§ On the Motion for going into Committee of Ways and Means,
§ MR. E. BALL
said, he wished, before the Speaker left the chair, to repeat the question which he took the liberty on Friday night last of putting to the Government generally. He was not successful on that occasion in obtaining an answer; though the question was of so much importance, and involved the respectability of so many Gentlemen opposite, that he thought they would esteem it a kindness and favour on his part to give them an op- 1323 portunity of putting themselves right with the House and the public. The hon. Member for Westmeath (Captain Magan) stated in that House that an accredited agent of the Whig and Peelite Ministers had waited upon the Irish Members, and declared that he was authorised, on the part of the Whig and Peelite Government—no, not Government, but—parties, to say that if they, the Irish Members., would assist them in turning out the Government of Lord Derby, they would not, when they were reinstated in power, impose the income tax on Ireland. This seemed a transaction so iniquitous in its nature, so directly opposed to the principles of the British constitution, and so contrary to the principle which that House seemed now to have unanimously adopted, that when anything in the shape of corruption came before it, it should be immediately exposed and put an end to. They had adopted the rule that whenever a Member was petitioned against, even though he should be only found guilty of having expended a few shillings for the necessary expenses of one of his constituents, that Member should be unseated. An hon. Member of that House had been found guilty of having given to a voter twelve shillings a week, for which there was ample work to be done, and it had been decided that he should be turned out of the House. Another case had occurred, that of the late Member for Bridge-north, in which out of twenty-two charges that were brought, twenty-one had been satisfactorily answered, but the twenty-second charge had been so far proved that it had been shown that the agent of the Member, without having obtained his consent, had paid a bill which had been long due, and that before the Gentlemen he alluded to had been announced as a candidate for Bridgenorth, and upon this ground alone he had been deprived of his seat. The country expected that that House would adopt a pure system of election; it expected that they would really and honestly endeavour to insure integrity for the future on the part of the electors; and he (Mr. Ball) thought that electors were justified in asking, if such extreme integrity was to be required from them, that Members when elected would themselves be upright, and would avoid anything having the appearance of bribery, whether it came in the shape of influence or in any other shape. It did seem to him that this was one of those especially wicked and gross cases at which hon. Gentleman opposite would have 1324 revolted—that they would have risen immediately to repudiate it, and that they would have been glad of the first opportunity of shaking off such an accusation before it should have been propagated by the press throughout the whole kingdom. But as the press had now taken the matter up, and as it had reiterated the statement which had been made in that House, it appeared to him (Mr. Ball) that the earliest opportunity ought to be afforded to the Government of repudiating or explaining the charge; and, therefore, he would now take the liberty most respectfully of asking the hon. Member for Westmeath (Captain Magan) if he (Mr. Ball) had correctly understood the hon. Member on Friday night, and if he would be so good as to repeat whether an overture had been made, and a promise given, to the Irish party of remitting a certain portion of the taxation of this country on the condition that the Whigs should be brought into power, this being the price to be paid by the Whigs in return for the loaves and fishes of office; and whether, after making such a contract, which appeared so unconstitutional, they had not only been guilty of offering a bribe, but had also refused to pay when once they had attained the object which they sought for? He hoped that hon. Gentlemen opposite would be grateful to him (Mr. Ball) for this opportunity of repudiating the charge, and that it would not be said that he had not given the usual and ordinary notice of the question he had put. He did not wish to take an unfair advantage of any one, and it would be remembered that he had brought forward the matter at the earliest possible moment on Friday night. He had given notice of his present question to the Clerk at the table, but it had been returned to him as informal, and, consequently, it did not appear on the paper; but he hoped that the hon. Member would not object to answer it on that account. He trusted that he should receive the support and assistance of those hon. Members who were so anxious for the purity of elections, and were so desirous of laying hold on anything in the shape of corruption; and, that, instead of their being angry at the question which he had put, they would gladly respond to him, and come forward and say that his question had been a very proper one, and required an immediate answer.
§ CAPTAIN MAGAN
I believe, Sir, the hon. Gentleman has no strict right to put this question to me at all. According to the rule of the House, the question should 1325 be put by the order of the House through the Speaker. I have to complain that I have not been fairly treated by the hon. Member. If the hon. Member will consider for one moment the nature of the question—a question which involves such grave considerations as he himself attributes to it—he will, I think, admit that I ought to have had proper notice of it, and that it ought to have been placed fairly and openly on the paper. However the hon. Member may account by precedent for neglecting to do so, I cannot but say I am sorry he should have followed such an example. I shall be happy to answer his question if put regularly on the paper, so that neither I nor others may be placed in an unfair position. At the same time, I give him fair notice that he has completely misstated everything that was said by me on Friday night.
§ MR. E. BALL
was sorry if he had been guilty of any discourtesy towards the hon. Member. He had asked an hon. Member if he ought not to give notice of his intention of asking the question, and he had been told in reply that the hon. Gentleman (Captain Magan) was already aware that the question would be asked.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
After what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ball) has stated, and in consequence of the impression which appears to be on his mind, I think it right to say a few words. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that some person was authorised by the Whig party, before the late Government left power, to make some sort of contract with the Irish Members, to the effect that they would not be parties to the imposition of an income tax on Ireland if those Members would vote against the late Government. That, I think, is the statement of the hon. Gentleman. I have only to say, that, according to my knowledge and belief, there was no person so authorised, and there never was any such proposition made to the Irish party.
§ LORD ADOLPHUS VANE
begged to remind the House that the hon. Member for Westmeath had distinctly stated that a party of Irish Members had been waited upon by an accredited emissary of the present Government, who had offered certain terms to them on condition that they would join the Whig party in turning out Lord Derby's Government. As this statement had been openly made, and as it had been reported in and commented upon by all the public prints, he (Lord A. Vane) would venture to submit to the House whether in justice to the hon. Member for Westmeath, 1326 and in justice to the present Government, the hon. Member should not be asked to' state the grounds upon which he had founded his assertion, and also inform the House who was the accredited agent to whom he referred. Some elucidation of these points would surely be satisfactory to the House and to the country at large.
§ CAPTAIN MAGAN
I did not mean to offend the hon. Gentleman by anything which has fallen from me in reply to his observations. With reference to what he has said as to notice having been given to me of an intention to ask a question of me to-night, I have only to observe that I did hear a rumour that there was such an intention; but I also heard a very distinct rumour that the question would he openly placed upon the paper. It has not been so placed, and I am now called upon to name a man; but as the notice has not been put on the paper, I might have to name some one who may be absent. If you could have found me stupid enough to strike a man behind his back—[Interruption]—I can only say (continued the hon. and gallant Member for Westmeath) that I am quite ready to answer the question if it be fairly put.
§ LORD ADOLPHUS VANE
Will the hon. Member name the accredited agent to whom he has referred; and if he has no objection, will he state the grounds on which his assertion was founded?
thought such a scene as this was not very creditable to the House of Commons. As an Irish Member, he must say that he had felt deeply the observations which had been made in the newspapers on the conduct of the Irish re-representatives; and he confessed that he thought if the Irish Members had made such a bargain, as it was said they had made, it was not in any way dishonourable to them. For his own part he would say, that if he had been asked to support a Government, he certainly should have required a statement of terms; and therefore, if he had been a party to such an agreement, he would not shrink from avowing the fact. But it was well known in that House, and all over town, that a certain Member of the present Government was usually employed in matters of this kind, and, therefore, he thought it would be much better if, instead of shuffling off the question, that hon. Gentleman would rise and state what he knew about it. He (Colonel Dunne) had no knowledge of the matter himself; but he did not think that Irish 1327 Members had any reason to be ashamed of themselves, even if they had entered into such an agreement. But it was, at all events, desirable that a scene of this kind should not be prolonged, especially when it could be put an end to at once by a straightforward statement by those who were acquainted with the facts.
§ MR. MALINS
had understood the hon. Member for Westmeath to state, that a party of the Irish Members had been waited upon by an accredited agent of the Whig and Peelite parties, and that he had made this proposal to them, "Do you vote for turning out Lord Derby, and we will protect you against the income tax being extended to Ireland." Now, that was either an accurate or it was an inaccurate statement. If it was an inaccurate statement, it was a duty the hon. Member for Westmeath owed to the House to state his reasons for making it. But if the statement was accurate, it was certainly a grave imputation upon the great party which was now in power. At a time when they were hearing so much about purity of elections, and when they had so many discussions as to whether writs should issue for places where bribery had been carried on, he would ask whether it was decent that an hon. Member should rise in that House and make so grave a charge against the party who now held the Government of the country in their hands, and that that imputation should be allowed to pass altogether unnoticed? Everybody knew who was meant by the term "accredited agent;" and surely a charge of this kind ought to receive from that agent, or from those agents, an instant denial or explanation.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, that in answer to the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (MR, E. Ball) he had stated that, to the beset of his knowledge and belief, no person had been accredited by the Whig party to make such a proposal as that which had been referred to. He would now ask the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down whether he believed his word, or whether he did not believe it? Did the hon. Member mean to say, after the statement which he (Lord J. Russell) had made, that the Whig party had entered into such an agreement? If he did not, let the hon. Gentleman say what he did mean.
§ MR. MALINS
said, that any statement Of the noble Lord would certainly be believed by him. The noble Lord had said that he had not authorised any agent to 1328 make the agreement, and his word he implicitly credited. But he begged to impress upon the House that that was not the question. The question was not whether the noble Lord had authorised such an offer to be made, but whether those "accredited agents" had or had not in point of fact made the offer.
§ MR. G. H. MOORE
would go to the point of the matter forthwith. He himself knew nothing about this transaction; but as he and every one else was well aware who was the "accredited agent" alluded to, he thought he might as well ask the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter) whether he could give the House any information on this subject?
§ MR. HAYTER
I am extremely obliged to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this question to an issue. I certainly have some reason to complain of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. I saw him as I entered the House. I asked him if he was going to put any question on this matter. He told me that he had submitted a notice, that there was an informality, and therefore he was unable to ask the question in the form and the terms in which he originally designed to ask it. I begged him then to put the question in a formal manner, so that I might be enabled to give a plain answer to a plain question; and if the hon. Gentleman had had the courtesy to comply with that request, much of that which has painfully passed in this House, would have been altogether spared. The hon. Gentleman, when I was not present, took occasion to refer to that matter, although I had informed the hon. Member of my wish to be present, and I trust the House will not for a moment believe that I in the slightest degree shrink from giving a positive answer. The hon. Member for the county of Wicklow also came this evening and said he was about to ask me the same question; I told him I should be obliged to him if he would defer it till to-morrow, because then I should know what the distinct charge was, which up to this moment I don't know. I told him also that I was desirous of communicating with another hon. Member, before giving an answer to a charge apparently involving some question relating to him. No arrangement seems to have been made between those two hon. Gentlemen. I never yet have had a positive, distinct question put to me. But I now understand the hon. Member for Cambridge- 1329 shire to say that some person, alleging himself to be an agent of the party now called the Whig party, some time during the discussion of the financial statement of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer took on himself to attend a body of Irish gentlemen, and state that he was authorised to make this proposal—namely, that if they gave their votes for the purpose of overthrowing the late Government, the Government likely to be founded on its ruins should undertake not to impose an income tax on Ireland. That I believe is the question to which the hon. Member wishes for a reply. I never was authorised by any person or any body of persons to make any such communication to any person or any party. I never did attend any meeting of any kind in my life of the Irish Members. I never stated to any person, at any time, that I was authorised in any manner to state, that in the event of the Government of Lord Derby being overthrown, the Government to be substituted in its place would undertake not to impose an income tax on Ireland. If the hon Gentleman had put the question plainly before me, as he ought to have done, I should have given him an answer before.
§ MR. E. BALL
I beg to say that I did put the question fully and fairly on Friday night last, and I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman's saying I never did put it. In the next place, I beg to say that if the right hon. Gentleman thought he was the person on whom the imputation rested, he ought to have been too eager to deny it to require notice of the question.
§ CAPTAIN MAGAN
The mistake which has been made is in taking it for granted that I meant the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The words I used were these—(I spoke in the plural number, and the right hon. Gentleman is not in the plural number)—I said certain persons, accredited agents, and using the word "accredited," made this communication. They were three private Irish Members. ["Name!"] I will not name them till a notice is put on the paper, so that they may be in the House to hear me. I believe some of them are not now in the House.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
had hoped, after what had already occurred, these bickerings among hon. Gentlemen would have ceased. As regarded the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire he was not surprised at the sensitiveness that hon. Gen- 1330 tleman had shown, for nothing could be so odious and detestable to him as promise not fulfilled. The hon. Member must feel that, for when they looked back to the way in which the Whig Government had been displaced by Lord Derby's promising his party from one and to the other, that they should have protection back again, he was not surprised at the sensitiveness of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire.
§ MR. G. H. MOORE
wished to explain that in putting the question he had to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter) he did not wish to point him out as the person indicated, but he had heard everywhere that he was so indicated, and he thought it fair and right to terminate a matter which must have been exceedingly annoying to the right hon. Gentleman. That was his sole reason for putting the question.
had understood that three Irish Members had waited upon the Irish Members from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayter) by way of deputation, and stated that they were authorised by him to make the statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire.
§ MR. HAYTER
I wish the hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject had mentioned what has now just been stated by the hon. Member for Marlow, that I might have answered it. I will answer it now, and say that no such circumstance ever occurred
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
I think the House ought to feel much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation he has given, and I do trust we have now done with this unworthy matter. I think every Gentleman who has a regard for the character of this House can entertain but one opinion as to this story, which, as it turns out, is utterly unfounded. I hope the question will now be put an end to.