HC Deb 06 June 1856 vol 142 cc1091-5

said, it was with great regret and considerable reluctance that he begged to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Sligo Election Committee. An address had been put forth by a former member of that House (Mr. Somers), in which his (Mr. T. Buncombe's) name was mentioned, in consequence of his having undertaken to present a, petition from Mr. Somers, complaining of the appointment of the hon. and learned Member for Weymouth (Mr. G. Butt) as Chairman of the Sligo Election Committee. It appeared that Mr. Somers had written a letter to the hon. and learned Member for Weymouth, asking him to withdraw from that Chairmanship, because of a dispute which occurred between them some years ago. Mr. Somers having received no answer to that letter forthwith prepared a petition to the House, stating the circumstances, and praying the House to appoint another Chairman, as he could not expect impartial justice if the hon. and learned Gentleman was appointed Chairman of that Committee. In his address to the electors of Sligo, which had been published in the Irish papers, Mr. Somers said— He intrusted the presentation of the petition to his old friend, Mr. Duncombe, who informed Mr. Butt of his having received such a petition. Mr. Duncombe, after conversation with Mr. Butt, came out and gave a strong assurance that the quarrel would not influence Mr. Butt to the disadvantage or prejudice of his (Mr. Somers') case. Mr. Duncombe advised him against the presentation of the petition, and he was induced to withdraw it, relying on the adherence of Mr. Butt to his promise to act fairly and impartially. Now, all that, he could state to the House, was perfectly true. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. G. Butt) did convince him that he had no prejudice against the petitioner, Mr. Somers, and he did say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the best thing he could do with Mr. Somers's letter, which he told Mr. Somers was an improper letter, was to put it into the fire, and he should advise Mr. Somers to put the petition in his pocket. Thus the matter ended. Well, the Committee met, sat, he believed only one day, and reported that Mr. Wynne was duly elected; that the petition of Mr. Somers was frivolous and vexatious; and that Edward Killoran and James Ward had been guilty of wilful and corrupt perjury. The evidence which gave rise to the latter conclusion was this:— Killoran swore that he met Mr. Wynne and told him he was an elector and wanted some money; that Mr. Wynne appointed to meet him the next day; that Mr. Wynne did meet him that he, Killoran said, he was extremely poor and wanted money; and that Mr. Wynne gave him a £1 note of the Bank of Ireland in the street in the presence of many persons, one of whom was James Ward. Ward, in the course of his examination stated, that he saw Mr. Wynne give the £1 note to Killoran, and he further corroborated Killoran's evidence. Nothing had been done to shake the testimony of these two witnesses, and their character had not been impugned. They were, it is true, poor men, but such bribes would only be likely to be offered to poor men. The next witness called was the sitting Member for Sligo, whose seat was in jeopardy. He said, in reply to the questions of counsel, that he had heard the evidence given by Ward and Killoran, and that there was not one single word of truth in it from beginning to the end. Now, the only object he (Mr. Duncombe) had in view was, to see that justice had been done between all parties, whatever might be their condition in life. He would, therefore, ask, in the first place, the hon. and learned Member for Weymouth (Mr. G. Butt), whether he meant to carry out the opinion of the Committee, by moving that the accused parties should be indicted for perjury. If, however, such was not his intention, then he would ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether it was the determination of Her Majesty's Government to direct the Attorney General for Ireland to proceed to the prosecution of the parties. It was clear that perjury had been committed somewhere, and a serious imputation rested upon the hon. Gentleman who formerly represented Sligo until the matter was cleared up; because, if these two men were guilty of perjury, the imputation and the natural inference was, that Mr. Somers had been guilty of subornation of perjury. Now, Mr. Somers indignantly denied that imputation and was determined, if possible, to have the case fully investigated. It could not be overlooked certainly as an unfavourable feature in his case, that Mr. Somers had given board and lodging to these two witnesses. His answer was, that Mr. Wynne's agent had offered £20 to Killoran to keep out of the way. Other parties likewise would prove that they had seen Killoran receive the £1 note. Ought such a question to remain where it was, and ought the evidence of one man who had a seat in that House to overturn the evidence of two men whose character was not impeached? It was attempted to be proved that Ward had once been brought up for drunkenness. He said it was true he had been brought up once, but that it was for making a noise in the streets. Be that as it might, if every Irishman, or Englishman who was not a member of the Temperance Society was not to give evidence before Election Committees there would be an end to their functions. He was authorised to say, that if it were not intended by the Committee or the Government to prosecute those parties for perjury, it was the intention of Mr. Somers to indict the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Wynne) for perjury. [Laughter.] It might be a laughing matter to hon. Members opposite, but it would be considered no laughing matter in the eyes of the public that these parties should go to their homes under the stigma of perjury, when it was the opinion of those who knew them best that they had spoken the truth. He now wished to ask the hon. and learned Member who was Chairman of the Sligo Election Committee, or the First Lord of the Treasury, whether it was intended to move that Edward Killoran and James Ward be indicted for perjury in conformity with the Report, of that Committee?


said, it was not his intention, to occupy the time of the House with any vindication of the course pursued by the Committee. Having been unwillingly appointed Chairman of the Committee, a fact was brought to his remembrance that about sixteen years ago he happened to be engaged as counsel in an arbitration case against the Gentleman who was petitioning against the return for Sligo. There was certainly something very offensive in the letter reminding him of the circumstance, and he therefore doubted whether he ought not to take public notice of it. However, upon the whole he came to the conclusion that it was better to let the letter lie by in his desk. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) spoke to him upon the subject, when he (Mr. Butt) assured him, that he had quite forgotten the fact to which the letter referred, while, at the same time, he sincerely wished to avoid being Chairman of the Committee. The result was, however, that he had no alternative but to be Chairman. As respected the communication which he had received, it was agreed that he should throw it in the fire. He might now state that the Members of the Committee were perfectly unanimous, except as regarded one or two minor points. He might also, perhaps, be allowed to remind the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duncombe), as a point of general importance, that, by the Act of Parliament, according to which Election Committees were constituted, all matters were consigned to them in a judicial capacity, and, therefore, that the House was not a Court of Appeal from the decision of a Committee. He mentioned that as the reason why he did not enter into the discussion of the evidence taken before the Committee. In answer to the question put to him by the hon. Member, he begged to say that the Report of the Committee was before the House, and that it did not direct that he, as Chairman, should move the House to order that the Attorney General for Ireland should be called upon to prosecute the parties implicated for perjury. The Committee was now at an end, and he had no authority whatever to represent them as an individual. Therefore, he did not intend to make the Motion referred to by the hon. Gentleman. At the same it was, of course, still open to the Government to direct a prosecution if they should think fit. In any event he hoped that no denial of justice would be occasioned by any course which the Committee might have thought proper to adopt.


said, that as a Member of the Sligo Election Committee, he wished to state that it was impossible for a Committee to have been more unanimous than the Sligo Election Committee had been. As there had been some attempt to cast an imputation upon the conduct of their Chairman, he felt bound to declare that the imputation was most unfounded, for nothing could be fairer than the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman throughout the whole of the investigation. When an appeal was made to him by the junior counsel for the petitioner, for indulgence, on the ground of the absence of his leader, as well as from his own inexperience in conducting a case of the kind, the Chairman freely granted that indulgence, and stated that every opportunity should be offered to him to substantiate the petitioner's case. Election Committees seemed to him every day to be becoming more and more worthy of public confidence; but those tribunals, it could not be concealed, would not long retain that character if imputations like the present were unwarrantably cast upon their Chairmen.


said, he hoped the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), or the Attorney General for Ireland, would state whether it was the intention of the Government to direct a prosecution against the two witnesses.


said, the House would observe that the Committee had not adverted to the two witnesses as being guilty of perjury. Their language was that there was strong ground for believing that they had been guilty of perjury; and it must also be recollected that the Chairman had announced that the Committee had declined to recommend the Attorney General to prosecute. He was therefore bound to assume that the Committee had good reasons for so declining. If a direction had been given he should have put the law in force without fear or favour. He had read the Report and the evidence, and there evidently was a technical difficulty in the way of instituting a prosecution. The law required that there should be two witnesses to establish the fact of perjury, or that there should be one witness with corroborative evidence of the facts. He had examined the evidence, and he could not find, if a prosecution was instituted, that these two witnesses could give evidence of the perjury. He then looked to see whether there were any corroborative circumstances to depend upon. He found that though Killoran stated that the one pound note was given, he named only one person as being present at the time, and that person was Ward, who was equally charged by the Committee with perjury. Under those circumstances, the Government did not think it right to apply to the House for an order to prosecute the parties, nor could he on his own responsibility recommend a prosecution.

Subject dropped.