§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. ARNOLD MORLEY) (Nottingham, E)
I beg to move—That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Barrow in Furness, in the room of David Duncan, Esq., whose election has been declared void.
§ MR. LEWIS (Londonderry)
I wish to call the attention of the House to a Standing or Sessional Order which was in existence during the last Parliament, and which provided that whenever an election was declared void on the ground of corrupt practices, no new writ should be moved until after three days' notice had been given. Now, considering the character of this election, I think it is highly inexpedient for the House in this early stage of its existence to sot the bad precedent of issuing a new writ for the election of a Member to serve in Parliament in the place of a person whose seat has been declared void, on the ground of corrupt practices, until we have had an opportunity of seeing the evidence adduced on the trial of the Petition. I entertain no doubt as to the extreme purity of the Liberal Party, and I entertain still less doubt as to the extreme purity of individual Members of the Government opposite in passing the Corrupt Practices Act; but I think we ought to know a little more about the circumstances of this case before we consent to the issue of a new writ. At present I have no knowledge of those circumstances except what I have derived from the newspapers—namely, that a Member of this House has been deprived of his seat on the ground of 82 bribery and corrupt practices, although I do not know the nature or extent of the bribery committed. Then I think that the House ought to do what it has repeatedly done before. When there has not been sufficient evidence to justify the issue of a Royal Commission, the House has for months, aye, and even for Sessions—as occurred in the case of the Wigan Election—abstained from issuing a now writ; and I do not think that we ought to commence the labours of this new Parliament by establishing the really bad precedent which the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury asks us to set. In order to give time for the further consideration of the matter, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Lewis.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir CHARLES RUSSELL) (Hackney, S.)
I had received no intimation from the hon. Gentleman that he intended to raise this question.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I think I am correct in stating that the Report of the Election Judges was received by the Speaker, as appears from the record of our proceedings, on the 24th or 25th of March. The Standing or Sessional Order to which the hon. Member has referred is not, in fact, now in force. I do not at all dispute the fact that that does not dispose of the matter, and give a complete answer to the objection of the hon. Member, if there is reason to suppose that there was in this case any bribery or any kind of general corruption. If the hon. and learned Member will look to the Report of the Election Judges, and to the information which is within the knowledge of every Member of the House, he will see that this is a case in which there was no charge of anything like the existence of corrupt practices at all, and that the late Member for Barrow in Furness, Mr. Duncan, was unseated not on account of corrupt practices, but on the ground of an illegal practice. The illegal practice in question was, that on the day of election, after taking advice, 83 Mr. Duncan ordered some refreshment, very moderate in amount, to be given to certain persons who had been actually working for him, and that has been held by the judges to be an illegal practice within the meaning of the Statute. I will read what the Election Judges say about it. They say—And, in further pursuance of the said Acts, we report that at the conclusion of the said Trial we determined that the said David Duncan, being the Member whose Election and return were complained of in the said Petition, was not duly elected and returned, by reason of illegal practices, within the meaning of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, having been committed by or with the knowledge and consent of the Respondent, in reference to the said Election, and also by the Election Agent of the Respondent (with the like knowledge and consent), and we do certify in writing such our determination to you.And whereas charges were made in the said Petition of corrupt and illegal practices having been committed at the said Election, we, in further pursuance of the said Acts, report as follows:—That no corrupt practice was proved to have been committed by or with the knowledge or consent of any Candidate at such Election.That the following persons were proved at the Trial guilty of illegal practices, namely, illegal employment, to both of whom we have furnished Certificates of Indemnity:—David Duncan, the Respondent;Abraham Langhorn Garnett, the Respondent's Election Agent.We further report that there is no reason to believe that either corrupt or illegal practices have extensively prevailed at the Parliamentary Election for the Borough of Barrow in Furness, in the County of Lancaster, to which the said Petition relates.
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Chatham)
The hon. and learned Attorney General has not replied to the objection of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis). The objection of my hon. Friend was, that although there may not be a Standing Order, it has always been the determination of the House whenever an hon. Member had been unseated by an existing tribunal, and that tribunal has reported that he had been unseated in consequence of the Commission of Corrupt Practices by anybody, there should be a few days' notice before a Motion was made for the issue of a new writ, so that every Member might have an opportunity of examining the Report of the Judges who tried the Petition. In those days there was no such thing as an "illegal practice;" but it pleased the House, by an Act passed about a year before the termination of the last 84 Parliament, to institute a new electoral offence, called "an illegal practice," and the question now is whether the same rule should not be applied to illegal practices as has been wisely applied to corrupt practices. If it is considered that an illegal practice is an offence of so venal a character that it should not necessitate any action on the part of the House, then it may be quite right that a writ of this kind should be moved; but if the House is desirous to make the Act of 1884 a reality, and not a sham, I think it would be wise for the House to apply to illegal practices exactly the same rule as has been applied to corrupt practices. If that is done, it would follow that whenever a man is unseated for the commission of an illegal practice, there ought to be three days' notice before a Motion is made for the issue of a new writ, so that hon. Members may have an opportunity of examining the Report of the Election Judges, in order to see whether there is any objection to the issue of the writ, or whether it ought to be issued as a matter of course. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry intended, and I do not think that what the hon. and learned Attorney General said in reply has at all answered that objection.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the election of a Member to serve in this Present Parliament for the Borough of Barrow in Furness, in the room of David Duncan, Esq., whose election has been declared void."