HC Deb 23 June 1853 vol 128 cc680-4

Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [13th June], "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. And which Amendment was 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 again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, that he, being a friend of Mr. Towneley and of Mr. Stonor, had naturally looked into the evidence upon which Mr. Towneley had been unseated. He found that the main ground for this course was a bribe said to have been given by Mr. Stonor to a man named Donovan. The only evidence given against Mr. Stonor was a letter dated 11th November, 1851, which, however, did not appear in the printed evidence. He wished to ask the Chairman, or any Member of the Committee who might be present, how it was that a letter which had played such an important part in this investigation, as it had caused the sitting Member, Mr. Towneley, to be unseated, had not been printed in the minutes of the evidence? He thought, in justice to Mr. Stonor, it ought to be produced. He did not wish to oppose the issuing of the writ, but merely asked the question for information.


said, he thought it would not be expedient to proceed with the debate in the absence of the Chairman, and should therefore move that it be adjourned till Tuesday next.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."


said, that as one of the Committee, he would also suggest that the question should be postponed until the Chairman was present.


said, he must object to the adjournment on the ground that it was unjust to debar the electors of Sligo from the exercise of their privilege of election longer than was necessary, merely because the Chairman of the Committee had gone to bed.


said, he would remind the House that it was now two o'clock, and that the House would be called upon to sit again in a few hours.


said, the only allegation of bribery was, that a person had been promised the payment of an old debt of 103l. provided he absented himself from the election, but that Mr. Towneley had not himself been connected with the act. The evidence had been printed since the last debate, and he defied any one to prove that any illegal act had been committed to warrant the Committee in unseating Mr. Towneley, or withholding the writ.


said, that after the decision in the Harwich case, it appeared to be very necessary that this question should be inquired into. As far as he could see, the decision seemed to have been arrived at upon a letter which was not in the evidence at all. He certainly thought it behoved the House to know whether this Committee had acted contrary to all the rules of evidence, or without any evidence at all.


, as one of the Committee, said that, although reference had been made to a particular letter, as though the case against the Member unseated rested solely upon that, he must state plainly, that his vote was not given merely upon any particular letter, but upon the whole evidence as it struck his mind, and from the testimony of Donovan himself. As to the letter in question, he could not see what that had to do with the issue of the writ.


said, that, as he had expressed an opinion the other day that it would be better to postpone the writ, he was bound to say now that it seemed to him there was no longer any reason why the writ should not be issued. He had thought it better, at first, considering what had passed, that the writ should not issue until the evidence had been placed in the hands of Members. Hon. Members now had that evidence. No special proposition affecting the borough had been founded upon it, and therefore it would not be fair to the electors of Sligo to keep them unrepresented merely in consequence of some question about a letter to Donovan. If there should be anything in the evidence upon which any Member wished to found an inquiry upon other grounds than bribery, such as the intimidation alleged to have been practised at the election, he would not be precluded from making a proposal upon that point after the issue of the writ. It would not be necessary to suspend the issuing of the writ for any purposes of that kind, and he therefore thought that, following the invariable practice of Parliament in not keeping a constituency unrepresented any longer than was absolutely necessary for the purpose of inquiry, it would not be right to postpone any longer the issuing of the writ.


said, this evidence had only been before the House forty-eight hours, and it was impossible, therefore, for them to determine whether it would be right to issue a Commission. There was one remarkable omission in this evidence, in addition to the non-insertion of the letter complained of. He had been present at the sitting of the Committee, who had ocular demonstration of the intimidation of the Roman Catholic priesthood, which was carried into the very Committee room. He observed a Roman Catholic priest place himself opposite to the witnesses while they were giving their evidence, and the counsel for the petitioners at last requested that this gentleman should be removed. The Committee, however, could not believe that anybody in the garb of a gentleman, much less in that of a clergyman, could act in such a manner as that described. But the Chairman at length perceived that, by threatening motions and other gesticulations, the witnesses were prevented by this person from giving their evidence, and then the Chairman ordered him to be removed from the position he occupied. The reputation of the borough of Sligo, as regarded bribery and priestly intimidation, was notorious. He thought they ought to pause before they issued this writ, and, with the view of giving the House time to deliberate upon the matter, he would move that the House do now adjourn.


begged to say, having been a member of the Committee, that the election had not been declared void on account of intimidation, and that Mr. Towneley had not upon any former occasion been unseated for bribery, although he was unseated for treating. He believed that, looking at the evidence, no ground existed for suspending the issue of the writ. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin had discovered a mare's nest, when he asserted that the witnesses in the Committee room had been intimidated by a Roman Catholic clergyman. As to the letter that had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, he must observe, that there was no mention of any such document in the resolution of the Committee respecting Mr. Stonor. From the conclusion arrived at by the Committee he humbly dissented, and he was perfectly prepared, if necessary, to defend, the course he felt it his duty to adopt.


said, he must urge the inconvenience of reviewing the decision of the Committee, and he would take that opportunity of declaring his opinion that there was no ground for delaying the issue of the writ.


said, he thought it very important that, though this House was not to impugn the decision of its Committees, still some opinion should be expressed in case of a miscarriage by them, and a more extraordinary miscarriage had never occurred in any court or tribunal than had occurred in this instance.


said, he felt himself called upon to deprecate hon. Gentlemen making charges against the Catholic clergy of Ireland at two or three o'clock in the morning, when the House was not disposed to hear hon. Gentlemen in their defence. He challenged the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Vance) to repeat his observations at a period when he could receive that reply which they deserved.


said, he thought that the great difference of opinion which existed among hon. Gentlemen was sufficient reason for adjourning the further consideration of the question.


said, that the animus of the Committee all through the inquiry was shown by the fact, that in all the divisions the numbers were three to two. He saw nothing in the evidence to connect Mr. Stonor with anything dishonourable or illegal.


said, his only object had been to get some explanation about the letter written by Mr. Stonor, which ought to have appeared among the evidence.


said, he should have preferred the Motion to be adjourned till the Chairman of the Committee was in his place. With respect to Mr. Stonor, he thought injustice had been done him, though not intentionally, and that the letter of November 11, 1848, was not properly in evidence. He entirely acquitted Mr. Stonor of any improper conduct, and did not think that the least imputation had been cast upon his character. He thought there was no reason to defer the writ.


said, he begged to express his entire concurrence with the hon. Member (Mr. Hindley), as to the case of Mr. Stonor.


said, he intended to vote against the writ, but that, after the speech of the hon. Member for the city of Dublin (Mr. Vance), he must vote the other way.


said, he hoped the House would not divide. No reason had been shown why the writ should not issue. What, then could be the object of an adjournment? Was it to renew a discussion of the topics they had heard that night? The only question was, whether the writ should issue. Nothing had been urged why it should be suspended. The House, on reflection, must see that they were committing a violation of a constitutional principle in suspending a writ merely upon a personal and collateral question.

Motion made, and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided:—Ayes 19;Noes 86: Majority 67.

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

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

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 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.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Three o'clock.