HC Deb 17 December 1906 vol 167 cc1051-63
SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD, (Somersetshire, Wellington)

in accordance with notice, rose to movo—"That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the borough of Worcester, in the room of George Henry Williamson, Esq., whose election has been declared to be void."


rose to a point of order. He said that the Motion could not properly be moved, because, by the ruling of the House, Government business took precedence for the remainder of the session. The right hon. Member's Motion, which was opposed by the Attorney-General, was not a Government Motion. Of course he was well aware that Motions for the issue of a new writ were ordinarily matters of privilege, and under the old rules could be moved at any time without notice, whilst under the new rules they could be made either at the commencement of business or at the conclusion. Having regard to the fact that the Motion for a writ might be a subject of controversy, he contended the House should have proper notice of it so that the matter might be discussed as an ordinary Motion. When it was moved, it was absolutely essential that two days notice should be given. All these things divested this Motion of the essence of privilege. This was the first occasion on which a notice of this kind had been moved. Under the terms of the Resolution passed in August last the remainder of the session was given for Government business. This not being a Government Motion, being no immediate necessity for it, and as it could not be discussed until the commencement of next session, except in the extraordinary circumstances of the Government summoning the House specially to discharge public business, he asked for Mr. Speaker's ruling on the matter.


In my judgment the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to move the writ now, first of all because I consider that the issue of a writ under the circumstances is still matter of privilege, even although notice must be given. But beyond that I would remind the hon. Member of the Resolution of 30th May last, dealing with this particular subject, which ordered— That in all cases, where the seat of any Member has been declared void on the ground of corrupt or illegal practices, no Motion for the issue of the new writ shall be made without two clear days previous notice on the notice Paper of the House, and I would especially call attention to to the last words— and that such notice be considered before the orders of the day and notices of Motion. Therefore the House has itself appointed the time at which this Motion may be taken.


moved 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 for the borough of Worcester, in the room of Mr. George Henry Williamson, whoso election had been declared to be void. He said he did not propose to quote any precedents. He had been a great many things in his life, but, thank Heaven! he had never been a lawyer. He thought the House would agree that when a vacancy occurred it was the duty of the person responsible to move the writ at an early opportunity, and if he failed to do so he would be guilty of a grave dereliction of duty. As regarded this particular vacancy, it arose when the late Member for Worcester was unseated on petition. After that petition, this House in conjunction with the other House presented an address. In consequence of that joint address a Commission was appointed and that Commission had now reported. He proposed to deal very briefly with the conclusions arrived at, the first being that the constituency as a whole was not corrupt. If that were so—and it was the deliberate judgment of three most capable and expert lawyers after a very searching inquiry—there was no case for withholding the writ even temporarily from a city which had been represented in this House for many centuries. He came to the other conclusions of the Commission, which were that there existed in Worcester a class of voters, approximately 500, consisting mainly of the needy and loafing class, who were prepared to sell their votes for money, and, further, that the organised corruption in the city of Worcester was confined to that particular class. The conclusion—and, in passing, he might recommend it to those hon. Gentlemen opposite who wanted still further to lower the franchise—was that 500 men were prepared to sell their votes. Even after a searching inquiry, only ninety-eight persons were put in the schedule, and of these only twenty-nine were refused certificates of indemnity. There were in Worcester 8,412 electors, and he submitted that it was very unfair to 7,912 respectable men who had stood the searching inquiry and had come out with clean hands that they should suffer for the misdoings of ninety-eight men. He was as strong as any Member in believing that this House ought to maintain the purity of our electoral system. He thought the House had done its best to maintain that principle by voting an address for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the late election at Worcester, but that Commission having reported that the constituency as a whole was not corrupt, it was a very strong order that the House should refuse the writ. Withholding a writ under any circumstances was a very grave matter. There were conceivable circumstances under which the power might be used in a very improper way, or if the House were divided, not byParty divisions, but on some great national question, the withholding of a writ might mean the victory or the defeat of the Government of the day. The vast majority of the electors of Worcester, having been acquitted as a body of any general or organised corruption, were entitled to be once more represented in the House. Especially at a time like the present when very grave issues were before Parliament, it was only fair that the electors of Worcester should be given the right to have their opinions represented in this House at the earliest opportunity.

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 a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the borough of Worcester, in the room of George Henry Williamson, esquire, whose election has been declared to be void."—(Sir A. Acland Hood.)


said he could only regret that the profession to which he belonged was one which did not possess the right hon. Gentleman among its members, and he regretted still more that the right hon. Gentleman regarded his exclusion from that profession with a feeling of satisfaction. He was a little astonished that the right hon. Gentleman found in this Report grounds for the immediate issue of a writ for the election of a representative for the City of Worcester. He should have thought that the findings of the Commission gave serious reason for withholding for a considerable period the representation in this House of a city of which they had given such a discreditable account. The forms of the House precluded him from moving his Amendment in the way he would have chosen. The form of the Amendment was that the writ should not issue during the present session of Parliament. In his view, and in that of the Government, it should be suspended for a substantial period in order to allow the necessary steps to be taken which should follow the issue of such a Report as that which had been laid upon the Table. He would remind the House of the facts which had led to the present situation. Early in this year a Conservative Member was returned by a majority of 189 for the City of Worcester. The seat was challenged by a petition which was presented and was heard by two learned Judges, who declared that there had been corruption and bribery, and that they had reason to suppose these practices had extensively prevailed. A Commission was appointed to investigate the foundation for the suspicion of the learned Judges. The Report had been laid upon the Table, and it was necessary under the statute that it should be examined, first of all by the Attorney-General with a view to the prosecution of all those persons who had rendered themselves obnoxious to the law, and in order to purge the electoral list of disqualified persons who were incriminated by the findings of the Commission. It was also necessary that the House itself should exercise some function in regard to the I matter, and following precedent Parliament might disfranchise the whole city or certain persons in it, or they might suspend the representation for a period more or less long, having regard to the gravity of the charges in the Report. After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman he could not refrain from calling attention to one or two of its most salient features. In 1892 an election petition was presented against the return of the then Conservative Member, and the petition was dismissed. But the Commissioners found that at that period and since, in connection with both municipal and Parliamentary elections, bribery and treating had systematically prevailed in the city. They said that in every ward of the city there was a tainted element not only susceptible to the temptations of bribery and treating, but who would not vote unless they were either bribed or treated. One local leader of the Conservative Party had expressed his opinion that no political victory could be gained in the City of Worcester except by a candidate who resorted to bribery. Dealing with the causes which lead to this state of corruption, the Commissioners found that the main cause was due to the local branch of the National Conservative League. That body carried on the political education of the people of Worcester by means of lodges, which met in public-houses in different parts of the city. The shilling subscription entitled a member not only to have his political horizon enlarged, but to participate in the dispensation of free drinks, which invariably followed at the expense of the chairman. The hospitality of these lodges, if not lavish, was at least liberal, and the invitations were not confined to members of the league. All Conservatives were cordially invited to attend, and there was no test of political opinion imposed before the concluding portion of the evening was reached when free drinks were handed round. This machinery was controlled by a local official, who was called the Provincial Grand Master, and by a curious coincidence he happened to have been the election agent of the Conservative candidate at the recent election. In 1892 the operations of this body came under judicial review, and Mr. Justice Wills characterised in vigorous terms the practice of dispensing drinks at political meetings convened under its auspices. He described it as "objectionable, demoralising and dangerous to the seat." But apparently the censure uttered on that occasion fell upon deaf ears. There was one bright glimpse in the picture. The operations of both political parties fell under review. In dealing with the Liberal Party, the Commissioners observed that in 1903 a new Liberal Association was formed. It declared that it would not countenance the resort to any corrupt or illegal practice, and the Commissioners found that the association had adhered to that determination, and that with the exception of a single charge of treating, which entirely failed when it was examined, no accusation of any corrupt or illegal practice had been made against any member of the Liberal Party. They were therefore assisted in their efforts to locate the tainted element to this extent—that they knew the political party to which it did not attach. The Commissioners pointed out that the extent of political corruption was probably less than at previous elections, and the amounts paid for votes probably lower. They attributed this not to any growth of electoral purity or any diminution in the vice of avarice, but to the fact, first, that the Liberal Party employed a private inquiry agent, the knowledge of whose presence exercised a restraining influence upon the other side; and, secondly, that the absence of competition caused the prices of votes to fall below the figures which formerly prevailed. If they were to ignore all these facts and issue the writ in hot haste, what became of the law which remained to be vindicated; what became of the maintenance of the high standard of electoral purity in the conduct of those contests? Would it not make the task of purifying elections so very much more difficult if it could be said that, with the pages of this Report open to them, the House of Commons, on the motion of one of the great political parties, throw it into the wastepaper basket and issued the writ at once? He could not believe that the right hon. Gentleman had carefully considered the Report or could have observed that the 500 voters who constituted the corrupt element in Worcester gave to his party a majority of 189 at the last election, and that their allegiance, which was purchased then by an appeal to corrupt motives, might be now retained by an appeal to the feeling of resentment against the Government which had led to the exposure of their conduct.

Amendment proposed— In line 2, after the word 'do,' to insert the words 'not during the present session of Parliament."—(Mr. Attorney-General.)

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

MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)

said he had the honour to be one of the representatives for Worcestershire, and therefore he thought he was entitled to take an interest in a question which concerned the county town of the county which he represented and in which he lived. He was moved to speak by the tone of the Attorney-General's observations. His right hon. friend the Chief Conservative Whip had scrupulously abstained from anything in the nature of political controversy, and from any attempt to make party capital out of the discussion. His right hon. friend could not have done less than move the issue of the writ, and he could not have done so in terms less open to challenge or giving a slighter justification for a provocative party attack. No member of the Opposition desired to palliate electoral corruption, wherever it took place, and if his right hon. friend's Motion were such as to prevent due notice being taken of the illegal acts committed at Worcester he would not support it. But the criminal side of the procedure which should follow upon the Commissioners' Report would not be in the least affected by the issue of the writ. The Commissioners had found that there was in the City of Worcester—and let them have no cant, it existed in other cities—a certain corrupt element which had traded upon the anxiety of candidates on one side or the other, to got into Parliament. [An Hon. Member: One side.] That was not the fact. That corrupt element was in the opinion of the Commissioners limited to about 500 out of an electorate of nearly 9,000, while about 100 persons had been scheduled as guilty of corruption, and if now any one of those 100 voted in an election his vote would be disallowed on a scrutiny, so no candidate would desire to have any of those 100 votes. Why, because of the 100 or the 500 making the corrupt element, should the city of Worcester be indefinitely deprived of representation? What was the history of the Liberal Party as laid down by the Commission? The late Liberal candidate, to his honour, fought a pure election campaign. But did the Attorney-General pretend that his Party did not on previous occasions,—["Oh, oh."] did the hon. and learned Gentleman when he flung about his taunts and posed as the champion of political purity—


said he simply spoke of the findings of the Commission upon matters of fact.


said the hon. Gentleman spoke of those findings which he wished to bring to the knowledge of the House, avoiding others, he ornamented them with his own suggestions as to where corruption lurked, and the hidden motives for moving for a writ; but when he posed as the special guardian of political purity did he pretend that his own Party did not dabble in the same practices previously? He could not do so. It was to be regretted that this tone had been introduced into the debate. Neither Party desired to defend corruption, but it was a very strong measure to delay the issue of a writ indefinitely when the Commission had reported that the corrupt element extended to a small portion only of the electorate, and when proceedings could be instituted against the scheduled persons whether the writ were issued or not. He should vote for the Motion, as a protest against the disfranchisement of the great mass of incorruptible electors of Worcester and the tone of the Attorney-General's speech.

SIR E. CARSON (Dublin University)

said that whatever way they looked at this matter the Motion of the Attorney-General would disfranchise for a time about 8,500 electors in consequence of the action of 500 people or thereabouts. The House would probably desire to act strictly in accordance with precedent in connection with such a proceeding. He thought the Attorney-General was going to say that the Government had not yet had time to consider what they ought to do in regard to the report furnished by the Commissioners. If he had taken that course, there would have been a good deal to be said in support of the Motion, but the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be of opinion that he could by making use of the Government majority suspend indefinitely the issue of a writ.


said he certainly had not submitted such a proposition. A writ could only be suspended for a definite period by Act of Parliament, but it was obvious that before a prosecution could be issued some

time must elapse, the prosecutions it instituted would take time, and the Government must also have time to consider the evidence not yet printed before deciding whether they should introduce a Bill. The notice of Motion appeared contemporaneously with the presentation of the Report, when the ink was scarcely dry, and before the evidence was printed. Later the view of the Government would be indicated.


was sorry that the Attorney-General, instead of making a provocative speech, did not state that the Government desired time to consider what they should do. This he had not done, and, listening to the speech, it might have been supposed that the Government had a right on a more Motion to suspend the writ. On no occasion had there been, nor should there be, disfranchisement without the passing of a Bill by the House.


remarked that ink must take long to dry at the Home Office, for the date of the Report was 22nd November, and it was laid on the Table on 10th December.

Question put.

The House divided :—Ayes, 263 Noes, 66. (Division List No. 499.)

Abraham, William (Cork, N.E.) Bowerman, C. W. Collins, Sir Wm. J. (S. Pancras, W
Agnew, George William Brace, William Condon, Thomas Joseph
Ainsworth, John Stirling Bramsdon, T. A. Cooper, G. J.
Alden, Percy Branch, James Corbett, C.H.(Sussex. E. Grins'd
Ambrose, Robert Brocklehurst, W. B. Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.
Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert Henry Brooke, Stopford Cory, Clifford John
Astbury, John Meir Bryce, Rt. Hon James (Aberdeen Cotton, Sir H.J.S.
Atherley, Jones, L. Bryce, J.A.(Inverness Burghs) Cowan, W. H.
Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth) Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Cox, Harold
Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.) Burke, E. Haviland- Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Burns, Rt. Hon. John Cremer, William Randal
Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Buxton, Rt. Hn. Sydney Chas. Crombie, John William
Barker, John Byles, William Pollard Crooks, William
Barlow, Percy (Bedford) Cairns, Thomas Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan
Barnard, E. B. Cameron, Robert Davies, Timothy (Fulham)
Barnes, G. N. Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N.
Beauchamp, E. Carr-Gomm, H. W. Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Beaumont, Hn. W.C.B(Hexham Causton, Rt. Hn. Richard Knight Dolan, Charles Joseph
Bell, Richard Cawley, Sir Frederick Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness
Bellairs, Carlyon Channing, Sir Francis Allston Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)
Benn, W. (T'wr'Hamlets, S. Geo. Cheetham, John Frederick Dunne, Major E. Martin(Walsall
Bertram, Julius Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R. Elibank, Master of
Bethell, Sir J.H. (Essex, Romf' rd Churchill, Winston Spencer Erskine, David C,
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Cleland, J. W. Essex, R. W.
Billson, Alfred Clough, William Everett, R. Lacey
Black, Alexander Wm. (Banff.) Cobbold, Felix Thornley Faber, G. H. (Boston)
Boland, John Cogan, Denis J. Fenwick, Charles
Boulton, A. C. F. (Ramsey) Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Ferens, T. R.
Ffrench, Peter Lundon, W. Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Findlay, Alexander Lupton, Arnold Robson, Sir William Snowdon
Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter Lyell, Charles Henry Roche, Augustine (Cork)
Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Macdonald J. M. (Falkirk B'ghs Rogers, F. E. Newman
Freeman-Thomas, Freeman Mackarness, Frederic C. Rowlands, J.
Fullerton, Hugh MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Runciman, Walter
Gibb, James (Harrow) MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S. Russell, T. W.
Gilhooly, James M'Callum, John M. Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)
Gill, A. H. M'Crae, George Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Ginnell, L. M'Kenna, Reginald Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)
Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John M'Killop, W. Schwann, Sir C.E.(Manchester)
Gooch, George Peabody M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.) Sears, J. E.
Grant, Corrie M'Micking, Major G. Seaverns, J. H.
Greenwood, G. (Peterborough) Maddison, Frederick Seely, Major J. B.
Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Mallet, Charles E. Shackleton, David James
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius Manfield, Harry (Northants) Shaw, Rt. Hon. T. (Hawick B).
Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston Sheehy, David
Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis Marnham, F. J. Shipman, Dr. John G.
Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil Meagher, Michael Sinclair, Rt. Hon. John
Hardy, George A. (Suffolk) Micklem, Nathaniel Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie
Hart-Davis, T. Molteno, Percy Alport Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Harwood, George Montagu, E. S. Snowden, P.
Haslam, James (Derbyshire) Morrell, Philip Spicer, Sir Albert
Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Morse, L. L Steadman, W. C.
Haworth, Arthur A. Murphy, John Stewart, Halley (Greenock)
Hedges, A. Paget Myer, Horatio Straus, B. S. (Mile End)
Hemmerde, Edward George Napier, T. B. Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Newnes, F. (Notts., Bassetlaw) Sullivan, Donal
Henderson, J.M.(Aberdeen, W.) Nicholson, Chas. N. (Doncaster Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury
Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe) Nolan, Joseph Thomas, Sir A. (Glamorgan, E.)
Higham, John Sharp Norman, Sir Henry Thorne, William
Hobart, Sir Robert Norton, Capt. Cecil William Toulmin, George
Hogan, Michael O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperay Mid Verney, F. W.
Holland, Sir William Henry O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Waldron, Laurence Ambrose
Hooper, A. G. O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W) Walker H. De. R. (Leicester)
Hope, W. Bateman (Somerset, N. O'Loherty, Philip Wallace, Robert
Horniman, Emslie John O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N Walton, Sir John L. (Leeds, S.)
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey O'Malley, William Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
Hudson, Walter O'Mara, James Ward, John (Stoke upon Trent)
Hyde, Clarendon O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Ward, W. Dudley (Southampt'n
Idris, T. H. W. Parker, James (Halifax) Wardle, George J.
Isaacs, Rufus Daniel Partington, Oswald Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Jacoby, Sir James Alfred Paul, Herbert Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan
Jardine, Sir J. Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek) Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney
Johnson, W. (Nuneaton) Philipps, Col. Ivor (South'mpt'n) Waterlow, D. S.
Jones, Leif (Appleby) Pickersgill, Edward Hare Watt, H. Anderson
Jowett, F. W. Pollard, Dr. Whitbread, Howard
Joyce, Michael Power, Patrick Joseph White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)
Kekewich, Sir George Price, C. E. (Edinbugh, Central White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Kincaid-Smith, Captain Radford, G. H. Whitehead, Rowland
Laidlaw, Robert Rainy, A. Rolland Whittaker, Sir Thomas Palmer
Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester) Raphael, Herbert H. Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarth'n
Lambert, George Rea, Russell (Gloucester) Williamson, A.
Layland-Barratt, Francis Reddy, M. Wilson, Hn. C.H.W. (Hull, W.)
Leese, Sir Joseph F.(Accrington Redmond, John E. (Waterford) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Lehmann, R. C. Redmond, William (Clare) Wood, T. M'Kinnon
Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich Rees, J. D. Yoxall, James Henry
Lever, W. H. (Cheshire, Wirral) Richards, T. F.(Wolverh'mpt'n
Lewis, John Herbert Ridsdale, E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David Roberts, G. H. (Norwich) Mr. Whiteley and Mr. J. A. Pease.
Lough, Thomas Robertson, Rt. Hn. E.(Dundee)
Arkwright, John Stanhope Bridgeman, W. Clive. Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J.A.(Wore-
Ashley, W. W. Butcher, Samuel Henry Courthope, G. Lloyd
Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H. Carlile, E. Hildred Craik, Sir Henry
Baldwin, Alfred Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H. Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-
Balfour, Rt. Hn. A.J. (CityLond. Castlereagh, Viscount Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Govan
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Cave, George Faber, Capt. W. V.(Hants, W.)
Beach, Hn. Michael Hugh Hicks Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Fardell, Sir T. George
Beckett, Hon. Gervase Cecil, Lord John P. Joicey- Fell, Arthur
Finch, Rt. Hon. George H. Lockwood, Rt. Hn. Lt.-Col. A. R. Sloan, Thomas Henry
Fletcher, J. S. Lonsdale, John Brownlee Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West) Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred Thornton, Percy M.
Hamilton, Marquess of Marks, H. H. (Kent) Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. Howard
Harrison-Broadley, Col. H. B. Mason, James F. (Windsor) Walrond, Hon. Lionel
Hay, Hon. Claude George Meysey-Thompson, E. C. Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)
Heaton, John Henniker Mildmay, Francis Bingham Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Hervey, F.W.F.(Bury S.Edm'ds Morpeth, Viscount Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Hills, J. W. O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George
Houston, Robert Paterson Percy, Earl Younger, George
Hunt, Rowland Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Kenyon-Slaney, Rt. Hn. Col. W. Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Keswick, William Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool) Sir Alexander Acland-Hood and Viscount Valentia.
Kimber, Sir Henry Salter, Arthur Clavell
Lee, Arthur H.(Hants, Fareham Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert
Liddell, Henry Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)

Bill read the third time, and passed.

Ordered, That Mr. SPEAKER do not, during the present Session of Parliament, issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Worcester, in the room of George Henry Williamson, Esquire, whose election has been declared to be void.