Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question proposed [28th June],
That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the Electing of a Burgess to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Wakefield, in the room of William Henry Leatham, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
MR. SERJEANT PIGOTT
said, that having been Chief Commissioner to inquire into the corruption practices at a recent election for the borough, he rose to state his conclusion that the writ ought not to issue. The hon. Member for Beverley (Major Edward) who had moved the writ had stated no sufficient reason why the writ should issue for a borough of which the Commission of Inquiry had reported that the electors had been guilty of gross corruption and bribery, and that these practices had been committed by all parties. If wakefield suffered any inconvenience from not being represented, it was the proper consequence of its own act. The Report of the Commission was entirely borne out by the evidence. Should the writ issue, it would seem as if the House, instead of marking its sense of the corruption to the electors, intended to give them a second opportunity of displaying it in the same Parliament. This question ought not to be treated with the levity with which it seemed to be met on the former evening, when it was said there were Members in the House who were known to have obtained their seats by bribery. [Cheers from the opposition, and cries of "Reading."] Let the House consider what bribery was. ["Oh, oh!"] Mr. Justice Blackstone called it "the infamous practice of corruption;" and an-other high authority declared it to be "poisoning the fountain of public security." The House should express its determination in tones that admitted of no mistake to do its best to repress bribery. What was the use of issuing a Commission of Inquiry if they did not act upon their Report? The object and end of such a Commission was to punish a place where bribery had extensively prevailed. If one party only in a borough was implicated it would be unjust to suspend the writ, because in doing so they would confound the innocent with the guilty; but where it was found that the heads and subordinates of 470 all parties were engaged in the same corrupt work, surely the borough ought to be punished. It might be said that the steps taken by the House should be definite, and that it was unconstitutional to keep the writ in abeyance. But was it not both constitutional and according to precedent that the House should suspend a writ in such a case during its pleasure? It was done with regard to Liverpool in 1831. The Committee declared that gross bribery, treating, and corruption prevailed at the election for that borough in 1830, and it was decided by the House that the writ should not go. Again, in the case of Stafford, the writ was suspended in 1835 on the same grounds, after the Report of a Select Committee. More recently the House also to suspend the writ for Nottingham, but without a Report from a Select Committee. These instances showed that the House had full power, if it chose to exercise it, to suspend the writ in the present case. There would be no injustice in punishing the whole borough for bribery which was common to the whole borough. He believed it would be a wholesome lesson to consituencies if the writ were suspended. Bribery was not more engrafted in society now than was duelling formerly. The latter was put an end to by a firm exposition of the law on the part of a Judge whom they had lately lost, and he believed the former would be put down too by a firm declaration of the opinion of the House. He should vote against the Motion of the hon. Member opposite.
§ MR. KNIGHTLEY
hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, after the clear and distinct promise which he had given on that night week, would not oppose the issue of the writ. He admitted that there were precedents for the suspension of writs; but the course, except while inquiries were in progress, was inexpedient and unconstituional. If the places were really corrupt, the proper course was to follow the precedent set with respect to Sudbury and St. Albans, and to disfranchise them altogether. But such a course ought not to be pursued in isolated instances; it ought to be extended to all place in which corruption was shown to be deep-rooted and wide spread. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had accused him of levity in speaking of the subject of bribery. He denied that he had treated the matter in any such spirit. The hon. and learned Gentleman certainly could not 471 be accused of having spoken with levity, for he had rarely listened to a more solemn or, he would add, dreary speech. Nobody denied that bribery had taken place at Wakefield; but anybody who read the Reports of Committees or Commissions which had sat elsewhere would have arrived at precisely the same conclusion. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary the other day seemed perfectly shocked at the idea of a writ being issued to a corrupt place like Wakefield. But how had the Government treated candidates who corrupted constituencies? It was all very well for Committees to draw up a Report in a stereotyped form, to the effect that sufficient information had not been brought before them to prove that the bribery or corruption had taken place with the knowledge or sanction of the candidates; but could any sane or reasonable man doubt where the money came from? Possibly, the money was originally subscirbed to a general fund. He was happy to say he knew nothing of such arrangements, for he did not represent a borough. A very ordinary practice was for certain funds to be subscribed, of which the Gentleman going down to contest a corrupt borough usually contributed the largest portion, or possibly he might avail himself of the accommodating and useful assistance of some political friend like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells or Honiton, who might be able to make arrangement for the transmission to its destination of this general fund. Now, how had the Government treated Gentlemen who were instrumental in corrupting constituencies? Immidiately after the last general election, one of the Members for the town of Norwich was convicted through his agents—of course, the noble Lord knew nothing of the circumstances—of gross, glaring, wholesale bribery. Yet, he now sat on the Treasury Bench, and occupied a high and responsible station in Her Majesty's House-hold. He alluded to the noble Lord at present Member for the Wick Boroughs (Viscount Bury). Another noble Lord was also convicted on a former occasion of gross, glaring, and wholesale corruption in the town of Hull. That noble now occupied a yet more responsible position in Her Majesty's Government in "another place." He alluded to Lord De Grey, who was well known in that House as Lord Goderich, who had been convicted of gross bribery. The House of Commons having condoned the offences of those corrupt constituencies, 472 and Her Majesty's Government having rewarded the Gentlemen who corrupted them, it was perfectly preposterous for the House to affect precise puritanical scruples about issuing writs for Wakefield or Gloucester, the circumstances of which were in no way distinguishable from those of the other towns to which he had alluded.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
regretted that the hon. Gentleman should have introduced any personal question into the discussion. He should have remembered that now Election Committees were bound, when they found bribery to exist, to report whether knowledge or consent of the candidates or Members. In both cases of Hull and Norwich Committees reported that the bribery had been without the knowledge or consent of the noble Lords who had been referred to. [Mr. KNIGHTLEY: But by their agents.] Every one professed to be desirous of putting an end to bribery, and complaints were made that the Reports of Committees and of Commissioners had not been productive of greater results—that those Reports were laid upon the table, and nothing was done upon them. he thought there would be less justice in these complaints if some more decisive and less cautious attempts were made to check bribery. Disfranchisement did not follow where the corruption was not nearly universal, and as long as they adhered to that rule there would be but few cases of disfranchisement. Much might, no doubt, be said about the extent of constituencies like those of Gloucester and Wakefield, and it may be urged that it would be hard to disfranchise the whole for the faults of a portion of the constituency. But in the case of Wakefield, not only were a large number of votes corrupt, but the Commissioners called attention to the fact that what was called the respectable part of the constituency had not exercised that influence which they possessed to prevent bribery as they might have done, and, therefore, the corruption in that place must be assumed to have gone beyond the voters actually bribed. With respect to boroughs so situated he last year stated the course proposed by the Government—that where the corruption was extensive, but not sufficient to deserve disfranchisement, a temporary suspension of the writ was expedient. He also stated that the Government would have introduced a Bill to apply that principle to these two boroughs, had it not been that a Reform Bill was then 473 before Parliament, which if adopted would have created many new voters. The subject having been referred to a Committee, that Committee made a recommendation in accordance with that suggestion. After the time which had elapsed since the election, the Government did not think it expedient to introduce a Bill specifically applicable to these two boroughs; but the question now coming before the House must be considered together with that recommendation, and it would be for the House to determine whether such a rule should be prospective or retropective. In any case, if the House was inclined to discourage bribery by suspending the issue of writs for corrupt boroughs for a minimum period of five years, as recommended by the Committee, it would be improper after the lapse of less than two years to allow those boroughs the opportunity of repeating perhaps the same practices as those of which they had before been guilty. He did not think a sufficient time had elapsed. The hon. Member who spoke last had taunted the Government and the House with punishing the constituencies and allowing the candidates to pass by unnoticed. He must remind the hon. Member that in the cases where a candidate had been open to prosecution, in consequence of not receiving a certificate from the Commissioners, the Attorney General had instituted proceedings. In one case the prosecution was for a time defeated by the obstinacy of a witness in refusing to repeat the evidence he had given before the Commissioners. In another case—that of Berwick—the Attorney General had stated that he did not prosecute the candidate because the principle witness had absconded. He was glad the question was now discussed in a full House, when it could be deliberately considered.
said, that the precedents quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Reading (Mr. Serjeant Pigott) had convinced him that the writ for Wakefield should be issued. In the case of Stafford the House had passed a Bill of disfranchisement, but in consequence of a difference with the other House the writ only remained suspended. It was, no doubt, in the power of the House to suspend a writ for as indefinite time; but whether it was right or constitutional he could not say. Suspension of the writ was clearly a penal proceeding, and the question now was whether the suspension had lasted sufficiently long. No one had proposed a Bill to dis- 474 franchise this borough, and if the Government had thought that five years' suspension was the proper punishment, they should have introduced a Bill to the effect immediately after the Report of the Commissioners. They not having done that, and believing that indefinite punishment was wrong, he should vote for the issue of the writ.
§ COLONEL SMYTH
regarded this as no party question. Every one admitted that bribery had been practised at the last election for Wakefield. He deplored the fact, and he was authorized by the two gentlemen who were candidates upon that occasion to express their regret. The question was whether Wakefield had not been sufficiently punished already. Two years of disfranchisement to a large commercial town was a heavy penalty to endure. Not only so, but Wakefield had also been deprived by the Appropriation of Seats Bill of the important position which it hitherto held in connection with the elections for the county. He must say he had been startled and surprised at the declaration of the Home Secretary. When the debate was commenced that night week that right hon. Gentleman clearly stated that if the second division then taken went against the Government, as the first one had gone, he would support the issue of the writ, ["No!" and "Hear, hear,"] He mentioned this with pain, but the right hon. Gentleman was so reported in The Times of the following day. The House was entitled to look for straightforward conduct on the part of those who were its leaders, and he must, therefore, now call upon the right hon. Gentleman to act according to his own declaration. The right hon. Gentleman was afterwards urged the same night to go into the lobby in opposition to that declaration; but it was to be hoped that he would be prepared to-night to say, no behalf of the Government that he would not further resist the issue of the writs for Wakefield and Gloucester, and he would thereby regain the confidence which he had heretofore most deservedly enjoyed on that side of the House.
§ MR. BENTINCK
contended, notwithstanding the reproof administered by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in regard to the introduction of personal matters into that discussion, that the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightley) was perfectly justified in the illustration he had used in support of his argument. The report of the inquiry re- 475 lating to Kingston-upon-Hull declared that systematic bribery had been committed on behalf of Lord Goderich; that it was not proved that such bribery was committed with Lord Goderich's knowledge, but that it was proved that he had a knowledge of facts which should have caused him to inquire into the mode in which the money was expended, and that such an inquiry must have led him to the conclusion that bribery was being practised on his behalf. If the Government would bring forward a Motion for the disfranchisement of Wakefield and Gloucester he was prepared to vote for it, but he thought it unjust to deal out one punishement to one delinquent borough and another punishment to another. With respect to the constitutional part of the question, he could not understand a more unconstitutional course of proceeding than that the right of dealing with questions of this description of delinquency should rest either with the caprice of the House of Commons, or the caprice of the Government of the day. There ought to be some clear and definite rule of action. The Government ought to follow one of two courses—either to sanction the issuing of the writ or deal dealt with. He firmly believed that nothing would stop bribery, and the course the House adopted was to encourage it at elections. The real fact was that in the country there was no feeling against it, and no belief in the mind of the public that there was any turpitude in either giving or taking a bribe. He was not so sanguine as the hon. and learned Member as to believe that the House had only to express its reprobation of such delinquencies in order to effectually eradicate electoral corruption. Bribery could only be dealt with by making the penalties and the punishment so heavy that it would be dangerous to commit it.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
— I think there is a great deal of force in the observation that we ought to take some decided course in regard to these boroughs. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had explained why, when the Bill that now lies on the table was brought in, it was not deemed proper to apply to these boroughs the clause which provides that constituencies so convicted shall not be allowed for five years to return Members to this House. But I think it would be fair for the House to consider whether, under the altered circumstances of the case, it would not be right to include 476 Wakefield and Gloucester in that clause, and that when we come to consider the Bill in Committee, a proviso should be added to prevent their electing representatives until the period of five years has expired. If the House should be of opinion that that would be a fit question to discuss in Committee on the Bill, then surely we ought not to withdraw these boroughs from consideration by now issuing their writs. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Mr. Bentinck) is prepared to vote for the disfranchisement of these two towns; but I think there are obvious reasons why we should pause before proceeding to that extremity. The House ought to consider the effect that would be produced on the public mind by adopting the Motion before us. For what purpose, I would ask, are Commissioners appointed to investigate cases of gross and extensive bribery? Is it that the House may have the satisfaction of knowing that corruption exists and then doing nothing? Is it for the sake of informing the public mind that borough after borough is convicted of flagrant venality, and that all this House does, after letting the Report of the Committee lie on the table for a year or so, is to issue the writ and treat the delinquent constituency as if nothing at all had happened? Why, if that is not trifling—if it is not indirectly avowing that we consider bribery and corruption a trivial and venial offence, hardly deserving of any consideration and certainly of no punishment—I do not know what the consequences of any given line of conduct can possibly be. I entreat the House to pause, and remember that its own character is here involved. The Wakefield election took place about two years ago. An investigation was instituted, and I do not believe the Report has been much more than a twelvemonth lying on our table. Circumstances have prevented that Report being taken into serious consideration; and now the first result of all these proceedings is to be that we are to issue the writ, just as if a vacancy had occurred in a common and natural manner. I, therefore, humbly propose to the House that we should not now issue the writ, but that we should reserve for subsequent discussion the question whether it would not be well to visit on these two delinquent constituencies that five years' deprivation of electoral privileges which is prescribed by the clause in the measure to which I have referred.
§ MR. DISRAELI:
I cannot but think that the House is in a very unsatisfactory 477 position in respect to these two boroughs; but, at the same time, I do not see that the proposition of the noble Lord will remove the difficulty. If the proposition is one to extricate us from the difficulty by what is, after all, only ex post facto legislation, I do not think it is one which the House is likely to favour. To-night we are discussing the question of the corruption of a particular borough, and that, to my mind, has nothing to do with the point before us. The point is much more important than the question of the corruption of a particular borough. It is, whether we shall suspend a writ without the authority of law. Really that is the important matter which we have to decide. If, without any violation of the law, we could sufficiently punish Wakefield and Gloucester, I should be most willing to support any Motion having that for its object; but it appears to me that in our eagerness to punish those boroughs we may be laying the foundation of a system which may be found hereafter very injurious to that public liberty and security which—not withstanding some of the statements which have been made in the course of this debate—I am willing to believe both sides of the House are anxious to preserve. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs by which we may suspend the issuing of a writ at the caprice of an individual, or to suit the fashion of a party? What can be more unsatifactory than those precedents cited by the hon. and learned Serjeant, which show that the suspension or the issue of a writ may depend upon a majority of one. I think we should lay down some invariable principle which should apply to all cases, and which should remove the difficulty in which the House has been placed, both on the last night when this subject was under discussion and on the present occasion. From all I can learn, if a division had been taken on the preceding night, the writ would have been issued; and surely nothing can be more unsatisfactory than that a matter of great importance should depend upon the chance attendance of hon. Members or the caprice of a Minister. A question of this kind ought to be decided in a manner that should apply inflexibly to all cases, and that should leave no room for cavil. There is no machinery to meet the case at present. It is no answer to the general objections which can be urged against the arbitrary and capricious suspension of a writ to say that Her Majesty's Ministers are sensible that some thing ought to be done, and that an oppor- 478 tunity will hereafter occur, of which the House may avail themselves in order to do that something. The House ought not to be influenced in its opinion by such vague promises as that which the noble Lord has given us, and which, even if it be realized, will result in legislation of a retrospective character. It appears to me that the best thing we can do now is to assent to the issue of the writ, and take the earliest opportunity of giving the whole subject our attentive consideration, with a view to providing for future cases. If we act in this way, we can hereafter lay down a mode of action which will leave no room for doubt, and which will relieve the House in future of discussions of this character. Though as willing as any one to show my sense of the conduct of the electors of Wakefield, I feel bound to support our constitutional rights, and vote for the issue of the writ.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER:
I have heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with regret, for, whatever may be the decision of the House on the present Motion, and though I hope that decision may be adverse, I am sorry that among the leading Members of this House there should be any difference of opinion as to the course which ought to be pursued in such cases. The first objection of the right hon. Gentleman to the proposition referred to by my noble Friend is, that it is one for ex post facto legislation. If that be a valid objection, everything which the House has hitherto done in the matter of disfranchisement is hard and unjust. It was wrong of the old Parliament to disfranchise Penryn and Grampound, and it was wrong in the new to disfranchise Sudbury and St. Albans. The right hon. Gentleman says that we ought not to suspend a writ in an arbitrary manner. He is right; but it is perfectly within the spirit of the Constitution to suspend the issue of a writ till we have had an opportunity of considering what final course we ought to take. My right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey) has explained that the Reform Bill of last year afforded a sufficient reason for not bringing in a Bill applying more directly to cases such as those now under discussion; but as to the present Session my noble Friend at the head of the Government has just declared that the House will have an opportunity afforded to them of considering the amount of punishment in the shape of disfranchisement which ought to be inflicted in such cases. The right hon. Gentleman says that we 479 ought to have some defined and invariable rule—I presume he means as to the character of the punishment, for he cannot mean that all offences of this kind, whether great or small, should receive exactly the same amount of punishment. It would be a proper subject of consideration for the House whether in some instances there should not be absolute and in others only partial disfranchisement. After the passing of the Reform Act the attention of Parliament and the country was directed to this subject, and at length we adopted a machinery, which is formal, solemn, and of a very costly character, by which you have judicial inquiry as the foundation of your subsequent proceedings. We have now got before us one of the first Reports consequent on such an inquiry, and we are called on to declare how we intend to deal with those Reports. This is a question of great importance. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) declared his intention to deal severely with cases of bribery. He has on former occasions shown his indisposition to extensive—perhaps to any—changes in the constitution of Parliament. An opponent of Parliamentary Reform in general, he would be just and severe in dealing with particular cases of electoral corruption. I do not know whether some of those who are most friendly to sweeping changes in the constitution of this House may not be favourable to the issue of this writ, because they may consider that to treat such cases lightly may stimulate in the nation a desire for extensive and organic changes. But let the House see the serious alternative before it. If the country is little disposed to deal with the general question of disfranchisement it becomes doubly necessary that we should deal gravely, severely, and effectively with particular cases of disfranchisement. But if we are to say when particular cases of gross corruption come before us, established by indubitable evidence, that the writ may issue, as is now proposed with regard to Wakefield, then I say that is a mode of proceeding which this House, great as it is, cannot afford to pursue without forfeiting much of the esteem, respect, and confidence of the country.
§ MR. MACAULAY
said, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman had not disposed him to vote against the Motion, more particularly as the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues seemed to arrogate to themselves a peculiar regard for the preservation of electoral purity. He denied that 480 these were first Reports of Royal Commissions. Commissions had, in fact, been issued so far back as 1853, and there had been half a dozen or half a score towns which had been visited by them. When the noble Lord said that after the issuing of a Commission, and the Commission had reported they ought to punish the borough or the Commission was of no use. He would remind the House in the first place that the foundation of the inquiry by the Commissioners was absolute impunity and indemnity of all the parties who gave the information. In the next place, in all cases where Commissions had been issued the elections which had followed them were not marked by those practices which had called the Commissions into existence. This showed that the Commissions were not entirely without their value in eradicating the evil which they were intended to correct.
hoped the House would allow him to give some explanation of an insinuation which had been thown out against him by the hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The hon. Baronet had stated that the reason why the Attorney General had not directed a prosecution against him for bribery at the election for Berwick-upon-Tweed was that a material witness had absconded. Now, the hon. Baronet, who lived within a few miles of that borough, might have known the fact that the witness to whom he referred had not at the time absconded; he was resident in Berwick," was there now, and had been for weeks. So far from his shirking any evidence brought against him, he had from first to last taken every means in his power to challenge investigation into his conduct. The witness had been already tried at the Old Bailey, being prosecuted by the Attorney General; and it was at his instance that he had been enabled to meet that trial, which ended in an acquittal.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
denied that he had made any insinuation against the hon. Member. What he stated was that the Attorney General had prosecuted in two cases in which the candidates had not received the certificate from the Commissioners, and that in one of the cases the prosecution failed from the refusal of a witness to answer the questions put to him; and with regard to the hon. Member for Berwick, he stated that the Attorney General was justified in not prosecuting by the fact that the witness had 481 absconded. The hon. Gentleman said he knew that the witness had not absconded. He only regretted that the hon. Gentleman did not give that information to the Attorney General.
§ SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE
said, the arguments of his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire had not in any way been answered. It was a new thing altogether to say that there was a Bill on the Table to meet the present case, after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, the other night, that the Government would consent to the issue of the writ.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that as several hon. Members had adverted to what had fallen from him on the last occasion, he begged to explain what he really had said. The House on that occasion did not seem disposed to enter into the question of the issue of the writ, and a series of Adjournments had been moved. He knew from experience that Motions of that sort were not very agreeable to the House, and it was always unpleasant to the Government to take part in Motions the effect of which was the retardation of public business. He had, therefore, proposed that the division on the Motion for Adjournment should be taken as indicating the disposition of the House, and that no division should be taken on the Motion itself when it was put. Well, if the House had been disposed to adopt that course he should have acquiesced in it. But that was not the case. Hon. Gentleman continued to move Adjournments, and the consequence was that the Government, not being masters of the majority of the House, acquiesced in what appeared to be the wish of the majority. It was not possible, therefore, to adopt the suggestion he had thrown out. It was a mere matter of convenience, and he saw no inconsistency between the suggestion he had made and the course which the Government had eventually adopted.
§ MAJOR EDWARDS
said, that although he had listened very attentively to this discussion, he had not heard any substantial reason adduced to justify the exceptional mode of proceeding that had been adopted with reference to Wakefield and Gloucester. His connections with the West Riding of Yorkshire enabled him to speak with certainty respecting the first-mentioned constituency, which had a strong claim on the House from its numbers, 482 wealth, and intelligence. He had been very much surprised at the attack which had been made upon him by the hon. and learned Member for Reading. It was the first time, in the whole of his experience in Parliament since 1847, that he had heard of an hon. Member being censured for not making a long speech at two o'clock in the morning; and when he had been as long a Member of that house, he would have learnt, that if not usually impracticable, at all events such an attempt would be injudicious and indiscreet. He had been more astonished still to find that the hon. and learned Gentleman, in the speech he had made, stated the matter which he (Major Edwards) had made use of was irrelavent and inconclusive. He would say farther, that he never was more astonished in his life than when he heard the hon. and learned Gentleman, who had been a personal friend of Mr. Leatham, and supposed to be an active partisan in the Wakefield election, was placed at the head of the commission by the present Government. He was the last man in the world that ought to have been appointed to that Commission, and he said it advisedly, the fact had given the greatest dissatisfaction to the inhabitants of Wakefield and the district. The justice of the report of that Commission was therefore disputed, and this he had no hesitation in stating in the face of the House of Commons. With regard to with-holding the writ, it had already been with-held two years, although it had been asserted that less than one-eighth of the constituency of Wakefield had been charged with corrupt practices, and 20,000 persons were to be punished for that small fraction of the inhabitants. Such a punishment savoured of injustice, if not vindictiveness, and was unprecedented. Since the Reform Bill he believed no writ had been withheld for so long a period, and it is especially hard in the case of Wakefield, for it is the first time any proceedings have been taken against the borough on the ground of corruption, while other boroughs have frequently been the subject of inquiry. The register is now almost entirely purged of the guilty parties, and 200 new electors are now enfranchised. They had heard for the first time this evening something about legislation on the subject, and the country would, he felt confident, receive with enthusiasm any well digested measure that the Government thought fit to introduce for the prevention of bribery and corruption. Why did not the Government 483 bring in such a Bill at the commencement of last year? Why did they wait until this moment, when they found that one half of the House of Commons was prepared to vote for the immediate issue of the writ for Wakefield? Why did they now, at the eleventh hour, come down on their knees and beg hon. Members to withhold their votes, to give them a last opportunity to produce a Bill that would satisfy the House of Commons on the subject? It was a sop to certain Members who would only be too happy to have an excuse for voting against the issuing of the writ, and such was the object. There was one thing, nevertheless, the Government never could get over; the Home Secretary had stated in the presence of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and he (Major Edwards) hoped it would go forth to the country—he had stated that if the Government were beaten on the second division on Friday last, he would withhold all further opposition, and that the writ for Wakefield should be issued. He now called upon the Government as a point of honour to fulfil their pledge, and to let no quibble interfere with its performance.
MR. SERJEANT PIGOTT
begged to say that he had never had anything to do with an election for Wakefield, and that he never could have been a partisan, as alleged by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. The only thing that he could remember in connection with the borough was that he was once counsel for the brother of one of the candidates. There must be some mistake. He had enjoyed the friendship of the hon. Gentleman himself up to that moment, and he was sure he should not have done so if he had been so unworthy as the hon. Member imputed to him.
§ Question put,
§ The House divided:—Ayes 123; Noes 173: Majority 50.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock, till Monday next.