could gather, rather hoped that by dealing mercifully with those voters the House would not be encouraging corrupt practices for the future. In the same Bill, by Clause 26, they had to deal with electors who had been made the subject of legislation in times past. They had been of two classes—namely, those who had been scheduled for disfranchisement for a certain period, and those scheduled for disfranchisement for life—so as not to vote in a certain constituency for life. There were many of these people scheduled; and considering that they proposed to impose a penalty of only seven years upon those reported on in 1880, they could not maintain the heavier penalty on those who had been disfranchised now for 14 years. The result would be that in the new constituencies the disfranchised voters would be restored to their voting power, and those of the boroughs of Sligo and Cashel would be included. There were about 9,000 names on the Election Commission Reports; but that number, it was computed, must have been so reduced by death and change of dwelling-place, that no more than one-third of the original number now remained. Therefore, he did not think the Committee would be running any risk in acceding to what he thought was a consistent way of dealing with old offenders. On the Report, therefore, he would move an Amendment to Clause 26, to strike out the first part of the Schedule altogether. He made this announcement now in order to save discussion; but the matter would have to be practically dealt with on Report.


said, that of course the undertaking given by the hon. and learned Member opposite was satisfactory to him to the full extent of his Amendment. In that Amendment he had not dealt with cases other than those of Sligo and Cashel. As an Irish Member, he had not felt competent to deal with English cases. He would make no comment upon the fact that in moving this proposed alteration the hon. and learned Gentleman would be granting an amnesty to greater offenders than he (Mr. Sexton) was interested in. When he had put his Amendment down, he had felt that it could not be seriously contended for a moment that the remnant of the few people reported on in 1869, and disfranchised in 1870, should be still excluded from the franchise. The number of persons scheduled in Sligo was 27, and the number scheduled in Cashel, 100. These people had been scheduled 16 years ago, and disfranchised 14 years ago; and, seeing that that was the case, he considered that there could not be any very great impropriety in giving them the privilege of voting. He thanked the hon. and learned Gentleman for his statement.


said, that before the Schedule was put, he had an Amendment to propose which had not been removed by what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) had stated. He begged to propose the omission of the word "Knaresborough" from the Schedule. He did so on the ground that Knaresborough stood in a perfectly different position to every one of the other boroughs mentioned in the Schedule. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members that at the last General Election there was a close contest in the borough of Knaresborough—that a Liberal, whose name it was not necessary to mention, was returned by the narrow majority of 26 over the Conservative candidate, that an Election Petition was presented, and that the Judges reported that the borough had been a guilty borough. The result was that Commissioners were sent down; but, contrary to what was done by the Commissioners in the cases of Boston, Canterbury, Chester, Gloucester, Macclesfield, Oxford, and Sandwich, the other places mentioned in the Schedule, they found that a hasty conclusion had been come to by the Judges, and their Report was eminently favourable to the character of Knaresborough. Two of the Commissioners were Liberals and the third a Conservative; so it could not be said that their Report was prompted by political considerations. The Commissioners agreed in their Report, and they distinctly stated, referring to the way in which the Election Petition was tried, that the counsel for the respondent asked permission to refute some of the charges made; but the Judges declined to hear them, on the ground that the inquiry was finished. Hon. Gentlemen knew perfectly well how Election Petitions were conducted. Owing to the extraordinary way in which things were conducted in election cases, if a single case of bribery was proved, the sitting Member lost his seat, though he might not himself be morally guilty. The most trumpery case of bribery was quite enough to unseat a man; the question between the political Parties was settled if one clear case of bribery was made out. But it was a very different thing when the honour of the borough was at stake. The Judges reported somewhat hastily that Knaresborough was corrupt; but the Commissioners, after a cool and quiet investigation, found— That corrupt practices did not extensively prevail at the Election in 1880. Corrupt practices," the Report went on, "did exist to some extent, but they were not carried out upon any system or premeditated plan on either side. The cases of direct bribery were few and slight, and the treating was not of the serious nature as would appear from the ex, parte evidence given before the learned Judges. Not only, therefore, did the Commissioners say, in one page of their Report, that the Judges refused to hear the contrary evidence, but they said the same thing again in other words upon another page; they complained of the complexion given to the case from the ex parte evidence laid before the learned Judges. Why, the total amount proved to have been spent during the Election, including the sums paid by persons who were mere volunteers, did not exceed £120, a perfectly trivial sum as compared with the money spent in some boroughs with which even the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Henry James) was acquainted. Knaresborough came out of the investigation with a reputation of almost perfect purity. At the following election their late much-respected Friend, Mr. Tom Collins, was returned, also by a narrow majority—374 to 335 Indeed, the Commissioners, who went somewhat at length into the history of the borough, found that Parties were so evenly balanced that it was with them pretty much turn and turn about. He (Mr. Warton) knew very well what the answer would in all probability be. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke; might say that all they were trying to do was to provide certain punishment to certain individuals who were scheduled by the Commissioners. That, however, was unjust to the borough of Knaresborough. Under this ruthless Bill, Knaresborough was one of the ancient boroughs which was to lose its separate representation. If boroughs having a history of many centuries were to be deprived of their political rights, they ought, to say the least, to be allowed to preserve their good name. He must say that in comparison with the other scheduled boroughs Knaresborough stood out distinguished for its purity—in fact, it might be said that Knaresborough stood in a very enviable position. It had, it was true, been found guilty; but it had been found that the acts of bribery committed within it were exceedingly small. To put Knaresborough amongst the corrupt boroughs was exceedingly cruel; and therefore he thought it his duty, in justice to the borough, to move its omission from the Schedule.

Amendment proposed, in page 110, to leave out the word "Knaresborough."—(Mr. Warton.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'Knaresborough' stand part of the Schedule."


said, that, as far as he could judge, a great deal of what the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Warton) had said was perfectly irrelevant. The fact of the matter was, that certain persons in Knaresborough were guilty of corrupt practices. No doubt, if they had let the borough alone, the mass of voters would have been pure. Why should the guilty persons at Knaresborough be pardoned any more than the guilty ones in any other of the scheduled boroughs? If the place was as pure as the hon. and learned Member had said, those who did bribe could not have been led away by the impurity of their surroundings. Their offence must have been all the more deliberate and intentional; and, therefore, there could be no special reason why they should be pardoned.


said, he agreed with much the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) had said. He would not mention any borough in particular, but boroughs with which hon. Members, not even excepting his hon. and learned Friend (the Attorney General), were all familiar were far more corrupt than Knaresborough. It was mere prudery to talk of corruption in Knaresborough, when there was not more than £120 spent during the election. He should be very much surprised if any Representative of a borough, after inquiry into the matter, would be able to say that in his borough a much larger sum was not spent corruptly at the last Election. [HOME RULERS: English boroughs.] He did not wish to wound the susceptibilities of the Irish Members; he understood that they did not resort to bribery, but to intimidation. He would confine his remarks to this side of the Irish Channel, and would challenge the Representative of any English, Scotch, or Welsh borough to rise in his place and say, of his own knowledge, that in his borough £120, or a good deal more, was not spent corruptly on one side or the other at the last Election? Everybody knew that there was more or less corruption, though, of course, nobody could prove it. He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport that no sufficient case had been made out for the inclusion of Knaresborough in the Schedule.


supported the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Warton). He did not rise to make a speech, but simply to repudiate the statement of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Bulwer) that bribery prevailed in every constituency. He could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that Scarborough was perfectly pure at the last Election.


said, he also protested against the remark of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bulwer) that at the last General Election corruption universally prevailed. So far as Wales was concerned, he could say with confidence that at the last Election there was no corruption whatever, nor had such a thing been known in the Principality in modern times, except in one borough which would now cease to return a Member.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Henry James), with that acuteness which distinguished him on all occasions, had given the go-bye to his (Mr. Warton's) principal argument, which was that it was perfectly unfair to put in this disgraceful Schedule Knaresborough, pure and innocent, as compared with any one of the other seven boroughs mentioned in the Schedule. To that argument the hon. and learned Attorney General did not condescend to reply. Perhaps it was as well he should remind the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Committee how the bribery began. It began in a Liberal club. About 70 or 80 gallons of beer was distributed amongst the people. What did 70 or 80 gallons of beer amongst the people of Knaresborough amount to? And what mitigated the crime was, that a good deal of the money with which the drink was paid for was subscribed by persons who were at the time sharing in the drink, so that these corrupt voters were treating themselves after all. He could only say that if the hon. and gallant Member for Scarborough (Colonel Steble), whom he was glad to find supporting him, would tell with him, he would certainly press the matter to a division.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 15: Majority 61.—(Div. List, No. 118.)

Question, "That the Schedule stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be reported to the House."


The Question is, "That I report the Bill, as amended, to the House."


It is not unusual, at the close of a Committee on a Bill of this importance, to thank the Committee for the assistance they have given in regard to certain details of the Bill. I have to thank hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the manner in which they have worked on the Bill, and to express the hope that the result of our labours may not be unworthy of the attention which has been given to it.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when he intends to take the Report stage of this Bill; and when the Bill will be in the hands of Members reprinted?


I have expressed a strong desire that the Bill be circulated unstitched to-morrow; but, if not circulated to-morrow, it will be on the following day. I propose to fix the Report stage on Monday, with a view of taking it on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 134.]

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