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 Rochester, in the room of Horatio David Davies, esquire, whose election for the said borough has been declared void."—(Mr. Akers-Douglas.)
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
rose to move an Amendment to the Motion in the following terms:—That the issue of the Writ for Rochester be postponed until the evidence in the recent Election Petition has been received and considered by the House.He said that at Question time he asked the First Lord of the Treasury whether the evidence in this case had been received, and he received an answer in the negative. He was quite alive to the inconvenience of discussing beforehand in that House election petitions, but already in the course of the present Session they had had two discussions on an Election Petition, and they were threatened with a third. He guarded himself from saying that he desired this Writ should be indefinitely postponed. He did not wish to visit on the Voters of Rochester generally the crimes and the sins of a small corrupt number in that constituency; in fact, he was sure that if it had not been for those corrupt practices, Rochester would have been represented in this Parliament, as in the last, by a Liberal Member. The ease of Rochester was peculiarly significant. He ventured in the last Session of Parliament to make the statement that there had been more widespread and general corruption, more illegal treating, and more corrupt practices generally at the last General Election than at almost any preceding Election in the history of the country. He was denounced in Tory organs and speeches for making a statement which they described as extravagantly wrong, but fortunately, since he 418 made that speech, several Election Petitions had taken place which showed that much bribery and corruption was practised by the Tory Party generally. In some of those Election Petitions, partly owing to the stupidity of the legal advisers of the Petitioners, Tory Members had been able to escape by the skin of their teeth. Fortunately, at Rochester the means were at hand to bring home to the Tory Party the practices which had been going on. The Tory Party in Rochester delighted to call itself constitutional. They had a constitutional association, a constitutional birth night club, constitutional teas, constitutional beer, and constitutional sandwiches. The constitutional association gave entertainments in the old Corn Exchange, and they were kind enough to provide what was euphemistically described as light refreshments at the figure of threepence. There were light refreshments in one room while performances were going on, and there was another performance in another room, also under the auspices of the association, and at these entertainments no less than 200 sandwiches, 85 dozen of bottled ale, and a small quantity of claret and mineral waters was served to the members and friends of the constitutional association. With regard to the birth night club, a certain number of gentlemen born in the month of October, agreed that on a certain night in October they would meet to celebrate their birth night; the club consisted of what were called rich birds who provided the entertainment, anal poor birds who partook of the entertainment, and for the small subscription of threepence a person could get an entertainment that would Le very moderate at half-a-crown. That was the way in which the work of registration was carried on; it was continued from one year's end to another, with the result that a large number of the poorer voters were constantly employed and paid as registration agents, and voted, of course, the constitutional ticket when an election came off. The Constitutional Association was not an Association in a very good financial position. In 1890 its total income was not more than £299 and a few shillings. Of this£299, £250 were subscribed by the Tory candidate. In 1891 the finances went up, reaching £315, but again the Tory candidate 419 figured for £300 out of the entire total. What was the result? One of the Judges at the Election Petition declared that the Constitutional Association was a most unconstitutional body, formed and carried on for purposes of corruption. But there were other methods of corruption. He might allude to one. A brewer's agent was brought before the Petition Court, charged with having gone into a public-house and stood drinks. He acknowledged the charge. He might mention that the very same thing took place in Montgomeryshire, where, by a modern miracle in the shape of an equal division of opinion between two Judges, a gentleman continued to hold a seat in that House who was described by one Judge as legally disentitled. In Montgomeryshire the same thing, occurred with a brewer's agent. And what was the defence? It was that as the representative of a brewer it was part of his business and within his right, and, indeed, one of his duties, to stand drinks for the customers of the house for the good of the house. The agents of the brewers had gone up and down every part of this county standing free drinks for the good of the house and the Tory party. He came, finally, to what the Judges said in this most remarkable Election Petition. They said that facts were proved before them which precluded their reporting that they had no reason to believe that corrupt and illegal practices prevailed at the election, but these facts were not such as to support a Report to the effect that corrupt or illegal practices had extensively prevailed at the election. He thought there was enough to show there was a strong presumption for believing a large amount of corrupt practices existed at this election, and under these circumstances he considered he was justified in asking the House to suspend the issue of the Writ until they had had time to peruse and consider the evidence. He made this Motion purely in the interests of electoral purity, and by way of showing how deeply he sympathised with those political purists who desired to clear the electoral atmosphere of anything like a tainted element. At the same time his Motion was not unconnected with a desire to bring home to the minds of the people of this country that if charges could be proved of men in Ireland giving votes in obedience to 420 spiritual influence, at least, their votes were quite as respectable as those of the gentlemen in Rochester who voted for the party who gave the two thousand sandwiches and the bottled beer. He begged to move his Motion.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the issue of the Writ for Rochester be postponed until the evidence in the recent Election Petition has been received and considered by this House."— (Mr. T. P. O' Connor.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir CHARLES RUSSELL,) Hackney, S.
I believe it will be convenient that on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the view the Government takes of this matter should early be explained to the House. I do not think anyone can justly complain of my hon. Friend for moving this Amendment, for I think it must be conceded on all hands that there were some very extraordinary features in connection with the Election as disclosed by the learned Judge's Report; but while my hon. Friend gave the House some portions of the evidence, it is not possible to consider in all its fulness that evidence unless it is fully before the House, and even if it were, it would be impossible for this House to constitute itself the judge of that evidence and go behind the Report and the results founded on the evidence by the learned Judges whose responsible duty it was to try this Petition. I should like to recall to the recollection of the House the mode in which legislation has proceeded in questions of this kind. Under the old system preceding the Act of 1852, the House used by its own Committees to inform itself of what the facts of the case were, and upon the Report of that Committee it judged, reported, and decided upon the matter; and if the House came to the conclusion that the evidence in the case was such as to justify the imputation of the existence of widespread and general corruption in the borough, the Government of the day, on whom the responsible duty was imposed, under the direction of the House, proceeded to the next step, which was to bring in an Act for the disfranchise- 421 ment of the borough. The Act of 1852 altered that machinery in some respects, for it provided that when by the joint Address of both Houses it was set out that a Committee of the House of Commons had reported that corrupt practices had, or that there was reason to believe that corrupt practices extensively prevailed in any constituency, and the House of Commons prayed Her Majesty to cause inquiry, then Her Majesty issued her Commission for the purpose of inquiry into the matters in question, and that Commission became the foundation of further action by Parliament. The House will recollect that under the more recent Acts the mode of procedure has been entirely changed; and now, instead of a Committee of the House having cast upon it the duty of inquiring into alleged corrupt practices, that duty is performed the Judges of the land, and their report takes the place formerly occupied by the report of a Committee of this House. But I have to call the attention of the House to this fact, that both according to the old procedure, and under the Act of 1852 and the later Act of 1868, the foundation for any proceedings in the direction of the issue of a Commission must have been based upon the proved fact of the existence of general corruption, the words of the Statute beingthat there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have in fact, or that there is reason to believe that corrupt practices have in fact extensively prevailed in the borough.My hon. Friend is now asking the House, who have not the evidence before them, and who, if they had the full evidence before them, are not, I venture to say, competent to judge of its effect in the same sense as the Judges whose responsible duty it was to do so—he is asking this House to arrive at a conclusion contrary to the conclusion arrived at by the Judges, and to ask this House to assert that in point of fact, although the Judges have not so found, that there was reason to believe that corrupt practices did extensively prevail. The view the Government takes of the matter is that this is not an Amendment which can be supported by the Government, and I have to point out that there is no case since the Act of 1868—I might go much farther back, and I think I might say 422 since the Act of 1852—in which this House has ever postponed the issue of a Writ because of allegations of corrupt practices, except in a case where there is an allegation of the extensive prevalence of such corrupt practices, and then only with a view to ulterior proceedings in had, the direction of the issue of a Commission of Inquiry. I, therefore, thought it is right to intervene in this Debate, and to say that, although my hon. Friend has thought it right to propose his Amendment, it is one which the Government cannot support.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
I have to add very few words in consequence of the views expressed by the Attorney General on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I do not think we have any right to find fault with for the Scotland Ward Division for having called the attention of the House to certain incidents in connection with the Rochester election petition. I do not know that I could have expressed, or should wish to express, my under-standing of the law in regard to this matter in better or clearer terms than the Attorney General has used. I only desire to say this, that in the first place the interference of this House, whether based upon the Report of the old Committees or upon the Report of the Election Judges, has, so far as I know, never gone the length of interfering with the issue of a Writ unless there has been a distinct report that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed in the borough; and it is worthy of note in this case that the language to which the hon. Member referred to clearly indicates—whatever may be their criticism of certain practices—that neither of the learned Judges thought there had been extensive corruption ill this particular case. I should be disposed to say this, adding my observations merely to what the learned Attorney General said, I believe the House has never for a great many years suspended the issue of a Writ unless prepared either to direct a prosecution or to order an inquiry or to direct a Bill to be brought in by the Government of the day with the view to the disfranchisement of the borough, and I think the general sense of the House would be, general sense of the House would be, that while every Member of the House would be anxious that corrupt practices 423 at elections should be put down and the purity of elections secured, still upon the other hand it would be an undesirable and an unwise thing if disfranchisement of a borough should take place because an individual Member of the House might desire to criticise and to examine the evidence. I am glad to think that there is no difference between those of us who speak on the legal aspect of the ease, and after what the learned Attorney General has said I trust the House will come to the conclusion that no reason whatever has been given for postponing the issue of the Writ.
§ MR. W. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
I think the fact is worthy of notice that the person selected for this corrupt borough is the son of the late Prime Minister. It is very instructive to find of all persons in the United Kingdom selected to take advantage of the expenditure of beer and money old other corrupt machinery that person was one who was, or supposed to be, one of the most trusted Members of the Tory Party, namely, Lord Cranbourne. That will be very instructive to us. I should have imagined that the late Prime Minister would have been most solicitous that anyone connected with himself should be kept aloof and apart front anything savouring of corruption. When we hear, as I suppose we shall, in a few days, some homily on the action of the priesthood in the county of Meath, I shall put this constant question—what about the sandwitches? I think it would be a most pertinent question, tool it is not to the credit of the Tory Party with regard to a borough of this kind, that they should have put before the electors of this kingdom that Lord Cranborne, the son of a gentleman who was recently the Prime Minister of this country, should be the proper person to take tot vantage of this corruption. I think the House and the country will take general note of the fact that the Tory Party has selected their most conspicuous figurehead to float in again on this sea of beer in this borough of Rochester. They would know how to appreciate in the proper manner the slanders directed against us in Ireland in regard to certain recommendations which were practically the recommendations that have been made in Tory churches and Presbyterian churches in the North of Ireland. I 424 think the time will soon come when the House should reconsider the question of referring these elections to Judges. I think the House made a profound mistake when it ever surrendered to Judges the right of trying the case of its own Members. There are as honest men in this House to decide these questions as any Judges in the land; and I say furthermore, that after the decisions which we have had, especially where there has been differences of opinion, and in. some cases where the Judges have gone in thievery teeth of former decisions, that they give us cause to consider whether these Reports ought to be acted upon in all cases by the House, or whether the House should not revert to, its ancient practice and order au independent investigation. When I am confronted in the Queen's Bench in Dublin with four ex-Attorney Generals of the 'Fury Government, and when I hear on the other hand men like Sir James Mathew attacked, I have grave doubts whether there are not men in this House quite as capable of exercising au independent opinion as any four ex-Attorney Generals of the right hon. Member for East Manchester. I do not believe that ermine is a specific against, partiality. I have grave doubts on that point. I believe that when we pat Judges into ermine they remain Tories or Liberals, just as they were all their lives, though they never were Nationalists. I think the case of Rochester, and especially the case of Montgomery, ought, if possible, induce the House on the first available opportunity to repeal this Act of 1868, which has been the cause of large expense, and which has resulted most unsatisfactorily, and that we should ha ye Commit tees which may be open, no doubt, to the charges of partisanship, but they would be frankly and hot hypocritically partisan, and when they gave their votes everybody would say "there are three to two," and so on, as the case may be; and they would not be able to invoke any sanctimonious pretence, that putting men into wigs and gowns robbed them of partiality.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester),
said it would be a mistake to suppose that many of them were entirely satisfied with the condition of affairs as regards these election petitions. In this case they 425 were told that the Judges had reported substantially to this effect: that certain circumstances or facts which had come to light prevented their reporting that corruption had not extensively prevailed; but, on the other hand, they had not had evidence before them which would enable them to report positively that corruption had extensively prevailed. What struck him was this—that in bringing the ease before the Judges the petitioners only desired to adduce as much evidence as would cause judgment, to be given in their favour; that was to say, what would enable the Judges to decide that the election was void. They need not go farther. They had no need to prove that corruption extensively prevailed. It was a very expensive thing to conduct au Election Petition, and he supposed all parties were glad it should be as brief as possible. If, in the Rochester case, the matter had been carried further, and a thorough inquiry had been conducted, he could have little doubt from the evidence that had been adduced that a very large number of other incidents would have been proved, and it would have been seen that corruption extensively prevailed. So that they were in this position by the present mode of conducting election inquiries—that only sufficient evidence was adduced to enable the petitioners to prove their case. Corruption might pervade every purlieu or the town, but it would never be brought to light because it was not to the interest of the petitioners to bring it to light. This was a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and he earnestly hoped the Government would endeavour somewhat to amend the law relating to elections.
§ MR. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
wished to allude to one or two facts in connection with the Rochester Election Petition. It was proved and stated by both the Election Judges that the agent of the Rochester Constitutional Association and the agent of the Rochester Publicans Association was one and the same individual. Here they saw the close connection between the Conservatives and beer when they went to the polls. Both Judges stated that the three Associations which, as they said in 426 America, were run in favour of the Tory Party—namely, the Constitutional Association, the Publicans Association, and the Birthright Association, were mere machinery for corruption. But there was another expression in the judgment of one of the learned Judges, which was endorsed by the other. He said that although they would not find that general corruption extensively prevailed throughout the borough, they had the strongest suspicion that it did. One of the Judges stated he was sorry one branch of the case was not brought forward further, through some technicality, because particulars had not been given, a large period over which corruption was stated to have been exercised being thereby kept from the purview of the Judges. Some bogus voters were said to have been paid five shillings per day as canvassers, and one of the Judges said it they could only prove that, it would be a sorry job, not only for the agent who had so employed them, but also for the candidate himself. He was certain that, both t he present and flue late Attorney General would agree with him that an Election Petitions Act, which tally gave to flue Election Judges powers and functions of the old Committee to try Petitions under Sir Robert Peel's Act, and did not go any further, was not sufficient. What was the benefit of the inquiry given to them under the Act of 1868 if it were not further to elicit facts of which there was strong suspicion. The Judges had both agreed there was a case for strong suspicion in the present instance, although they had not sufficient evidence to enable them to report that corruption extensively prevailed. They gave up a good deal by the Election Act of 1868. They gave rights to Judges to hear cases when there were legitimate causes for inquiry, in order that in boroughs like Rochester, where these practices were known to extensively prevail, they might be checked and stopped.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
said, he did not think, even if they did postpone the issue of this Writ, they could constitutionally grant any inquiry. They had long ago taken a course which prevented them very substantially from doing this. The Attorney General had stated the effect of the Act, and the only course now was, he (Sir Henry James) 427 believed for two electors to send in a Petition to the House, upon which Petition it would be in their power to issue a Commission. Upon the Report of the Judges, had they reason to believe that corrupt practices extensively prevailed? There was no evidence given to show that they did. If they did, they should be asked to take upon themselves the duty of reading this evidence, and stating whether a Commission should issue or not. He refused to entertain the idea that the House would be influenced by political feeling in a question of the kind. He would remind them of a case that arose just as soon as the Act was passed, and which came before the House on the issue of a Writ for Norwich. The Report was that corrupt practices extensivly prevailed. There was a Motion that a Writ should issue, and it was passed, and on the question of a Commission it was shown that Parliament had no power over the matter. They had also the case of Wigan in 1882, and the decision given by Mr. Gathorne Hardy. In fact, the House in 1868 gave up its right to determine in these cases, and left the duty to the Judges. If they were to go beyond the Judges they would depart from a practice which Parliament had laid down. It was a matter of congratulation that House did not show itself disposed to do so in this case. There had not been in the slightest degree any evidence on its part that it intended to act otherwise than perfectly impartial in the matter. It seemed to him that the desire was that the House of Commons should remain impartial, and take no part in these matters.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
said, he listened to the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and he had listened to him with some surprise. One of the duties cast on a Judge was to report on the election; but where the election was voided, there was a second one—that of reporting on the evidence. If the Judges reported that corrupt or illegal practices extensively prevailed that voided the election. When the petitioner succeeded in his case, he had absolutely no inducement to go any further—first, on the ground of expense; and, second, on the ground of unpopularity, for in nine cases out of ten he was the unsuccessful candidate, and 428 he was anxious to raise as little trouble for himself as possible. He would point out, also, that the moment the Judges had decided their power of examination was over. He had never known a case where the Judges had power to act as detectives—though some of them would like to do that; some of them were anxious to have the power. The duty of the House, then, was purely Ministerial; and, so far as inquiry into illegal practices was concerned, the House ought to provide every weapon for the purpose of discovering, for in his opinion it had not deprived itself of the right of holding inquiry. It was admitted that the Act of 1883 did not provide sufficient powers to bring certain sources of corrupt practices to light. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that, and yet he said that because the House asked the Judges to report upon this one subject, the House being seised with a knowledge that there hail been a great miscarriage of justice, and seised with the knowledge of a great scandal, this grave scandal was to go unchecked and unpunished. That was a dangerous course. He did not think there was any point in I he matter for the Select Committees. The action of those Committees had nothing to do with another tribunal which was insufficiently equipped for the purpose of discovering a certain state of facts. He disclaimed any intention of interfering with the Judges, and hoped the House would see its way to adopt the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he was satisfied with the discussion that had taken place, and, with the permission of the House, he would withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main 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 electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the borough of Rochester, in the room of Horatio David Davies, esquire, whose election for the said borough has been declared void.