HC Deb 18 March 1835 vol 26 cc1138-44
Mr. O'Connell

begged to call the attention of the House to a matter in which he was personally interested. The ballot for the city of Dublin election was fixed to take place to-morrow. There were four petitions against the return of himself and his hon. colleague. The first was presented on the 25th of February, the second on the 4th of March, the third on the 7th of March, and the fourth on the 9th or 10th of March. The petition presented on the 25th of February was abandoned, and a ballot was appointed for to-morrow to try the merits of the other petition. The agent for the petitioners informed him, in the presence of his hon. colleague, that the second petition, that of the 4th of March, would be abandoned also; and, accordingly, reference was made to the examiners to inquire into the solvency of the sureties offered in support of the third petition. That question came for discussion before the examiners on Monday last, and it was decided that the sureties had not justified; but, under the circumstances of the case, the examiners determined that the sureties should have till the 25th to put in their justification. An application to that effect, founded upon the report of the examiners, was to have been made to the House, and there could be no reasonable objection to comply with it. On Monday, therefore, he wrote to Dublin to stop his agent and witnesses from coming up to attend the ballot to-morrow. That day (Wednesday, March 18th), however, the opposite party had taken up the second petition, that of the 4th of March, which they had declared they had abandoned, and passed the sureties for it; the consequence of which was, that if the House should not interfere in his behalf, the ballot would take place to-morrow, when he would be deprived of the assistance of his Dublin agent, on whom he most relied, when he would be without instructions for cross-examination, and without witnesses. Under these circumstances, he suggested that the ballot should be postponed from to-morrow to that day week, which was an open day, the ballot originally fixed for that day having been discharged. He thought that his request was not unreasonable. He was aware that the manner in which he had brought the matter before the House was not strictly regular; but he was compelled to deviate from the usual form—namely, the presentation of a petition—on account of the urgency of the case. The House must come to a decision upon the point that night, or not at all, for the ballot was the first business to-morrow, and nothing could precede it. A petition, however, was at that moment being actually prepared, and his solicitor was ready to verify, by affidavit, the statement which he had made to the House. Under these circumstances, he hoped the House would see the justice of postponing the ballot.

Mr. Shaw

said, that he would put the House in possession of the facts of the case, as far as he knew them, and would then leave it in the hands of the House. The hon. and learned Member had informed the House, that the agent for the petitioners had undertaken to abandon the petition of the 4th of March, and proceed with one of a subsequent date. Now, the agent had just put into his hands a paper, which, with the permission of the House, he would read. The right hon. Gentleman then read a statement which was, in substance, as follows:—He declared solemnly, upon his honour, and was ready to do so upon his oath, if required, that he never stated that it was his intention to abandon the petition of the 4th of March, but, on the contrary, that if the hon. and learned Member for Dublin should succeed in his attempt to cause the sureties to the third petition to be rejected on Monday last, he would proceed with the petition of the 4th of March; and, in order that there might be no mistake about the matter, he caused a notice to that effect to be posted up on Saturday last. On Monday last an objection was unexpectedly, and without notice, made to the sureties on the third petition, and as there was nobody on the spot to answer it, the examiners said, that they would make a Special Report, for the purpose of obtaining further time to inquire into their validity. Under these circumstances, the agent, knowing that he would have to keep his witnesses in town at a great expense, determined, as he could not proceed upon the third petition, he would go back to the second, and this day had satisfied the examiners of the validity of the sureties to that petition, which were the same to which the hon. and learned Member objected on Monday, for the sureties were the same in both cases. Under these circumstances, it appeared to him that the hon. and learned Member had not been taken by surprise, and that be always knew that the petition was to be proceeded with. It was for the House to decide whether, after what he had stated, they would put the petitioners to the expense which would be occasioned by the postponement of the ballot.

Mr. O'Connell

said, it was necessary the House should be in possession of the facts, and the first fact to be ascertained was, whether the agent for the petitioners did a week ago make a voluntary statement that he had abandoned the petition of the 4th of March, for the prosecution of which he had now put in sureties. Four persons were present when that declaration was made, two of whom, namely, the agent and his clerk, were ready to depose to the fact, whilst he and his hon. colleague would confirm their evidence, by stating that an unconditional, unequivocal abandonment of the petition, had been volunteered. The truth of the statement he had made to the House, was confirmed by what had fallen from the right hon., the Recorder of Dublin. Why should the opposing agent, talk of providing a new set of sureties, if one had not failed? The right hon. Gentleman said, that a notice was posted on Saturday, stating that the opposite party would proceed with the petition of the 4th of March, and yet the objection to the sureties was not taken till Monday. It would be positively sworn, that on Monday even the opposing agent declared, that the petition of the 4th of March, was abandoned. In consequence he had, as he before stated, countermanded the attendance of his principal agent and witnesses, and he had abstained from preparing the statement, and the lists which must be exchanged on the day the ballot took place. A consultation of counsel for the purpose of preparing the statement, had been appointed to take place on Tuesday, but was postponed, in consequence of it being understood that the petition would not be prosecuted. If the House should, under these circumstances, refuse to postpone the ballot, it would amount to an absolute denial of justice. As to the statement which the opposing agent had made to the House, through the right hon. Gentleman, he thought that a man who had acted as he had done, was not so faith-worthy as should induce the House to credit his bare assertion.

Mr. Spring Rice

was quite sure that after the hon. and learned Member had declared that he had been informed by the agent for the parties who had petitioned against him, that a particular course would be dropped and another adopted, and had in consequence of such communication, been put off his guard, and subjected to difficulty in respect to bringing up his witnesses and making good his defence, the House, if that statement were correct, would not allow such a proceeding to operate to the prejudice of the hon. and learned Member. If he (Mr. Rice) had had the misfortune to be two or three times petitioned against, and had been misled in the same way as the hon. and learned Member stated himself to have been, he certainly should have appealed to the House, for he felt quite satisfied that in such matters no party spirit would be allowed to interfere to prevent justice being done. In the present case, it was asserted on the one side, that the engagement which had been referred to, was entered into conditionally; and, on the other, that it was made unconditionally. Now, let the House consider which of these statements was the most likely. The right hon. and learned Recorder had said that the objection taken to the securities was totally unexpected. At the time, therefore, of entering into the engagement, the objection which was afterwards taken and disposed of by the examiners, was not in the contemplation of the parties. Under these circumstances, he thought that the House would not be doing justice to the sitting Member, to compel him to enter on his defence, when he declared that he had been deprived of the opportunity of preparing his defence. But he must take the liberty of saying that, whatever decision the House might come to in the present case, the agents ought to be warned that the Members of that House would not allow the jurisdiction of Parliament to be trifled with, nor suffer statements to be made for the sole purpose of misleading parties as to the period at which they ought to be prepared with their defence.

Mr. W. Wynn

concurred in the view of the case taken by the right hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. He thought that the House could not, without injustice, allow the sitting Member to be put off his guard by a statement of the agent of the parties opposed to him. If the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member for Dublin had occured, they would undoubtedly form a justification for postponing the ballot; but the question was, how were those circumstances to be established? [Mr. O'Connell. There are witnesses ready to prove them.] He meant no disrespect to the hon. and learned Member; but he must be permitted to say, that as the House had not the means of administering oaths, great difficulty must be felt in coming to a decision on a question of controverted facts. The Election Committee, however, had the right to administer oaths, and he therefore thought it desirable that application should be made to the Election Committee, when appointed for a postponement of the consideration of the case.

Mr. O'Connell

implored the House not to hand this matter over to the decision of an Election Committee. He implored the House, for the sake of justice, to hear such witnesses as were then ready to be sworn at the Bar. They were ready to depose to the fact of a distinct declaration having been made with respect to the abandonment of the petition. If the ballot were to take place, and a Committee be appointed, his whole case would depend on the decision to which six Gentlemen of the Committee might come, as to the construction of an Act of Parliament, which was read differently by different lawyers. Why should he be placed in such jeopardy as that? He moved that Sir R. Sidney be called to the Bar.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it appeared to him that the House having fixed a given day for the ballot, the sitting Member was bound by that decision, under all circumstances but one, and that was a voluntary communication, by which he was put off his guard. If that fact were established, or if the hon. and learned Member bonâ fide declared that a communication was voluntarily made to him by the agent of the opposing parties, by which he was placed in a worse position than he would have stood in, if the communication had not been made, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) really thought that in point of justice, the House ought to interfere to prevent that injury being done. He did not pretend to say whether or not it would be necessary, for the purpose of insuring regularity in their proceedings, that evidence of the asserted fact should be taken at the Bar.

Mr. Ruthven

said, he was present when the declaration referred to, had been made by the agent of the petitioners, who had been guilty of a sort of intrigue and dishonesty. He had heard the conversation already spoken, most distinctly, and he had previously heard the agent (Mr. Baker), in the presence of another person, declare that he never intended to proceed on the first, or on the second petition.

Sir James Graham

thought, that if there were one point of more importance than another to the dignity and order of their proceedings, it was this—that the solemn declaration of a Member in his place in that House, was always considered as equivalent to an oath. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin solemnly stated in his place, that he did receive an unequivocal declaration from the agent of the petitioners, and as that person's contradiction could not be obtained on oath, he (Sir James Graham) being anxious to maintain the honour of the House, which was involved in the assertion of the principle that a Member's solemn declaration was equivalent to an oath, would urge the House, especially in the present instance, where the postponement of a week was only required, to depend on the word of the hon. and learned Member, for the sake of the dignity of the House.

Sir John Campbell

rose and said, that in consequence of what had occurred, he should move that the ballot for the Dublin Election Committee be postponed till that day se'nnight.

Motion agreed to.