HL Deb 30 May 1853 vol 127 cc784-7

The following is the Protest of Lord St. Leonards against the Resolution of the House of Lords upon the Maldon Election.


1. Because this House ought, before it agrees to join with the other House of Parliament in an Address to Her Majesty praying an inquiry to be made under the Act 15 & 16 of the Queen, to be satisfied that a primâ facie case is made out by evidence to authorise the Crown to appoint a Commission to try the allegations, against the borough or place complained of. The two Houses have to inquire whether corrupt practices have, or there is reason to believe they have, extensively prevailed; and in this House no attempt was made to show from the evidence that such practices had, or that there was reason to believe that they had, extensively prevailed; and the Resolutions as to bribery were carried in the Committee of the House of Commons by divisions of only three to two.

"2. Because the Resolution upon which the Address is founded, and upon which there was no division in the Committee, manifestly because of the majority on each of the previous divisions, is not such as to authorise an Address by the two Houses under the Act of Parliament. The Resolution is, 'that there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at elections of Members to serve in Parliament for the borough of Maldon.' But the Act of Parliament does not seem to warrant any such Resolution as a foundation for an Address. The enactment is, no doubt, general that a Commission may issue upon a joint Address representing to Her Majesty that a Committee appointed to try an Election Petition, or a Committee appointed to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in any election or elections, have reported that corrupt practices have, or that there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have, extensively prevailed in any county, &c., at any election or elections of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament; and these words seem to point at any election or elections, but they were rendered necessary in consequence of the power to address the Crown upon the Report of a Committee to try an Election Petition, or of a Committee to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in any election or elections. The Act did not intend that a Committee to try an Election Petition should, although they could not report that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the election referred to them, have liberty to make a Report as a foundation for an Address, under the Act, that corrupt practices had prevailed at some given former elections, much less that they should report that there was reason to believe that such practices had extensively prevailed at elections of Members for the place in question. Such a Report would be satisfied if such practices had prevailed at elections twenty years ago, although they had not prevailed at the last, or at several immediately previous elections. The intention of the Act is shown by the sixth Section, which authorises the Commissioners to inquire into the manner in which the election in relation to which such Committee may have reported to the House, or, where the Report of the Committee has referred to two or more elections, the latest of such elections, has been conducted, and whether any corrupt practices have been committed at such election. If the Commissioners find corrupt practices at the election into which they are authorised to inquire, then they may carry hack their inquiry, step by step, until they come to a pure election, when they are to stop, and not to carry further back their inquiries. Taking all the clauses of the Act together, they admit of a rational construction, but that construction renders the Resolution of the Committee in this case an insufficient foundation for an Address.

"3. Because the Address should be founded upon the Report of the Committee, supported by the evidence, and not upon any rumours or extrinsic facts, and in this case the mover of the Address in this House relied upon the fact that the borough of Maldon was notoriously corrupt, but of which notoriety there was no evidence.

"4. Because the Resolution of the Committee of the House of Commons was wholly unsupported by evidence of corrupt practices at previous elections. It appeared that large bills were left unpaid at the previous elections in 1847, but they were publicans' bills for refreshments; and, therefore, they fell under the head of treating, and, moreover, the Members had refused to pay them. The Act of 15 & 16 Vict., as it came up to this House from the House of Commons, included treating in the sixth Section; but, as treating stood on a different ground from bribery, that part was struck out in this House, and the other House acquiesced in the Amendment. The Committee failed in their attempt to obtain evidence of previous corrupt practices. They asked William Lord, a bricklayer's labourer, 'They generally are pretty well paid at Maldon, are they not?'—Answer: 'I never got nothing.' 'Had you ever a vote before this time?'—Answer: 'Yes.' 'You had never got anything before?—Answer; 'No.' Mr. Oxley Parker, a warm partisan at elections for Maldon, upon being asked why he would not have acted in a particular manner, answered, 'Because I should have considered that I should be implicated in an act of bribery, and in all my transactions at Maldon I have never been asked for money for a vote, and I have never given it.' 'Do you apply that answer to this election?'—'To all elections'. 'That you say upon your oath?'—'On my oath I do, most distinctly.'

"5. Because the only bribes proved were the four mentioned in the Report; and even as to the proof of them the Committee were divided in opinion. But beyond these trifling cases there was no evidence of bribery—no fund provided, no voter applying for money, no person appointed to bribe, no general payment of expenses, and the two Members, in the plainest terms, swore that no bribery existed to their knowledge, and they had furnished no funds for the purpose; in short, from the outset, that they had determined to conduct the election upon the purest principles. The Committee resolved unanimously that it was proved to the satisfaction of the Committee that the acts of bribery were committed without the cognisance or privity of the sitting Members.

"6. The four acts of bribery relied upon were payments under the colour of payment of expenses—one of 5l. to W. Hearn, one of 2l. to W. Forster, and two of 1l. each to W. Lord and John Hills. W. Hearn, who gave his evidence in a way which drew down upon him the severe animadversions of the Committee, went from London to Maldon to vote. He claimed 5l. 11s. 7d. for banners and painting at the election of 1847, and, because Mr. Dick's people would not pay him that demand, he voted for the sitting Members. He alleged that he had been put to much expense in having another to perform his work in town; and after the election he asked 2l. 10s. for his expenses, and he was paid 2l. The evidence clearly proves that this was all that was paid to him, and that it was paid for his expenses. Three weeks afterwards he wrote a begging letter to Mr. Oxley Parker, but not naming any sum. That gentleman sent him 3l., which he swore was a donation from himself, and that he never intended it to be repaid to him; and this is proved by an account of a few pounds which he subsequently made out and received, and which included the 2l. paid to Hearn for his expenses, but in which no mention is made of the 3l. It is perfectly clear from the evidence that this is the true view of the case; and, therefore, the Report was not warranted, as far as it stated that Hearn was bribed with 5l. Forster also went from London to Maldon to vote, and required his expenses to be paid before he voted; he demanded 2l. 5s., and obtained 2l. He attempted to make out a promise by Mr. Miller to provide him with a situation, in which he was contradicted and wholly failed. The only remaining cases are Lord's and Hill's. They were relations, and resided some twenty-five or thirty miles from Maldon, and they were taken over to Maldon by Mr. Oxley Parker's bailiff. They claimed and obtain- ed 1l. each, which was paid a few months after the election for their expenses. It would be difficult to make out that any of these payments were really bribes, although they might be liberal allowances for expenses, and excessive payments under that colour may well be deemed bribery. In all the four cases the voters might lawfully be paid their expenses. There was no proof of any other payments for expenses, or in the nature of bribes, and these four cases cannot, I think, be deemed sufficient to put the borough of Maldon upon its trial. "ST. LEONARDS."

House adjourned till To-morrow.