HC Deb 22 May 1848 vol 98 cc1236-43

MR. ORMSBY GORE rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the matter of the petition of John Delany, which was presented upon the 18th day of this instant May, complaining of certain proceedings for effecting a compromise in the case of the Sligo Election Petitions. The allegations of this petition were stated clearly and broadly; and he thought it was for the dignity and independence of the House that it should receive a full investigation. The document stated that— At the late election for the borough of Sligo, Charles Townley, esq., was returned as a Member to serve in Parliament by a majority of seven; that two petitions have been presented to the House complaining of said return on several grounds, but especially on that of gross and undisguised bribery; that said petitions and the recognisances thereto were sent over for presentation to the House in charge of Mr. William Kelly, of Castle Lodge, in the county of Sligo, who undertook to have the usual preliminary forms complied with, and that one (being the petition of the petitioner and Dominick Henesy) was presented on the 19th day of April; but that the other, in consequence of an informality in the recognisance, was unavoidably delayed for several days, but was eventually presented on the 1st of May; that, from certain proceedings which took place before the examiner of recognisances on the 9th instant, while examining objections urged against the sufficiency of the surety to first said mentioned petition by James Coppock, of No. 3, Cleveland-row, Saint James's, Parliamentary agent, acting on behalf of said Charles Townley, it appeared, by the admission of the said James Coppock, that certain overtures were made to said William Kelly, by said James Coppock, at the instance, and with the consent and cognisance of said Charles Townley, with a view of inducing said Kelly to compromise the trust reposed in him regarding the due presentation and prosecution of said petitions; that, in consequence thereof, the petitioner instituted a searching inquiry, and finds the facts to be, that on the 29th of April last, said James Coppock called at No. 4, Shaftesbury-terrace, Pimlico, London, the residence of said William Kelly, and, having sent in his card, introduced himself as the Parliamentary agent of said Charles Townley, at whose instance he stated he called to negotiate an arrangement for the withdrawal of said petitions, and proposed that if said Kelly would either give him (Coppock) authority to withdraw the petition already presented,and withhold the other, or could point out any other way in which the proceedings on said petitions could be stopped, nullified, or rendered abortive, that he (Coppock) would make it well worth his (Kelly's) while, as his client (said Townley) had ample means and was prepared to make any reasonable sacrifice to retain his seat and prevent the damaging revelations that should take place before a Parliamentary Committee; said Kelly said that the proposition was so very unexpected that he would require some time for consideration, but agreed to wait on said Coppock next day, which he accordingly did, when said Coppock wrote out two letters and handed them to said Kelly for perusal, stating that if said Kelly would furnish him with copies of said letters to be used as originals in withdrawing said petition, he (Coppock) would give said Kelly one thousand pounds, and procure from said Townley a letter, pledging himself to use all his Parliamentary influence and obtain the co- operation of his brother, the Member for Beverly, and Lord Camoys, to secure a good government appointment for him (Kelly); it was then arranged that said Kelly would call next day with the copies of said letters, when said Coppock would be prepared to conclude the arrangement; said Kelly did accordingly call, when said Coppock handed him the promised letter from said Townley, which contained the required pledges, which said Kelly satisfied himself was genuine, from the strict similarity of the handwriting to a letter of said Townley's, addressed to John P. Somers, esq., the unsuccessful candidate at the said late Sligo election, which said Kelly happened to have in his possession; however, said Kelly said as the contingency of an appointment was rather doubtful and remote, he would rather abandon that part of the compact for a money consideration, when it was agreed that a further sum of five hundred pounds should be given in lieu of said letter, and that said Coppock and said Kelly should meet the same evening at seven o'clock in Bellamy's dining-rooms in the House of Commons, and finally conclude the matter; they did accordingly meet, and retired to Fendall's Hotel, when said Coppock proposed that instead of said Kelly's writing him (Coppock) a letter, authorising him to withdraw the said petition, that said Kelly should write a letter himself to the Speaker withdrawing said petition; this, after some hesitation, said Kelly did, from a copy written out at the time by said Coppock, and on said Kelly's handing over said letters to said Coppock, together with the said unpresented petition, said Coppock handed said Kelly one thousand five hundred pounds in Bank of England notes; but on said letter of withdrawal being handed to the Speaker, it appeared that said Kelly was not the authorised agent so to do; whereupon said Coppock hurried back to said Kelly, informing him of the circumstance, when said Kelly refunded the money; said Coppock since called and left his card on said Kelly, who declined having any further communication with him; that petitioner humbly submits that the conduct of said Charles Townley, and his agent said James Coppock, has been corrupt and illegal, and a gross infraction of the privileges of the House; and praying that a Select Committee of the House may be appointed to inquire into the matter, and take such other and further cognisance of it as it may deem fit and proper, in order to uphold the dignity and purity of proceedings before the House. The hon. Gentleman continued: There was no vagueness in those charges—each of them was specific and distinct. The hon. Member read the correspondence which passed between the agent, Mr. Coppock, and the Speaker's Secretary, relative to the notice given for the withdrawal of the petition, and the warning to the latter Gentleman not to accept such notice. He had avoided all subjects of an acrimonious or party nature; but the mere statement of the facts was quite enough to satisfy the House that the matter could not rest here. A full inquiry into the truth of these statements was not only due to the Gentlemen implicated, but absolutely necessary to uphold the dignity and character of the House. He sincerely trusted the hon. Member would be able to vindicate himself. But, in addition to the charges made against him, an officer of the House, executing his important functions at their pleasure, was accused on no light grounds, and on a chain of evidence not one link of which was wanting, of conduct which deserved serious and searching inquiry. After the recent conduct of the House in assenting to an inquiry into the interference of a nobler Peer with the course of an election, they could not refuse their sanction to a Select Committee to investigate charges, involving not only the honour of the House, but the most sacred privileges of the electors. The hon. Member read extracts from the speeches of Lord John Russell and Mr. W. P. Wood on the Motion for an inquiry into the interference of the Marquess of Exeter with the Stamford election, and called on them, in compliance with the principles they had laid down and advocated, to support him in this Motion. From the high character of the hon. Member for Sligo, he hoped and expected he would be able to clear himself completely; but he could not express the same opinion with respect to Mr. Coppock. If these facts were true, every opportunity should be afforded for their substantiation; if false, the calumniators of honourable men should be exposed to that punishment which they so richly deserved.

COLONEL CONOLLY seconded the Motion. He was so satisfied that the feeling of the House would lead them to consent to immediate inquiry, that he would not say one word to induce them to sift a charge of this kind, which implicated one of their officers, the character of one of their Members, and the dignity of the House itself.

SIR R. H. INGLIS said, he had been requested by the hon. Member for Sligo, against whom this petition had been presented, and of whom he should for the present speak as Mr. Charles Townley, to state in his place to the House, that Mr. Townley had assured him, on his honour, as a gentleman, that he had neither act nor part in the matter to which this complaint referred, and that he was perfectly unconscious of any portion of the transaction. He was not only personally free, as he assured him (Sir R. H. Inglis), of any taint in the matter, but he was totally ignorant of the transaction itself. Mr. Townley desired him further to state to the House, that he shrank from no investiga- tion, and would do that which was most honourable to himself as well as to the House—which was, he might be permitted to say, stigmatised in his person by the terms of the petition—and consent to the inquiry. He felt the House owed it to itself not to yield without the fullest consideration to the honourable and generous impulse on the sitting Member for Sligo. Had not an election petition been lodged against the return of the hon. Member, and bad not the Speaker declared to the House, but on their very last sitting, that the securities were unobjectionable with respect to the prosecution of the petition? Might not the matter of which this petition complained come under the consideration of the Election Committee appointed to try the former petition? Even if that were not the case, would it be fair to any hon. Member; and in saying this, he (Sir R. H. Inglis) need not state he was quite impartial, and led away by no party spirit, for he did not concur in all the sentiments of the hon. Member who had entrusted to him the duty of making these few observations—would it be fair, he asked, that while the election petition was about to be decided before the regular tribunal appointed by law and by the constitution of the country, another Committee should be sitting simultaneously to inquire into charges of a different nature, which should not be made until the first Committee had made its report to the House? He hoped, notwithstanding the feeling of Mr. Townley in favour of such an inquiry, that the House would not consent to it—at least not until the Election Committee had reported, and that they would consider whether it might not be fitting to refer the present petition to the Committee of Privileges. But he protested against two Committees sitting at the same time, with concurrent jurisdiction, to inquire into charges against the same individual—one with power to examine parties on oath, and to sift truth from falsehood by a searching inquiry; and the other carried on, perhaps, with too much party spirit, and with no security for a fair adjudication, nor for that inquiry which might take place before an Election Committee. He dissented from the Motion on the plain grounds that the law having provided a remedy for offences alleged to have been committed in respect to the election of Members of that House before a proper tribunal, it was fitting that the House should wait until that tribunal had investigated the charges before them.

MR. G. BANKES believed this question could not be referred, as the hon. Member seemed to desire, to the tribunal which sat on disputed elections; for it did not in any way bear on the decision they were called on to give. The Election Committee could only try the validity of the return, and could not inquire into such charges as those of the petition. He should prefer an inquiry before some other tribunal, with full power to investigate the whole affair. The character and experience of Mr. Coppock were no doubt high; but such charges as these could not be allowed to drop to the ground in silence.

SIR R. H. INGLIS explained. He had proposed to refer the matter to some other body, as the Committee of Privileges, for he did not think the charges should be passed over; but he protested against the sitting of any Committee of Inquiry on this matter concurrently with that of the Committee appointed to try the validity of the hon. Member's return.

MR. V. SMITH thought it was quite clear the petition was not one which could be referred to the Election Committee, for though in the wording it bore some resemblance to an election petition, the mode in which it was brought forward disentitled it to that character; and the clerks of the House, who were naturally the best authorities on such a subject, had not considered it in that light. He did not understand the ground on which the hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Inglis) founded his objection to the Motion; but he could easily understand him if he opposed it on the principle that the House had ever been jealous of appearing to anticipate in any way the decision and fair judgment of their Committees. The petition did not impute any direct charge against the hon. Member for his own conduct, but stated that he had, through his agent, endeavoured to make a compromise for his seat in order to evade the petition presented against his return. There was no analogy between the Stamford case, to which the hon. Mover referred, and the present, because in the former instance the petition was signed by 210 persons, whereas here there was only one individual who came forward with most serious charges against a Member of the House. The petition did not state that a compromise had been effected—that the petition had been withdrawn, or that justice had been evaded—on the contrary, it appeared that the whole affair had failed in consequence of one of the gentlemen accused handing over the money to the wrong person, and getting it back from him as soon as he discovered his mistake. He must say it was rather unusual for rogues, if rogues they were, to act in this way, and return the money they had got for their pains. The whole of the case might be tried before the Election Committee, for it was most likely, after what had transpired of the facts, that the cross-examination of witnesses would elicit the fullest statement of the whole subject. He hoped the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division, but would withdraw it till the report of the Sligo Election Committee had been received.

SIR G. GREY said, that, after the statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. Gore), he certainly thought some inquiry was necessary; and if the compromise alluded to had been actually effected, and the petition withdrawn in consequence, he would have agreed with the hon. Member in thinking also that the present was the time for considering the question. He hoped that the hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis)—though he (Sir G. Grey) agreed with him in thinking that, pending the inquiry before the Election Committee, the subject should not be investigated—would not ask the House to place a negative on the Motion of the hon. Member for a Select Committee, for, by so doing, he would, if successful, prevent his being able to bring it forward in the same form again. Believing with the hon. Baronet in the inexpediency of bringing forward his Motion while the Election Committee were sitting, he still thought if that Committee were not able to institute the inquiry, that the hon. Member would have a right to ask the House for a further inquiry, in which be (Sir G. Grey) for one would gladly concur. He would, therefore, ask the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion on the present occasion, and to bring it forward after the report of the Election Committee had been presented to the House.

MR. F. FRENCH rose to say a few words in consequence of the remark which had fallen from the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. V. Smith) respecting the gentlemen engaged in this transaction. The hon. Member stated that among "rogues" it was an extraordinary thing to find such honesty as to induce them to return the money they had acquired. He wished to state to the House the part taken by Mr. Kelly in the business, as he had it from himself just before he came into the House. When Mr. Coppock called on him (Mr. Kelly) he did not see him, but referred him to the agent of the petitioner, Mr. Walker, and told that gentleman that Mr. Coppock wished to see him. Every circumstance in which Mr. Kelly took a part was with a knowledge of the agent of Mr. Somers, and he wrote the notice to the secretary not to take any paper from him with respect to the withdrawal of the petition. Mr. Coppock might have fallen into the snare, but he (Mr. Kelly) was not responsible for it.

MR. GORE said, that after the wish expressed by the House and by the right hon. Baronet, he would withdraw the petition on the understanding that he should be allowed to bring it on as soon as the report of the Sligo Election Committee had been presented to the House.

Motion withdrawn.