HC Deb 07 April 1886 vol 304 cc979-89

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of Two Members to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich, in the room of Henry Wyndham West, esquire, one of Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the Law, and Jesse Collings, esquire, whose Election hath been determined to be void."—(Mr. Arnold Morley.)

MR. BRAND (Gloucester, Stroud)

I had hoped that someone more experienced, and with more authority on these matters, would have entered a protest against the Writ for Ipswich being issued to-day. The Report of the Election Judges was not in the hands of Members until Monday. I believe it was read to the House on Friday, but I did not see it upon the Votes of the House, nor, I suppose, did any Member of the House, until Monday. Now, by a Rule, made in the last House, it was resolved that, wherever illegal, or, rather, corrupt, practices prevailed, or, rather, where a candidate or his agents were found guilty of corrupt practices, then two clear days should elapse after Notice before the Writ was moved. Technically, no doubt, my hon. Friend may say that he has actually given two days' Notice; but is it a clear two days' Notice of Motion to the House when the Notice is given on Friday night, or the very day when the Speaker read to the House the Report of the Judges, which Report could only be in the hands of Members on the Monday? I have only read that Report. I have not been able to see the evidence of the trial; but there is no doubt that a considerable number of men have been reported by the Judges guilty of corrupt practices at the election, some having obtained certificates of indemnity and others not. In either case, as the Petition does not claim the seat, it is not possible to say whether, on either side, there was any considerable amount of corruption. At any rate, it was not a pure election; and if this House has any regard for the purity of election we should not be in such great haste to move the issue of a Writ in a case where, although the Judges do not report that corruption has extensively prevailed, yet, from reports in the newspapers of the proceedings at the trial, it is evident that considerable corruption did prevail, and several persons have been reported by the Judges guilty of such. Another argument why this Motion should be deferred, at any rate until the House is in possession of the shorthand writer's notes of the evidence on which the Report of the Judges is based, is found on the Notice of Motion by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, which appears among the Notices for today. That Notice follows the Rule in force in the last House of Commons— That in all cases where the seat of any Member has been declared void on the ground of corrupt practices, or illegal practices, no Motion for the issue of a new Writ shall be made without two days' previous Notice on the Votes, and that such Notice be considered before Orders of the Day, and Notices of Motion. I maintain that the Report of the Judges not having been in the hands of Members until Monday morning—as a fact, it did not reach my hands until the evening—it is rather, if I may be allowed to use the term, sharp practice to spring this Motion upon the House at 12 o'clock on Wednesday morning. I hope the House will see that I have adduced some reason why we should be placed in possession of more facts upon which to base a sound judgment in this matter. Therefore, I will move that the debate be adjourned until the shorthand writer's notes of the proceedings at the trial of the Election Petition are in the hands of the House.

MR. RYLANDS (Burnley)

I rise to second that Motion; and I must express my surprise that the Government have proposed, in this hasty manner, the issue of a Writ under circumstances such as were shown to have existed at the late election for the borough of Ipswich. I should like the House to remember that the two late Members of this House who, so far as the evidence has shown, were entirely guiltless of any corrupt practice themselves—who, we have reason to believe, in every way in their power discouraged corrupt practices—yet being absolutely innocent they have been—and properly—unseated, because a certain amount of corruption was committed by people connected with the borough of Ipswich. And let the House remember Ipswich has not a very clean record, and that it just escaped losing one Member by the accidental fact that the borough had a few hundred above the stipulated limit of 50,000 population. We have reason to believe from what has appeared, so far as we can judge, that corruption did extend much further than the actual cases proved before the Judges; because hon. Members know very well that in these cases, where the seat is not claimed by the Petition, and where one or two cases have been discovered which will clearly unseat the Member, it is in the interest, on various grounds, of both parties to keep back any evidence that might still further incriminate the borough. But I observed that in the course of the evidence before the Judges there was a statement that before the trial of this Election Petition, at a recent municipal contest at Ipswich, at least in one ward, there was a very large amount of corruption. The case is so suspicious that it appears to me that the House ought to have full details of all the facts that appeared before the Election Judges, that we may carefully consider them with a view of deciding what is the proper course to take. Had general corruption been reported, no doubt there would have been a Commission. There is an intermediate course to take, and that is, where sufficient ground is shown, to suspend the issue of a Writ for a certain length of time, to mark the sense of the House that the Members unseated are not the only parties that deserve censure. I think in such cases as this of Ipswich, where a taint of corruption is shown, it should be rooted out. You do not root it out simply by unseating innocent men. What you have to do is to show that the constituency in which this plague spot exists must expect to have it marked by an expression of the opinion of the House. I do not wish to rest what I have to say on this point upon the report in The Times merely; and, therefore, I say the House of Commons ought never to issue a Writ in such a case until the House has the shorthand writer's notes of the evidence at the trial, and has had an opportunity of considering whether, beyond the personal effect of the Judges' decision unseating the Members, there should be a wider element introduced—the consideration whether the House would be justified in marking its sense of the conduct of a constituency by refusing it for sometime to come the opportunity of representation in the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Brand.)

MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

I hope the House will delay the issue of this Writ. I feel strongly on the subject, because in 1881 I had the misfortune to lose my own seat, owing to persons acting in every sense contrary to all my wishes, and every instruction that could be given by myself or my friends. Their action caused the loss of the election, and I feel quite confident that one of the most effective means of preventing corruption in boroughs is to show that the issue is not merely the narrow one between the Member and the Petitioners, but a broader one affecting the whole constituency. The Petition, according to the Form of the House—I think somewhat unfortunately—assumes the character of a mere trial at law between the parties; but what really is on trial in the Petition is the character of the whole constituency, and I believe by deferring the issue of the Writ for a short time you will bring home to the whole of that constituency the fact that the conduct of any individual, or any group of individuals, does not affect the candidate alone, but largely affects the character, the reputation, and the power of the constituency; and I believe if we desire to have purity in election to this House it is only by making victims of innocent men here or there, on whatever side of the House they may sit, that will secure it. It must be by the action of the House bringing home to the heart, the mind, the conscience, and the judgment of the entire constituency that these offences are crimes of a grave character, and must be dealt with as such. It is rare sport, it is a fine thing to bring a vindictive Petition to injure an innocent man; but if the entire constituency feels that conduct like this brings penalties on every voter in the town, then, I venture to say, corrupt men will become pure, and careless, reckless men will find the necessity for caution. I am glad to have so early an opportunity of expressing my opinion on the subject. I do hope the House of Commons will deal in a more stern spirit when circumstances of the kind occur, and thus do much to accomplish that purity of election which every Member of the House, whatever may be his political opinions, must determine to secure in the future.


The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke with much energy, mainly because it was his misfortune to be unseated himself.


Not mainly.


Well, primarily that was the reason he put forward, and we may therefore, perhaps, discount the value of his speech in the present case. I will say no more on his speech; but the question is whether this Writ should or should not issue now. In the first place, let me say the case of Ipswich was precisely analogous to that of Norwich. In each case the Judges reported that the Members were unseated by corrupt practices on the part of their agents, and in each case 14 persons were scheduled for corrupt or illegal practices. In the case of Norwich no one objected to the immediate issue of the Writ, and without Notice it was moved and issued in the usual way. The House took no action in opposition. That was in respect to a seat which had been held by a Gentleman sitting on the other side; but we took no exception to the issue of the Writ. But what happens now in the case of Ipswich? Though the same number of persons are mentioned in both cases as guilty of corrupt or illegal practices, when it becomes a question of moving for the issue of the Writ for Ipswich the Government takes the course of not making a Motion at once, but gave two days' Notice; and my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General at the same time places on the Paper a Notice of Motion, in spite of the issue of the Writ for Norwich, that the two days' Notice shall be given which have been given on former occasions. What is it that my hon. Friends now propose should be done? They propose that the House should take Ipswich out of the usual category, and defer the issue of the Writ for an indefinite period. Now, one reason assigned by my hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands) is no argument at all, and I am surprised he should use it. It is that Ipswich is only just over the line laid down in the last Parliament as dividing the boroughs sending one from those returning two Members. That really has nothing whatever to do with the issue of the Writ. But he went on to declare that corrupt practices extensively prevailed at the recent election at Ipswich, and the reason for his belief was the newspaper reports; but the Judges who presided at the trial of the Petition stated most distinctly they had no reason to believe corrupt practices extensively prevailed in the borough; and surely the judgment so clearly pronounced by Judges who knew the circumstances of the case, who were present in the borough, and had all the evidence before them that could be produced, is much more valuable than the impression of my hon. Friend, derived as it is from the reading of one or more newspaper reports. If the Judges had decided that considerable corruption had prevailed, the House would have had to consider whether further steps should not be taken. But here is a case in which they state that they have no reason to believe that general corruption had prevailed, and yet my hon. Friend proposes to override that distinct opinion of the Judges, and to mete out to Ipswich a different measure from that which was meted out to Norwich, and that which Parliament has been accustomed to mete out to boroughs under similar circumstances. My hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury does not adopt the course that was taken in the case of the Norwich Writ, but gives the customary two days' Notice. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will deal with the case as it dealt with the case of Norwich.

MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)

While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, I admit, with the hon. Member opposite, that there is something to be said about there being a suspicious case. But hon. Members should remember that not only has there been a judicial inquiry and a Report that there is no reason to believe that general corruption has prevailed, but we have now this additional safeguard—that the Public Prosecutor is represented, who takes care that no opportunity shall be given by collusion between the parties to keep out of eight anything that ought to be brought forward. I understand that the usual two days' Notice have been given of the intention to move for this Writ; but the hon. Member who moved the Amendment wants to go very much beyond the practice of any former Parliament in this matter, and call upon the House to suspend the issue of the Writ until all the evidence is before us. I think that is going too far. The two days' Notice have been given; therefore, there is no reason, in my opinion, why the Motion should not be agreed to.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I trust the House will not delay the issue of the Writ. The reasons assigned for delay ought not to have any weight. As far as I can see, the Government have anticipated that the House would renew the Sessional Order relating to the two days' Notice, and have acted as though that Order really appeared on the Votes. They have not taken advantage of the fact that the Order has not yet been passed, as was done in the case of the Norwich Writ, but they have given the full two days' Notice; and if the hon. Member for Stroud had not seen, in the Papers delivered to Members, the Report of the Judges, and was not in his place when it was read, it simply meant that he had not paid that attention which he ought to have done to the ordinary Business of the House. Had it not been for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down I should have thought that there had been a reason omitted by those who oppose the issue of the Writ which ought to be considered. Their sympathies for purity of election were not quickened in the case of the Norwich Writ because the vote could be reckoned on in a particular direction. But it is possible that, in the case of Ipswich, events may happen which may make two votes of considerable importance; and hon. Gen- tlemen on both sides of the House who, as we know, have had experience of corrupt practices in boroughs now rise to postpone the Writ, perhaps for other reasons than those they have placed before the House.

SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)

There appears to be a wonderful accord between the two Front Benches and Gentlemen below the Gangway; and suspicion is raised as to the motive that induced my hon. Friend below me to speak with the energy he did, he having had an unfortunate experience. But as an independent Member of the House I protest against the hurry in the issue of this Writ; and if I want an argument I find a conclusive one in what has been said by the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman raised a parallel between this case and Norwich; but do we who have read the newspaper reports not know that the Judges pronounced this a very hard case, and that the inquiry was very prolonged, and dealt with a great many cases? The distinction between the two is so marked that I think the demand of my hon. Friend (Mr. Brand) is a just one. It is only a matter of a few days, and we shall be in possession of something more than the Judges' Report. My impression is that the Notice relating to the Writ is always given after the House has been put in possession of something more than the Report of the Judges. The general practice is that, if there is no particular interest arising out of it, time is allowed to elapse in order that the House may become aware of all the circumstances. The Writ has been moved for in hot haste before the Attorney General's Motion which referred to the two days' Notice, and which is on the Paper, has been considered and agreed to. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) seems to think that we oppose the issue of the Writ because two Members may be returned to support the Government. I know nothing about that. I have had no communication with the Whips, and I do not know which side the two Members who may be returned will take; but I contend that no case has been made out for the immediate issue of the Writ. It may be convenient for election agents on both sides to smother the matter up, and get it out of the way as quickly as possible; but if in this House we look to purity of election we should support the Amendment to defer the issue of the Writ.

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS (Kent, St. Augustine's)

I can see no objection to the issue of the Writ; and I do not see that the Motion has in any sense been sprung upon the House. The hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury informed me last week that he intended to move for the Writ on Monday; and when I pointed out that there was considerable objection to that course being taken, the hon. Gentleman immediately said he would give Notice for it for Wednesday. As to the Norwich Writ, I followed the precedent set by the hon. Gentleman in moving for the Barrow Writ without Notice to the House; but there was no intention to spring it upon the other side, and the usual 24 hours' Notice in writing was given by me to the Secretary to the Treasury. I repeat that I see no objection to the Writ being moved for; and I may point out that the hon. Gentleman gave full Notice, so far as we are concerned on the Opposition side of the House, that he intended to move it to-day.

MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

I trust this matter will not be pressed to a division. What is the object of the Motion? Simply that the issue of the Writ shall be delayed for two days, and the result of that delay would only issue in one of two directions—either delay for the sake of delay, for the purpose of showing the people of Ipswich that this House disapproves of their conduct, or with the view of ultimately disfranchising the borough. Now, I do not suppose that any hon. Member desires the latter course, although I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, at the time of the discussion of the Redistribution Bill, did move that the number of Representatives should be reduced to one. But I take it the object of the delay is to show the people of Ipswich that the House wishes to make a determined step in favour of purity of election. To delay the Writ for that purpose would be to inflict a childish punishment. What does it come to? Simply this—that because an injustice has been inflicted on two innocent men, who did everything in their power to secure that the election should be conducted in a pure way, and had to suffer through the action of others, you would inflict another injustice on the great bulk of the inhabitants of Ipswich, who would suffer for the sins of a small number. I have derived my information from the reports in the local papers, and my impression is exactly that made on the minds of the Judges, and quoted by the Home Secretary, that although there have been some insignificant instances of corruption among a few individuals, yet there was no such widespread corruption as to justify the disfranchisement of the borough, or delay the issue of the Writ.

MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)

I regret that this matter has been brought before the notice of the House. I had hoped that the little misfortune which has happened to one of the Members of Her Majesty's Government would have been smothered up, hidden away, and forgotten. This course has not been adoped, however, by the hon. Member's own Friends, and, the question of the purity of the Ipswich Election having been raised in the House, it is impossible for hon. Members to overlook it. The hon. Member who has just spoken has had the advantage of reading the evidence as reported in the local newspapers; and although he might be perfectly acquainted with all the facts of the case, the House generally is considering the question on insufficient information. All we ask, therefore, is that before the Writ is issued this necessary information should be provided in the shape of the shorthand writer's notes. Some very remarkable and awkward statements have appeared in The Times about this election, which I should like to know something more about. Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect the bogus telegram said to have been written by the hon. Member who was lately a Colleague of his? It was one of the most discreditable things that had ever occurred in any election. I am anxious to have in my hands the shorthand writer's notes, in order that I may be able to form an opinion on the matter. I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton that it is most important at the present time to obtain the opinion of the constituencies. This is the only consideration which causes me to hesitate in opposing the issue of the Writ, I desire to hear what the constituencies have to say at the present time. I should like them to have the fullest possible opportunity of declaring their opinion, and this is the only ground why I am inclined to support the issue of the Writ. But as the matter has been brought forward in the form it has assumed before the House, and as the House has shown, especially as far as the two Front Benches are concerned, which I very much regret, no desire to maintain purity of election, I shall certainly give my vote in favour of its postponement.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 16; Noes 175: Majority 159.—(Div. List, No. 69.)

Original Question put.

Ordered, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of Two Members to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich, in the room of Henry Wyndham West, esquire, one of Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the Law, and Jesse Collings, esquire, whose election hath been determined to be void.

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