HC Deb 28 July 1857 vol 147 cc608-14

COLONEL FRENCH rose, pursuant to notice, to move that a new writ be issued for the election of a burgess to serve for the county of the town of Galway, in the room of Anthony Flaherty, Esq., whose election had been declared void. In obedience to the decision of the Speaker, he had not placed his notice where, according to ancient usage, he thought that he was entitled to place it; but the Speaker having decided that where notice was given it could only come on in its turn, he had placed his notice accordingly. He trusted that between this and the re-assembling of Parliament the Speaker would reconsider this decision, because, if the constitution of that House was not a matter of privilege, he did not see what could be considered as coming within that description. When he first brought the matter before the House he did not anticipate any opposition to his Motion. The Committee by which the petition respecting the Galway election was tried made no report as to the necessity of withholding the writ, nor did any member of it give notice of his intention to move that it should be suspended; on the contrary, his notice was upon the paper four days before the Chairman of the Committee moved that the evidence should be laid before the House. The evidence had now been printed, and had been for a considerable time in the hands of hon. Members. He had read it attentively, and it appeared to him that it furnished no grounds for the Resolution of which the hon. Gentleman the late Chairman of the Galway Election Committee (Mr. G. Clive) had given notice. He had always doubted whether that House had a constitutional power to suspend writs and keep constituencies unrepresented, and certainly if it had such a power, it was one which ought to be exercised with the greatest caution and only in extreme cases. That Parliament was extremely anxious that the number of its Members should always be maintained was shown by the fact that power was given to the Speaker, under certain regulations, to issue his writ for filling up vacancies which occurred when that House was not sitting. Although at present such a case was not likely to occur, it was possible that this power of suspending writs might be used both for political and party purposes. In such cases as those which used formerly to occur, in which a Ministry was turned out or kept in by a single vote, it might be of the greatest importance to keep a seat vacant. No Committee could have discharged its duties more ably or more impartially than that appointed in the Galway case, nor did he think that any one could question its decision. The Report, which was before the House, stated that certain electors had been bribed, and the evidence showed that seven persons received 40s. each, out of which one of them expended 38s. The whole expenditure of the successful candidate was but £370, so that the bribery could not have been very extensive. The Report stated that the evidence appeared to establish the fact that systematic bribery of certain classes of the electors had prevailed at the last and former election. That systematic bribery prevailed at the last election no one who had read the evidence could doubt; it did not appear to have been extensive, but it was perfectly systematic. A ticket was given to the voter signed by the agent of the late sitting Member. This ticket he took to a medical gentleman, holding a Government situation, who put his seal to it. It was then taken by the voter to a house, where the maidservant told him to go to a particular window, on putting his hand through a broken pane of which he received the money. There was no doubt that this was very systematic, but it was so clumsily done he thought it doubtful whether those concerned in it had had any experience at former elections. The question, however, now before the House was, not whether seven persons received money for their votes, but whether a town of between 30,000 and 40,000 inhabitants should be deprived of its representation, because certain parties, perfectly well known, and amenable to punishment under the existing law, had offended. A number of election cases had been tried relating to England and Scotland. In some bribery had been proved, but in not a single instance had it been proposed to suspend the writ. Was there to be one law for England and Scotland and another for Ireland? He had no desire to shield any of the parties who had been convicted of receiving bribes. Let them all be proceeded against; but he trusted the House would not, by suspending the writ, punish the innocent. He had a technical objection to the Resolution of the Committee, and the course proposed to be taken upon it. That Resolution ought to have been expressed in the words of the Corrupt Practices Act; but, instead of stating that corrupt practices "extensively" prevailed at the late and former elections for Galway, it merely declared that the evidence given before the Committee "appeared" to establish the fact that systematic bribery of certain classes existed at the late and former elections. He had no desire to screen individuals, and he trusted that Government would take proceedings against the parties who had been guilty of bribery; but for the reason he had stated, he hoped the House would not consider it necessary to delay the writ any longer.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland to make out a new writ for the electing of a Burgess to serve in this present parliament for the Town and County of the Town of Galway, in the room of Anthony O'Flaherty, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void.


said, that he rose with great regret and pain to perform the very disagreeable duty of moving an Amendment—a duty which was cast upon him as Chairman of the late Committee—an Amendment that an Address be presented to Her Majesty for an inquiry into the existence of corrupt practices at the last and former elections for Galway. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had ranged his remarks under two heads, one relating to the evidence given before the Committee and the other to certain points of form. With the permission of the House he would refer to the latter first. The Report of the Committee, it seemed, was not in conformity with the Corrupt Practices Act, because it commenced with the words, "The evidence appears to establish the fact that systematic bribery of certain classes of electors has prevailed at the last and former elections," and did not state that corrupt practices had "extensively" prevailed at the last and former elections for Galway. Now, as he had but recently become a Member of the House, and had not considered it necessary to read the whole of Hansard, he was not aware at the time the Galway Committee sat that in a debate which took place some years ago on the Canterbury case, the noble Lord the Member for London and the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had expressed their opinion that the Reports of Election Committees should follow the words of the Act of Parliament. But he had since become acquainted with that fact, and if he should ever again have the honour of acting as Chairman of an Election Committee, he would take care to advise his colleagues to adopt the words of the Act, although he apprehended that the effect of that rule would be to hamper Committees in coming to a decision. The hon. and gallant Gentleman objected to the words "it appears" as not being equivalent to those contained in the Act. All he could say in reply to that objection was, that the thing which "appeared" to him to exist actually did exist. He had no means of acquiring a knowledge of facts except through the medium of his senses. "It appeared" to him that the Speaker was in his chair at the present moment, and in the same way "it appeared" to the Galway Committee that there was systematic bribery at the last and former elections. So much with respect to the question of form. He now came to the other and more important point relating to the evidence, and here he must say that the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman had greatly surprised him. In the Cambridge, Maldon, and other cases there were fewer persons proved to have been bribed than in the Galway case; but it was not entirely the fact that a certain number of persons had been bribed which induced the Committee to recommend the suspension of the writ and the institution of an inquiry. That fact was only one among many others which indicated that an extensive system of corruption prevailed at the last and former elections. The evidence given before the Committee related to three different classes of persons. The first were those who received tickets for the poll, who got them sealed by a certain gentleman, and who then went to a house where they were paid a sum of money through a hole in the wall, after the old fashion so familiar to the House. The second class consisted of a considerable number of tenants, rather of the better sort, who were bribed with half-notes, receiving one half before and the other half after the election. Some voters, belonging to the same class, refused to accept the half-notes, not from any indisposition to be bribed, but simply because they were afraid they would not get the other halves after the poll. The third class was the most important of all, for it indicated that a considerable number of tradesmen were in the habit of receiving money for voting in a body. Among the cases was that of twenty-three persons, all butchers, and many of them related to each other, who were proved by one witness to have offered their votes at £10 a head, a sum which was considered by one of themselves to be too much, and that £5 would have been a fairer amount. It was upon those facts that the Committee had arrived at the decision that the last election for Galway was void. He (Mr. Clive) had no desire that the House should adopt his views, except so far as they were justified by the evidence. He was performing a disagreeable duty in moving the suspension of the writ, but he did so with the object of bringing the whole facts under the cognizance of the House, and leaving it to them to determine the course that should be adopted. He begged to move an Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that an inquiry be made into the existence of corrupt practices during the last as well as former Elections for the Town and County of the Town of Galway," instead thereof.


observed, that the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon (Colonel French) had asked him to decide whether the Committee had followed the terms of the Act of Parliament before recommending the issue of a Commission. It appeared to him that if the Committee had not followed the exact words of the Act they had at least complied substantially with its spirit. The Committee reported seven distinct cases of bribery committed under circumstances which indicated the existence of a system of bribery at elections. They also reported instances of abortive attempts at bribery, and finally they reported that the evidence before them appeared to establish the fact that the systematic bribery of certain classes of electors had prevailed at the last and former elections. The hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon objected that the Committee had not followed the words of the Corrupt Practices Act; but, if the exact words had not been used, at least the idea intended by those words was conveyed. Therefore, he (Mr. FitzGerald) could not avoid advising the House that there had been a substantial compliance with the terms of the Act. If that were so, there was a foundation for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive). Without entering into details, he would only further say that as the Chairman of the Committee, upon his own responsibility, moved the Amendment, it would only be in accordance with the practice of the House to adopt that Amendment. In so doing, and by the issue of a Commission, little injury would be done to the constituency of Galway, for the Commission would be able to conclude their labours and to report before the next Session of Parliament; while if the writ were now issued, the new representative of Galway would not be able to present himself until within a few days of the termination of the present Session.


, as one of the Galway Election Committee, reminded the House that there had been a precedent for the terms of their Report and their consequent action in the Canterbury case. The Committee had been guided by motives of the utmost impartiality, and with the evidence before them, they could come to no other decision than that they had.


said, he understood among the persons mentioned as having assisted in the practices which had been referred to was a Professor Brown. If that gentleman was a professor of the Queen's College of Galway, he (Mr. Whiteside) wished to know whether such a person was to be retained to instruct the youth of Ireland in corrupt practices.


replied, that that would be one of the circumstances into which the Commission would have to inquire.


deprecated the issuing of any Commission, and he referred to the case of Hull, which had required some tons of paper in printing the evidence, and now no one heard of it. There was Canterbury again, when the only result was to prove that bribery had existed in that borough for ages. He could not connsent to incur the expense of a Commission.


said, he Supposed that the object in suspending the writ was to give the House the opportunity of considering the evidence, but the petty details of the Galway election would be entirely lost sight of when the great reform bill with which they were promised came before the House. They proposed to punish this borough of Galway, respecting which evidence had been laid before them, but what would they do with those numerous boroughs from which the evidence of bribery had been withheld in consequence of the corrupt and improper arrangements entered into? The hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) had brought in a Bill to put an end to the system of withdrawing election petitions without the consent, of the House, but he had been met by all the opposition the Government could give. This showed they were not in earnest in their attempts to put down bribery, and the public would not fail to see the different line of conduct pursued towards Galway and those boroughs which had escaped through the withdrawal of the petitions.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived:—Words added:—Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that an inquiry be made into the existence of corrupt practices during the last as well as former Elections for the Town and County of the Town of Galway.

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