HC Deb 29 June 1835 vol 29 cc16-23
Lord John Russell

said, he wished, before he should move the Order of the Day for the further consideration of the Municipal Corporations' Bill, to know what course it was intended to take with respect to the Question of privilege as connected with the Ipswich Election, then on the Paper of the House?

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

said, that he had a petition from one of the individuals in custody, Mr. O'Malley, praying that he might be brought to the Bar of the House and discharged. The petitioner stated, that he was in a delicate state of health; that confinement aggravated the symptoms of his illness; that he had already been fifteen days in custody; that his business had been much neglected in consequence of his confinement; and that he had necessarily suffered considerable injury, together with a variety of other circumstances with which he (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) should not then trouble the House, but which, in his opinion, were sufficient grounds for that gentleman's release. He (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) was enabled to state, that Mr. O'Malley was a professional gentleman of very short standing at the bar, and the deduction which he would make from that circumstance, that of his want of sufficient knowledge of the nature of the offence in which he had been engaged, was that which would be made, he was sure, by the House. He trusted, therefore, that the House would take this fact in extenuation, and deem, in their justice, the period of time he had suffered imprisonment, sufficiently long for the crime which he had, the same as inadvertently, committed. The petitioner further stated, that he had had no connexion whatever with the election of the late Members; that he knew nothing of the circumstances of the case until he had been called on professionally; that he had nothing whatever to do with four of the individuals who had absconded; and that he had only had one interview with the fifth. He knew Mr. O'Malley to be of one of the most ancient and respectable families in Ireland; few were more so in the county of Meath, where they lived. He had a brother too at the Irish Bar, who was an exceedingly respectable young gentleman. Under all these circumstances, he therefore hoped that the House would permit him to be brought to the Bar and discharged. The hon. and learned Member was understood to make a Motion to the same effect.

Mr. Dominick Browne

could bear testimony to the respectability of Mr. O'Malley's family. He had been involved in the transaction for which he was then suffering inadvertently, and he (Mr. Browne) hoped the House would consent to his liberation. It was little to be wondered at that such a young man as Mr. O'Malley should have mistaken his course in the instance before the House, when even such a Parliamentary tactician as the right hon. Member for Tamworth, had stated, that he was not aware that absconding to avoid service of the Speaker's warrant was an offence against the privileges of the House. He (Mr. Browne) considered the imprisonment suffered by Mr. O'Malley as quite sufficient to expiate his offence; especially as it was undesigned on his part, and in a great degree inadvertent.

Sir Robert Peel

begged to explain what he had meant in the observation quoted by the hon. Member for Mayo. He had merely expressed a doubt whether going out of the way to avoid the service of the Speaker's warrant was a legal offence, and he had asked the Attorney-General a question to that effect. He never expressed a doubt of its being a breach of the privileges of the House, still less that a conspiracy to evade such service was an offence both against law and privilege.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

could assure the Mouse, that Mr. O'Malley was ready to answer any question at the Bar of the House consistent, with the duty he owed his clients, and his honour as a professional man.

Mr. Rigby Wason

said, none of those individuals who had petitioned for their discharge had proffered to do that which the House deemed the most indispensable towards assuring it—give evidence against their principal or principals. The petition before the House offered to do no more than had already been done. When the conduct of Mr. O'Malley came to be considered by the House, when it recollected his behaviour before the Committee—his refusal to answer questions which might implicate his principals, and his sheltering himself under his professional privilege when he was required to answer—he thought the House would not be doing its duty to its constituents and the country if it discharged him without more ample concessions—unless, in short, he came forward, and freely and unreservedly answered all questions which should be put to him on the subject. With the exception of Pilgrim, he considered the petitioner, Mr. O'Malley, as guiltier than any of the others concerned in the transaction. He also considered the petition before the House as an aggravation of his guilt. The very first paragraph asserted a contradiction to the evidence before the Committee. In the petition it was stated that the petitioner had had only one interview with Pilgrim, notwithstanding that several were deposed to in the examination by the Committee, in proof of which, hon. Members could refer to pages 337 and 338; and pages 488 and 489, of the printed evidence, where they would find the contrary stated by all parties, and denied by none. As to the extenuation which had been urged in favour of a remission of further punishment, he (Mr. Wason) was sure it would have no weight with the House. No one could for a moment believe that Mr. O'Malley, a barrister, was not perfectly cognizant of the crime he was committing at the moment of committing it. If the House should decide in favour of the petitioner, there was not an electioneering agent in the kingdom who would not resort to the same practices as those for which he had been punished, as it was well known that there was not a city, borough, or county in the kingdom where more than one individual would not be found willing to incur an easy and luxurious imprisonment of fifteen days for the sake of securing the success of a favourite candidate. It had been urged that there was no precedent on record for an extension of the punishment inflicted by the House in similar instances, and that ten days had been the utmost limit of imprisonment for such offences; but that was in Parliaments which owed their existence to bribery, in which every Member was a bribing party, and when such practices were, as had been stated by a former speaker, "as notorious as the sun at noonday." He (Mr. Wason) trusted as the Parliament had been reformed, a reform would also be made in its precedents; and he hoped that it would begin with the present case, and inflict such a condign punishment as would for ever put an end to all attempts at bribery.

Mr. Barlow Hoy

said, that considering the hon. Member who last spoke was a party in the Ipswich election, and that he could be scarcely free from prejudice, even if he desired it, the observations he had made would come with quite as much force, and a vast deal more delicacy, from the Chairman of the Committee, or from any other hon. Member whatever. He considered that, in the instance of Mr. O'Malley, the House acted most harshly. The most notorious criminal of all had been suffered to escape—he meant Pilgrim—a person who had been accused and convicted; first, of absconding to avoid the service of the Speaker's warrant; second, of absconding after its service; and third, of bribery and corruption. He complained that Mr. O'Malley, for advising his clients, should be subjected to such punishment, while a Mr. Jay, who, it was admitted, had advised Pilgrim to abscond, was suffered to go untouched.

Dr. Lushington

said, that the hon. Member who last spoke appeared to be very imperfectly informed of the transaction at issue, otherwise he would have perceived, from a perusal of the evidence, that there was nothing to warrant any proceeding against Mr. Jay, who was strictly and solely Pilgrim's profesional adviser. Could any one say that he should be brought to the Bar of the House, and punished for it? But how did Mr. O'Malley stand in that respect? After the petition had been presented he, a barrister and counsel for the sitting Member, in violation of his professional duty, visited Pilgrim, and attempted to put him out of the way, to prevent him giving evidence before the Committee. A greater offence could not be committed against the privileges of the House. But he did more than that; for in his evidence he evaded every question put to him, the answer of which he thought would be unfavourable to his employers, and took shelter under the plea of professional privileges, where he knew his testimony would have the effect of inculpating them.

Mr. Plumtre

was understood to say that the House did well to mark with its severest punishment and strongest reprobation the crime of bribery; but that, taking the case of the petitioner into consideration, his youth, his inexperience, his respectability, under all the circumstances enough of both had been inflicted. He wished hon. Members who moved in the same sphere as Mr. O'Malley did, to put themselves in the same situation as that gentle- man, and then say whether or not a fortnight's imprisonment was not sufficient expiation for the offence he had committed.

Mr. Patrick M. Stewart

wished he could devise some plan to relieve the House of the nightly repetition of that discussion. The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, had stated with perfect accuracy, the case of the petitioner. Mr. O'Malley had been six weeks counsel for the sitting Members, and he had a full opportunity of knowing the nature of his offence, as well as the opinion of the Committee respecting it. Besides, his petition was at variance with the facts stated in evidence, and uncontradicted by any one. Moreover, it offered no information beyond that which was already in the possession of the House. If the quid pro quo could not be obtained, the House should not suffer any feelings to interfere with the justice it owed itself, but inflict the deserved punishment upon the offenders.

Mr. Williams Wynn

admitted that Mr. O'Malley had been guilty of an aggravated offence, but the Question for the House to consider was, whether the imprisonment and the disgrace which he had endured were sufficient for the offence. He (Mr. Wynn) considered they were. A man who refused to answer questions put to him by the Committee, certainly called down upon himself a much more severe punishment. He thought that a considerable difficulty attached to the main Question. Fifteen days was not a sufficient punishment, but twenty-one days might be, accompanied as it was by the disgrace of imprisonment, and with the still greater disgrace of receiving the reproof or reprimand of that House; and, although the offence was greater than that of those who had absconded, at the same time, he thought that the House might find a good cause to extend its mercy to the person who was then suffering under its displeasure.

Lord John Russell

would briefly give his opinion with respect to the different cases. He regretted much that the invaluable time of the House had been consumed upon the subject, although he felt that the case was one of great importance, of, perhaps, as much importance as any case of the sort that had ever been brought forward. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and must repeat the opinion he had for- merly expressed, that those parties who were guilty of aiding and abetting others to abscond were far more culpable than those who had been guilty of absconding themselves. He could not, indeed, conceive a more serious offence against the privileges of Parliament than such a proceeding. It was a grave offence to procure the election of any Member of Parliament by means of bribery; it was also a considerable offence to abscond in order to avoid giving evidence upon the subject of that bribery; but it was an offence of a still graver kind that persons should enter into a conspiracy and league together for the purpose of keeping out of the way those witnesses from whom the truth alone could be obtained as to the practice of that corruption. If, in any one instance, the House allowed such a conspiracy to be successful, they would debar themselves from all means of acquiring evidence upon all similar cases; they would make election committees a mere nullity, and cause bribery to be more successful than ever it had been; therefore it was, that he considered the present to be a case of more than ordinary importance, and one in which it behoved the House to make a distinction between the treatment which they should award to the parties implicated in it, and that which ought to be awarded to those concerned in a case of a less momentous kind. With respect to O'Malley, Sparrow, and Clipperton, he thought that there was no just reason at present for opening the gates of Newgate to them. On the contrary, if they declared a temporary imprisonment to be a sufficient punishment for the offences which these individuals had committed, he knew not how they could call upon the courts of justice to inflict a severe punishment upon labouring men, who were earning 10s. or 12s. a week for the support of their families, because they had accepted a bribe of 20l. or 30l. in order to increase their means of affording that support. If the House ought to punish any parties at all, he believed that those individuals were the persons upon whom the infliction ought to fall. He agreed that the cases of Bond and Cooke were somewhat, though not materially, different from those of Pilgrim and Dasent, which had been decided the other night. It was desirable to make a distinction between those parties who had come forward to give evidence, and those who had absconded and not at any time given any. If the cases of these individuals were to be brought forward some day this week, and a Motion made for their liberation, he did not think that it would be necessary any further to detain them. With reference to the charge of bribery, he hoped that his hon. Friend, the Member for Derbyshire would soon introduce his Motion for an instruction to the Attorney-General to prosecute all parties who, in this case, had been implicated in it. The sooner such cases were got rid of by the House, and sent into the courts of law the better; bribery was a legal offence, and could not be better disposed of than in being sent before the legal tribunals of the country. As to cases such as that now before them, the House alone could judge of them, and inflict punishment upon those who had obstructed its justice. In conclusion, the noble Lord said that he could not concur in the Motion before the House.

Mr. Gisborne

said, that it was certainly his intention to persevere in his promised Motion, and he believed that it would be sufficient for him, instead of framing it to meet individual instances, to move that the Attorney-General should be instructed to prosecute all parties who appeared to have been guilty of bribery according to the Report of the Committee. He therefore should give notice of a Motion to that effect for to-morrow. As to the matter at present under consideration, he would only state that his opinion completely accorded with the view of the case taken by the noble Lord.

Sir Robert Peel

was understood to observe that the hon. Gentleman had no necessity of giving notice, but might bring on his Motion instanter.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

begged to read the following certificate on the subject of Mr. O'Malley's present state of health:— Newgate, June 29,1835. Mr. Bransby Cooper hereby certifies that Mr. P. F. O'Malley is not in a state of health to bear further confinement without considerable danger of permanent injury to his constitution. To the Honourable the House of Commons. He (Mr. Jackson) would, therefore, submit to the House that enough had been done to vindicate their authority, and that they might properly accede to the Motion made.

Motion negatived; and on the Motion of Lord John Russell, Mr. O'Malley was ordered to appear at the Bar to-morrow.