HC Deb 13 June 1853 vol 128 cc125-31

said, he would now beg to move that a new writ be issued for the borough of Sligo.

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 Burgess to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Sligo, in the room of Charles Towneley, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void.


said, he should move as an Amendment, that the writ be suspended for a fortnight, in order that Members may have an opportunity of seeing the evidence taken before the Committee, and which the House had directed to be printed. In making this Motion, he believed that he was adhering to what had been—with one exception, and that a most questionable one —the invariable practice of the House. He referred more particularly to the cases of Bridgenorth and Blackburn, in both of which there appeared to have been less ground for postponement than in the pre- sent case; and yet, the instance of Bridgenorth, the writ was postponed from day to day, and from debate to debate, until the evidence was in the hands of Members; while in the case of Blackburn the same course was nut followed, only be-cause, through a mistake of the hon. Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley) the evidence had not been ordered to be print, ed. Then, again, in the case of Harwich; though there was nothing in the Report of the Committee calculated to affect the sitting Members, yet, on the Motion that a new writ do issue, the hon, Member for Westminster having moved that a Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of the representation in that borough, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department suggested that the debate be adjourned until the evidence was in the hands of Members. In the case of Sligo the Committee reported— That the said Charles Towneley was, by his agents, guilty of bribery and treating at the last Election for the Borough of Sligo. That Jeremiah Joyce O'Donovan, an Alderman of the Borough of Sligo, was bribed by Henry Stonor, by the promise of payment of 103l., being a portion of an outstanding election account, to forbear giving his vote, which he had promised to Mr. Somers, and in consequence absented himself during the election. That it was not proved that the acts of bribery and treating were committed with the knowledge and consent of the said Charles Towneley. That the influence of the Roman Catholic priests was exercised in a manner inconsistent with their duty as ministers of religion, and destructive of freedom of choice on the part of the voters. He took his stand upon that Report. If his Motion should be negatived—which, however, he would not anticipate—he would suggest that it would save much trouble and turmoil, and spare the electors from intimidation, if Mr. Speaker would direct his writ to the Roman Catholic priests of the town of Sligo, He had no personal interest in the matter, but he was anxious to put a check in Ireland to influences that he believed to be destructive of liberty in that country: he felt that he should not be doing his duty if he permitted the House to issue the writ as a matter of course. Further, there was little in the past history of the borough of Sligo to entitle it to favour. Upon a former occasion Mr. Towneley, the very Member now unseated, was a candidate, and was then un-seated for bribery and treating; and he (Mr. Butt) appealed with confidence to the House whether there were any instance during the present Session of a borough for which two successive elections had been declared void—the same individual being a candidate on each occasion—having had a writ sent down to it without inquiry. All he now asked the House was, to arrest the issue of the writ until the evidence was in the hands of Members, so that they might have the opportunity of considering whether or not that evidence would warrant the House in taking further proceedings; and with that view he begged to move as an Amendment, that the issue of the writ be suspended for a fortnight.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the Writ for the Borough of Sligo be suspended for a fortnight,'—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he did not wish to enter into the merits or demerits of the last election for Sligo. He believed it would be better for the House to abstain from entering upon that question until the evidence of the Committee was in the hands of hon. Members, who could then be better judges of the merits of the case. But he thought that the very circumstance of the evidence having been laid upon the table of the House, and ordered to be printed, so that it might reach the hands of hon. Members, and its not being as yet delivered, ought naturally to lead the House to agree to the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Youghal (Mr. Butt), This course would be more consistent with the former proceedings of the House in such cases, and he therefore strongly advised the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ennis (Mr. J. D. Fitzgerald) to agree to the Motion for postponing the writ.


said, that the rule of the House was, that seven days' notice should be given before the issuing of the new writ. The House was now called upon to establish a new rule, to the effect that when the Member was unseated for bribery or treating, no new writ should issue until the evidence taken before the Committee was printed. This rule made the issuing of the writ to some extent dependent upon the caprice or convenience of the printer.


said, as bribery as well as priestly intimidation was proved to have existed at the election, he thought the writ, instead of being suspended for a week, ought to be suspended for a fortnight.


said, he could not see why the writ should be suspended, unless by the established rule of the House. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would not give way.


said, he must remind the House that the decision of the Committee on the Sligo election was come to as many as ten days ago. The only ground on which the issue of the writ could be contested was, that the Committee had reported that bribery had existed; but all they reported upon that head was, that a person was promised the amount of an outstanding election account if he refrained from giving his vote; but that promise, the Committee said, was not proved to have been made with the knowledge or consent of Mr. Towneley, the Member. He, therefore, rested his Motion on the constitutional right of the parties, unaffected as they were by the law, or by the finding of the Committee. He was, however, willing to adjourn the debate until Thursday, in order that the evidence might be placed in the hands of Members. He disregarded the intimidation at the election, because he considered the sitting Member was not to be made responsible for that, and that it did not affect the issuing of the writ.


said, that with every respect for the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), he must deny that there was any such rule known in the practice of the House; that on no other ground but that of bribery being reported could the House suspend the issue of a writ. In former times, when intimidation had been proved, not only had the House suspended the writ, but had sent the guilty parties to gaol; and, in his opinion, the fittest thing the House could now do would be to send to gaol the parties mentioned in the Report of the Sligo election as having been guilty of corrupt practices. He trusted the hon. Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley), who was so anxious to prosecute a gallant gentleman, Sir Frederick Smith, for having sought for a Post-office post for one of his constituents, would bring forward a similar Motion in respect to the Sligo alderman and magistrate named in the Report. As the House had ordered the evidence to be printed, in order that Members might be informed on the subject, he conceived the writ ought in the meantime to be suspended.


said, he should have been perfectly ready to follow the course suggested by the hon. and learned Member, if he had on a former occasion met with the slightest support from that hon. Member or his friends. In the case he had brought forward, the Committee used words to the effect that distinct bribery had been proved against Sir Frederick Smith; but when he proposed that that Gentleman should be prosecuted, the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, who now displayed such excitement, voted against the proposition. However, when an alderman was reported to have been bribed in a borough where it was supposed that Roman Catholic priests exercised a certain influence, which was perfectly unknown to be used by Protestant clergymen in this country, then the hon. and learned Gentleman became exceedingly excited on the subject. He was prepared to acquiesce in delay until the evidence should be in the hands of Members; and when he proposed, as he should do, that Mr. Mare should be prosecuted, he should be obliged for the support of the hon. and learned Member who had just appealed to him.


said, that, in consequence of the haste in which the notice of the issue of the writ had been given after the presentation of the Report, there had been barely seven days' notice of the Motion.


said, he felt called upon to express his opinion that though it did not necessarily follow that because the evidence was not printed the writ should be suspended, yet in the present case there were circumstances of a special nature. The same Member had been twice unseated in succession for bribery and corruption; and, in addition to that circumstance, there was a special Report relating to intimidation. Now, without wishing to establish the present case as a precedent in any other, he must say that the circumstances in this instance were special in their character, and fully warranted the application for the further postponement of the issue of the writ.


moved the adjournment of the debate until that day week. In the meantime, the evidence would be printed, and in the hands of hon. Members. This course would fully satisfy every legitimate view that had been urged on either side. The issuing of the writ in the present case had been already delayed for a period of seven days, in compliance with a standing order of the House; but if the Motion to suspend it for another fortnight were now acceded to, there would exist a precedent for delaying the writ for three weeks in every instance where a single act of bribery might be found by the report of an Election Committee. It would be better at once to alter the standing order by enlarging the period from seven days to three weeks in all such cases. He had carefully attended to every argument used during this discussion, and having made a reasonable proposition, he should, certainly, divide the House upon it.


seconded the Amendment.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 160; Noes 21: Majority 139.


said, that he understood the evidence could not be produced earlier than a fortnight. Adopting the precedent established in the case of Harwich, he wished to move that the writ should not issue for a fortnight. He should therefore move that the debate be adjourned to that day fortnight.


said, he would recommend the House to adjourn the question till Monday, which would be quite compatible with the ulterior views of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Motion was not that the writ should issue on Monday next, but simply that it should not issue before that day. If by that time the evidence should not be printed, it would be perfectly competent for the hon. and learned Gentleman to make a Motion on the subject.


said, that after what had fallen from the noble Lord, he would not persist in his Motion.


said, he thought the best way of meeting the justice of the case was by acceding to the proposition of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston). Although great corruption was proved to prevail in the borough, yet he did not think the character of the borough was so seriously affected as to warrant the suspension of the writ.


said, he wished to know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman intended to refer the matter to a Select Committee?


said, he had attended to the newspaper reports of the proceedings before the Committee, and he was perfectly prepared to say that farther proceedings should be taken.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday next.