HC Deb 13 March 1854 vol 131 cc688-95

said, he had to put two questions to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, in reference to the appointment of Mr. Stonor, and of which he had given him notice. He found, in the Report of the Sligo Election Committee in 1853, a resolution in the following terms:— 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; and that he had also been implicated in bribery in 1848. It thus appeared that on a former occasion the Member for the county was unseated, and that Mr. Stonor was, according to the Report of the Election Committee, mixed up with the bribery which had taken place on that occasion. It was also certain, that on the latter occasion—namely, in 1853—he was reported against personally as having been guilty of bribery. Now, that being so, he had ascertained—though, by a very strange circumstance, the appointment had not yet been notified in the Gazette—he had ascertained through the public press, and he had since been informed of the fact by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies, that this Mr. Stonor, who had been implicated in bribery on one occasion, and reported against by a Committee of that House on another, had been just appointed a Judge in one of Her Majesty's Colonies. Now, it was quite clear if hon. Gentlemen were to be thus rewarded who had been reported against for bribery, that such Reports were to be looked upon with envy rather than any other feeling—certainly they would lose all moral weight. Under these circumstances, then, he had to ask whether Her Majesty's Government, in appointing Mr. Stonor, were aware that that gentleman had been reported against by a Committee of that House for bribery? and, if they were not so aware, whether they were prepared now to cancel the appointment?


said, he wished to explain to the House, first, the nature of the appointment which had been received by the gentleman in question, and next the circumstances of comparative pressure and haste under which it had been made. The Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria was at present on leave of absence, and under ordinary circumstances the appointment to the vacancy would be made in the colony. In this instance, however, the Governor of Victoria had reported that he was not able at that moment to make as fit an appointment as he could wish on the spot, and he, therefore, applied to the Colonial Office for a gentleman to be sent out from this country to fill the post during the temporary ababsence of the Chief Justice; stating, at the same time, that the business of the court was increasing so rapidly, that there was a prospect, on the return of the Chief Justice, of the appointment of an additional Judge to the Supreme Court, in which case the claims of the gentleman to be sent out would be duly considered. Under such circumstances, therefore, the name of Mr. Stonor was submitted to the Duke of Newcastle, and his appointment was made exclusively in reference to the recommendations which had been received on his behalf, and in respect of his professional attainments, and his fitness and capacity to fill the situation to which he had been recommended. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh; but on his own behalf, as well as on behalf of the Duke of Newcastle, he would state, that up to two days ago, when he had received a letter from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley), who had been Chairman of the Sligo Election Committee, he was not aware, nor was the Duke of Newcastle, that this gentleman had taken any part in any election at Sligo; nor was he aware that the part he had taken in that election had been reviewed by a Committee of that House, or that it had been censured in the Report which that Committee presented to the House. So much, then, for the first question of the hon. Gentleman, as to the circumstances under which the appointment had been made. The hon. Gentleman then went on to ask whether Her Majesty's Government, being made aware of the peculiar transactions of Mr. Stonor, and of the light in which they presented themselves—whether they were prepared to cancel his appointment? Now, every one would admit that there was a considerable difference between passing over the pretensions of a person whose conduct had appeared objectionable, and in cancelling the appointment of that person after it had been made; for the Government could not cancel that appointment without declaring that that person was no longer eligible for employment under the Crown. He was not prepared to follow such a course as that without considerable hesitation, and without feeling assured that the guilt of the party was beyond all doubt. But he would undertake that if any hon. Gentleman would take the trouble of reading the Report of the Committee, and, in conjunction with the Report, the evidence on which it was founded, he would entertain very grave doubts whether the Committee had been justified in arriving at the conclusion which they had in reference to Mr. Stonor. He had looked at the evidence, and he found there that the charge against that gentleman was, that he had promised to pay a certain alderman a sum of money if he would abstain from voting; and the only ground on which the charge rested was a letter which did not appear in the evidence. He thought, therefore, that he was fully justified in saying that that gentleman had not been fairly dealt with by the Committee. If that gentleman had been justly dealt with by the Committee, the letter containing the alleged promise ought to have been produced. And he should also add that the letter in question was written several months before the election took place; and it was stated to have been used, not by the person to whom it was addressed, but by another party. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to regard this statement with some incredulity; but he found himself supported in it by several gentlemen very well qualified to express an opinion on the matter, and who concurred in the view which he (Mr. F. Peel) took of the case. For instance, he found that, in the debate which occurred in reference to the Report of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Milner Gibson), as well as the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Vincent Scully), both stated that they had examined the evidence, and that they were of opinion it did not support the conclusion to which the Committee had come; and, more than that, upon the same occasion two Members of the Committee—which had consisted of five Members—rose, and expressed themselves of opinion that the Report had done great injustice to Mr. Stonor—he referred to the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Evelyn), and to the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Hindley). He was also able to state that the Resolution against that gentleman had been carried only by a majority of one; and that, although upon the occasion to which he had been just referring, the other Members of the Committee appeared to have been in the House, and had heard the statement made by their colleagues, they never availed themselves of the opportunity of expressing their dissent from the opinions then expressed; and, therefore, it was not unfair to conclude that by their silence they had acquiesced in them. In conclusion, then, he would only say that the appointment in question had been made without the transactions alluded to being known either to the Duke of Newcastle or himself, and that the Government now having been made aware of them, and having had an opportunity of examining the evidence on which the Report of the Committee rested, were of opinion that no adequate ground existed for its cancelation.


said, he wished to explain why it was that he, at all events, had remained silent on the occasion just referred to by the hon. Gentleman. He had been personally requested by the friends of Mr. Stonor—["Oh, oh!"] Well, he would mention names, if necessary. He had been requested by the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer), as a friend of Mr. Stonor, to abstain from speaking on the occasion; and, to use a vulgar phrase, as he did not wish "to throw water upon a drowned rat," he had desisted from doing so.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies had been pleased to come to a most false conclusion, though he most reluctantly said so. Now, if there was one duty more painful to him than another, it was that of attending Election Committees; and, more than that, having acquitted himself of that duty, he was the last man in the world that wished to allude to the proceedings of any Committee on which he had been engaged. However, he remembered that last year an hon. Friend had told him that he had been making some comments on the Report of the Sligo Committee, with a view, it appeared, to whitewash Mr. Stonor, when he (Mr. Divett) expressed himself as very glad that he had not been present, as it would have been his painful duty to have vindicated his conduct, and the course which the Committee had adopted. Now, the hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies has been pleased to say that he had reviewed the evidence, and that he considered the Committee came to a wrong conclusion. Well, he could only say, that having served very often upon Election Committees, he would declare that he had never come to a conclusion which he believed to have been more justly or correctly formed than on that very occasion. He believed not only that Mr. Stonor had acted most corruptly, but most imprudently. That gentleman had been pleased to write a letter, which was before the Committee, in which he stated, in the most distinct terms, that, in the event of Mr. O'Donovan changing his mind, and voting for Mr. Towneley instead of Mr. Somers, he would take care that the unsettled account of a former election should be arranged. But matters did not stop there, for the gentleman in question (Mr. Stonor) must needs also come before the Committee as a counsel—so that he (Mr. Divett) never in his life saw a clearer case of agency, which rendered it utterly impossible for the Commit- tee to come to any other conclusion than what they did. It was his firm conviction, though he stated it with pain, that a more discreditable figure was never made than that made by Mr. Stonor on that occasion, and he must also say that a more discreditable appointment was never made.


said, that the hon. Member (Mr. Moore) had stated that he had requested him not to state to the House what he knew of this business. What he (Mr. Bowyer) did say was this. There was a discussion on this subject, and as it appeared to him there was a disposition in some quarters to bear very hard on Mr. Stoner, an old and valued friend of his, he very naturally said, "Don't attack Mr. Stoner." He believed that in doing so he did what any hon. Gentleman would have done, and that he was right, as a friend of Mr. Stonor's, to make the best case for him. As to the merits of the case, it was a remarkable circumstance that the letter on which Mr. Stonor was found guilty did not appear on the minutes of the Committee, was not a portion of the record, and, in point of fact, was not before the Committee. There was an old account standing against Mr. Towneley; Mr. Towneley's agent was Mr. Stoner; and Mr. Stoner was applied to to use his influence with Mr. Towneley to get the money paid. Mr. Stoner did not say, "If your friend will abstain from voting, Mr. Towneley will pay him the money." Mr. Stonor merely said that be could not bring the case before Mr. Towneley then, but that after the election he would see what he could do, and the letter was not written to the voter but to a third party who had no authority whatever to show or communicate the letter to the voter. But was it to be said that because a man was convicted irregularly, informally, and on evidence not on the record, he was not ever to be employed by the Crown during the remainder of his life? He thought this was carrying the authority of Committees of this House a great deal too far. Mr. Stoner was eminently fitted for this office, and he had been appointed to it from his fitness. Such a conviction as that standing against him ought not to disentitle any man to the just rewards of ability and professional eminence.


said, that as a Member of the Committee referred to, he must beg to remind the House that on a former occasion he had taken the opportunity of stating that he had come to a conclusion precisely similar to that formed by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Divett), and which he had made known again that night. Under circumstances of the greatest difficulty, and in a most painful inquiry, that hon. Gentleman, acting as their Chairman, had given his most careful attention to the conduct of business. He must protest against the fairness of the conclusion drawn by the hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies, that because only the two hon. Members for Ashton-under-Lyne and West Surrey got up and spoke on the question, those silent necessarily concurred in their opinions. He considered that it was unworthy of the hon. Gentleman to have said so.


said, he trusted that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies had not finally announced to the House the intention of Her Majesty's Government. It was impossible the case could rest here. The question now was, not respecting the simple appointment of a Puisne Judge in the Colony of Victoria, but whether the House was sincere or not in its constant professions that it would endeavour to do away with bribery and corruption? He put it to the common sense of any Member, what would be thought of them all, and thought rightly too, if they, Session after Session, made announcements of their determination to put an end to corrupt practices, when it was announced in the journals that the Government meant to maintain in his place a Puisne Judge who had been by a Committee of that House convicted of bribery? He did trust that the hon. Gentleman had spoken somewhat hastily for himself and the noble Duke at the head of his department when he announced such to be their intention. What sort of reasoning was it to tell them that because hon. Members did not speak on the matter they concurred in what the other Gentlemen who formed the Committee had said. No one doubted the truth of the accusation against Mr. Stoner, not even the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer), who had most injudiciously stated the case of his friend. Not only, in his opinion, had he admitted it, but shown that Mr. Stonor was knowingly guilty of corrupt conduct, because he said, "I can't now mention the matter to Mr. Towneley, but if you do what I ask you I will see what can be done after the election." He knew perfectly well the peril of what he was about, and had recourse to the usual sub- terfuge of persons engaged in such practices. He for one, as a Member of the House of Commons, most earnestly hoped that the Government did not mean to persist in this course, and if they did he trusted some Member would give the House an opportunity of expressing their opinion of such conduct.


, in explanation, said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down stated that he had admitted the guilt of Mr. Stonor. He did not do so; he stated the case to the House as it was. The hon. Gentleman said that he had stated that the letter promised a sum of money if a voter would do or not do something. He did not say so; he said, that the letter to a friend of the voter stated that after all was over he (Mr. Stonor) would do what he could for him.


said, he wished to refer the House to what occurred on the adjourned debate on the Sligo writ last year. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) said that the character of Mr. Stonor had been hardly dealt with, and that there was no evidence against him except a letter which had not been printed. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Evelyn), one of the Members of the Committee, said there was nothing to inculpate Mr. Stonor. He (Mr. Scully) stated that he had read every syllable of the evidence, and that there was not a particle to maintain the finding of the Committee. The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Hindley), also a Member of the Committee, said that great injustice had been done Mr. Stonor—that he entirely acquitted Mr. Stonor of any improper conduct. If there really did exist any charge against Mr. Stonor, it ought to have been preferred at that time by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. G. H. Moore), who was present during the discussion.

Subject dropped.