HC Deb 29 June 1858 vol 151 cc592-603

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, he felt compelled to move that the Chairman do leave the Chair. He considered that if the Bill passed, the House would either commit a manifest injustice or involve itself in hopeless confusion. All the freemen of Galway who had been proved before the Commission guilty of bribery, had received the promise of indemnity under the Act, with the exception of seven. It was true that the House had not on former occasions shrunk from disfranchising voters who had obtained the same promise of indemnity when they formed some small minority among a whole class who were to be struck off the lists of electors. But he believed if the present measure should receive the sanction of Parliament, that would be the first instance in which the parties to whom the indemnity had been given formed nearly the whole of the body who were to be punished by the loss of the franchise. It should be remembered that the franchise of the Galway freemen was one of an essentially popular character; it was given without any reference to sectarian considerations, and it had existed from the earliest times. They were asked to do away with this franchise, while they passed by persons in a higher rank of life who were really responsible for what had taken place, and allowed the noble Lord who was elected by means of these corrupt votes to retain his seat in the House. Were they to disfranchise poor freemen, and allow to escape those rich persons who were not convicted by the Commission, but who openly avowed that they had been a party to these corrupt practices? If the Bill went on, they must be prepared not only to punish the poor, who perhaps accepted bribes under the influence of want, but to deal with the other parties who, without any such excuse, offered and gave the bribes. It appeared from the Report of the Commission that the real mischief lay in the mode in which persons were admitted to the body of freemen, there being no substantial check to the admission of any parties who desired to possess the franchise. Believing that it was utterly impossible, by any amendment, to make the Bill consistent with justice, it was his intention to take the opinion of the Committee upon his Motion.


, in opposing the Motion, said that although a late period of the Session had arrived, he felt he had still a duty to perform in regard to the Bill. He thought it was due to the House and the country that they should take some notice of the Report of the Committee, which disclosed such a state of manifest bribery and hopeless corruption, and he believed that by refusing their assent to the Bill they would be acting in a manner injurious to their own character and inconsistent with their own former decisions. Under the circumstances, he felt bound, as Chairman of the Committee, to press the Bill forward.


said, he was prepared to support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. Butt), because he believed that the House could not satisfactorily discuss in the course of the present Session the various questions involved in the measure. The Bill proposed to disfranchise only the freemen of the borough; but it was clearly unjust to deal with those who had received bribes without touching those who had offered the bribes, and that was a kind of measure to which he (Mr. Walpole) would never be a party. His hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland had very properly introduced an Amendment to include those in the penalty of disfranchisement who had offered as well as those who had received the bribes. That Amendment would lead to a long discussion, and after that was settled they would have to debate the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. Serjeant Deasy), which would also lead to a long discussion. That Amendment raised the question, whether freemen who had criminated themselves on the faith of a certifi- cate that they should not be subjected to legal disabilities should be disfranchised. His own view of legal disabilities was, that they were disabilities imposed by a court of justice in course of law; still, if these voters had given their evidence on the understanding that they were not to be disturbed in any way in the possession of their privileges, it would be proper to consider how far they should be keeping faith with those persons if they passed this Bill. He believed that they could hardly get through the discussions upon these various subjects in the course of that day. If they did, there would be another long debate upon the third reading, and he doubted whether it would be possible to carry the Bill through the House of Lords in the course of the present Session. Under these circumstances, he should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal, on the ground that at this period of the Session they could not proceed advantageously with the measure; and if the Committee should determine to go on with the Bill, he should support the Amendment of his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland.


said, he regretted to hear that it was the intention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal. Here was bribery of the grossest character proved to have taken place, and the House was to do nothing. He cared not whether the Bill should be carried in its entirety, or whether the Amendment of the Attorney General should be sanctioned; but, unless one or other were agreed to, he contended that they would be treating the subject with levity, and upon the Government he should charge the responsibility. Out of 540 freemen, 250 by name were proved to have received bribes, and fifty others, whose names could not be given, were also proved to have been guilty of the same offence. In addition to this there were thirty-eight more such freemen proved to have received bribes in 1852; and it had been established incontrovertibly before the Committee that, with few exceptions, corruption reigned universally throughout the whole body of the freemen. Those were the men whom the Bill very properly proposed to disfranchise. The case, as proved in Galway, was infinitely worse than those of Great Yarmouth, of Sudbury, or of St. Albans, and yet the House had disfranchised the freemen of those boroughs without remorse. The Bill had been introduced in February. On every occasion the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive), had done his best to keep it upon the paper, and it was not his fault that it was only in Committee at the end of June. If, under the circumstances, the Bill were now to be abandoned, the public would look upon the proceedings of Election Committees and Royal Commissions as sheer humbug.


said, that if the Bill had only struck at the guilty, there might have been something to say for it, but being a measure for disfranchising the entire freemen of a borough, innocent as well as guilty, for the offences of some members of their body, it was of serious import during the present Session, when every private member was giving his own horse a canter previous to the great Reform sweepstake of next year. It might he construed into a precedent for the treatment of freemen in general under the Reform Bill. No doubt, in former times, freemen had often been venal; but in the general improvement of electioneering morality which has, without doubt, characterized these late years, that class of voters had shared in that general improvement, and it would be the height of injustice to pass a retrospective measure to disfranchise the freemen of our boroughs merely because their ancestors had been susceptible of the gentle violence of the purse. The measure was at the present time particularly unjust, when it was clear that the suffrage would have to be enlarged, and yet it was proposed to abolish a form of suffrage which was peculiarly liberal, if not democratic, being one which was acquired irrespective of property, and by apprenticeship and honest industry. It might be that at Galway the freedom was too easily acquired; but when obtained under these conditions it ought to be maintained, and he should therefore support the Motion.


said, he could not admit that there had been any wonderful anxiety evinced by the hon. Member for Hereford to get this Bill passed; because, although he had kept it on the paper on occasions when it was impossible to proceed with it, he had allowed many Wednesdays to pass when progress might have been made. But, irrespectively of that, the Bill was a most unfortunate attempt to do justice. It appeared that a noble Lord in "another place" had, contrary to the Standing Orders of that House, interfered in the election for Galway, and had placed his purse at the disposal of certain persons in order to secure the election of his son. Bribery was rampant throughout the whole affair. Of course it was gratifying to the House to know that the noble Lord who had been returned for the borough was innocent of the transaction. He was not present even at the election; but the matter was simply a money arrangement between his Lordship's noble father and the electors of Galway. One would have thought, if it were desired to do justice, that the agents who had acted in this transaction would have been sought out, and that the first blow would have been aimed at those parties, and not at those who were the least guilty. Such, then, being the state of the case, he did not think the House would be justified in delaying other useful and more pressing legislation in order to grapple with the difficulties and inconsistencies of this Bill. Besides, there was an all-important reason why they should drop this exceptional Bill. Next Session the whole question of Parliamentary Reform would have to be debated and disposed of, and this case of the Galway freemen might be well left to be dealt with in that general measure. For these reasons he should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal.


said, he thought that the House was precluded by its own enactments from proceeding with this measure. He need scarcely say that he had no sympathy with what had taken place in Galway, and if a measure could be introduced to deal properly with all the parties concerned he would support it; but it appeared to him that Parliament could not, without a violation of faith, punish by disfranchisement the voters who had been induced to reveal the corrupt practices in which they had been engaged by a promise that they should incur no penalty in consequence of those revelations. He could not, therefore, adopt, as he should otherwise be disposed to do, that proposal for marking with the reprobation of that House the corruption which had taken place at the late Galway elections. He would only further add that he believed the discussion, however, had not been without its advantage, as the whole course of the proceedings in that case formed a very pretty commentary on the proposal to adopt the ballot at Parliamentary elections, because, if that form of voting had been in force, no one would ever have heard anything of the corrupt practices of the freemen of Galway.


said, he hoped that in future these Bills, arising out of the inquiries of Royal Commissioners, would be taken up by the Government, as there was little chance of their ever getting through in the hands of a private Member. He was prepared to support the Bill in its integrity, and should certainly vote against reporting progress.


said, he thought that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) was entitled to the thanks of the Committee and the country in pressing forward the Bill. If they went to a division he should vote against the Motion.


observed, that since the Report of the Commission upwards of 100 men had been added to the list of freemen of the borough of Galway, who were as untainted with bribery as any hon. Member of that House, and what justice would there be, he asked, in punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty? If these freemen were to be punished, surely the rich who had tempted their poverty, corrupted their virtue, used them for their political purposes, and now wished to despoil them, should not go unpunished.


said, that if the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General were worth anything, St. Albans ought never to have been disfranchised; for the same observations applied to both. He hoped the Bill would not be thrown over in the manner proposed.


said, that he rose for only a moment to ask the House, which ought to regard the question before it from a strictly judicial point of view, whether they were really aware of the grave imputation to which they seemed inclined to subject themselves—that of a gross and deliberate breach of legislative faith. The House was asked to disfranchise at a stroke, with no reservation or limitation whatever, every existing freeman of the county of the Town of Galway, on the ground that gross systematic and extensive bribery prevailed among them at the last two elections. How was that fact ascertained, but by means of a number of those very freemen themselves? And how did they happen to come forward and give evidence so damnatory of themselves? Because they relied implicitly on a Parliamentary guarantee of as solemn and explicit a character as could be conveyed by words. The ninth section of the Act, on the provisions of which they relied, enacted that every person engaged in the corrupt practices specified, giving evidence touching such corrupt practice, and making a true discovery to the best of his knowledge, and receiving a certificate, under the tenth section, of his having done so, should be freed (he quoted the very words of the Act) "from all penal actions, forfeitures, punishments, disabilities, and incapacities, and all criminal prosecutions in respect of anything done by him in respect of such corrupt practice." It seemed almost insulting the common sense of the House to ask what it understood by the words "disabilities" and "incapacities" there used. What was a disability, if being disabled from voting were not one? What was an incapacity, if being incapacitated from securing that greatest of rights and privileges, the elective franchise, was not one? The two words must be blotted out of the Act, or Parliament, by disregarding them, would commit an act of most outrageous injustice and violation of public faith; yet this was what the House was asked to do.


said, he should support the Bill on account of the great extent of the corruption which was proved to have taken place at the recent Galway election.


could not bring himself to think it was a proper course to induce men to surrender by a promise of individual indemnity, and then massacre them en masse. With respect to the onslaught on the ballot which had been made by the hon. Member for West Norfolk, he would observe that had the ballot existed in Galway, not only would these corrupt practices never have been found out, but they would never have been at all, for men were not given to pay money unless they had the means of knowing they got their money's worth.


said, he thought it very unfortunate that it should go forth to the public that the Conservative Government were willing to throw the shield of their protection over these corrupt practices, and that, he believed, would be the impression conveyed by their opposition to this Bill. The object of the Motion was to defeat the Bill altogether, and he, for one, could not support it.


said he should support the Motion, as affording the only means of escape from the inextricable difficulties in which they would be involved if they attempted to proceed further with the Bill.


said, he believed that the addition of the new freemen to the list in Galway was an ingenious attempt to induce the House to throw the Bill over, on the ground that there was a great infusion of fresh blood into the body.


replied, and asked whether the House would be prepared, after cutting off half the constituency of Galway, to determine that henceforward the borough should only return one member instead of two.

Motion made, and Question put,—"That the Chairman do now leave the chair."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 90; Noes 107: Majority 17.

Clause 1, That from and after the passing of this Act no freeman of the said county of the town of Galway shall be entitled to vote as such in any election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for the said county of the town of Galway.


said, he should propose, as an Amendment, to leave out the words "no freeman of the," and to insert "the voters who have been proved before the said Commissioners to have given or taken bribes in the last and previous election for the." The object of the Amendment was to take care that they should not involve the innocent and guilty in one common sacrifice, and that they should punish the bribers as well as the bribed.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 6, to leave out "no freeman of the," and to insert "the voters who have been proved before the said Commissioners to have given or taken bribes in the last and previous Election for the."


said, that in 1854 both the right hon. Members the Attorney General for Ireland and the Home Secretary had expressed an opinion in reference to the freemen of Canterbury directly the reverse of the course which they now proposed. On that occasion they said, if the names of voters were mentioned in the Bill it would amount to a Bill of Pains and Penalties, and yet that was the course they now said should be adopted. He (Mr. FitzGerald) contended that the only safe principle on which they could act was to disfranchise the class in which the corruption had always existed. So long as they had any records, these freemen had always supplied the corruption which pre- vailed in Galway. It was the misfortune of all measures like this to punish some innocent parties; but very few innocent people would suffer from the present Bill, because all the respectable inhabitants would qualify themselves as voters for the borough. The object of the Bill was not to punish, but to root out the source of all the corruption in Galway.


said, he saw no objection to introducing the names of the bribed and disfranchised voters in the Bill. Having sat in Parliament before the Reform Act, he remembered that the names of disfranchised voters used to be included in Bills of this nature, and that they were read over previous to the commencement of each election. Such was the practice in the old time, and he thought the same course ought to be followed now.


said, he would ask the Committee if they were prepared to pass a sweeping clause which condemned the innocent as well as the guilty. He had only taken one course throughout with regard to this Bill. He had always said that if they dealt with the matter, they must punish the guilty, not the innocent, and secondly, that they must punish the briber as well as the bribed. The present Bill violated both these principles, as it included both the innocent and the guilty, and disfranchised the former while they well knew that they were entirely innocent. He, therefore, could never consent to such a Bill, which he believed to be totally wrong on every ground of morals, policy, and right legislation. As however the Amendment would go far to remedy those defects he should support it.


said, it did not follow that because a portion of the freemen were corrupt that the whole should be disfranchised. No doubt, many of the freemen had resisted the temptation of the briber, and it was only fair that they should not be included in the disfranchisement. He should, therefore, support the Amendment.


said, the Bill had been discussed too much as one of Pains and Penalties instead of as a measure tending to greater good in the State, and also to the benefit of the freemen themselves. Corruption was so inherent in the body of Galway freemen that it was not desirable for the public good that they should any longer send Members to Parliament, and he should therefore give his support to the Bill.


said, that as the summer advanced, and the heat of the weather increased, the virtuous ardour of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ennis (Mr. FitzGerald) became more intense; but his ardour was all one-sided, for he wished to commit the injustice of punishing the poor freemen while he allowed the great criminals to go scatheless. Where, he asked, were the magistrates who had given these bribes? Did they not still adorn the bench of Galway? Was not Dr. Brown still in his professorship? It was said that it would be a great advantage to cut off the corrupt class, but the Bill did not do that. The freemen were not the corrupt class; it was the gentry of the district who practised corruption, for their own sinister ends, and therefore if they wanted to strike a blow at corruption in Galway they should attack, not the humble, ragged voters, but those great bribers who committed a crime of far viler turpitude than their wretched tools and victims.


said, he wished to remind the Committee that if the Bill passed without his Amendment its effect would be to deliver over the two seats for Galway to the very men who had been guilty of these acts of corruption, one of whom was a peer of the realm.


said, he must deny that the effect of the Bill would be to make Galway a pocket borough in the hands of the house of Clanricarde, as had been insinuated. The Marquess of Clanricarde had only twenty-three votes in the borough, and if this Bill were passed there would be upwards of 500 electors left. It would be absurd to say that twenty-three votes could exercise any material influence upon such a constituency. With respect to the Bill itself, although he had hitherto refrained from taking any part in the discussion, he must express his opinion that it sanctioned a violation of public faith and a breach of Parliamentary honour.


said, the fact that they could not do full and complete justice by this Bill by punishing the briber was no reason why a class notoriously corrupt should not be disfranchised. At St. Albans there were 200 immaculate voters, and yet the borough was disfranchised. The Corrupt Practices Act did not preclude the House from disfranchising freemen as a class, though it certainly protected individual voters who had given evidence under a certificate of indemnity; but as in this case no names were mentioned there could be no breach of contract in the matter.


said, when leave was asked to bring in this Bill, he was astonished to find that the Motion was seconded by the hon. Member for the county of Galway (Sir Thomas Burke). He naturally inquired what could be the reason of that? And the conclusion at which he arrived was, that the corruption sprang, not from the electors, but from persons of property desirous of returning themselves or their relations to Parliament. Well, then, to be just and equitable, the Bill should have included these wealthy parties who had brought about the demoralization of the borough. The Bill, however, was confined to Galway, and it could not, therefore, be amended so as to include all the bribers. That was why he had advocated its withdrawal at an early period of the discussion, but not being able to secure that, he had no alternative but to support the Amendment now before the Committee, as rendering the Bill less unjust than it otherwise would be.


said, he wished to say one word why he should vote for the Amendment. He could not allow the wealthy to go free while the poor were punished. Nor could he consent to disfranchise the freemen as a class. He would only punish those who were proved to be guilty.


remarked, that he should support the Amendment; but, at the same time, he thought the proper remedy would be found in the establishment of more stringent regulations for the admission of freemen.


urged the Attorney General for Ireland and the Committee to allow his Amendment to be engrafted upon the one under consideration. The object of his Amendment was to prevent the Bill applying to any freeman who had obtained a certificate of indemnity from the Commissioners before whom they gave evidence.


said, he must oppose the Amendment, as he concurred in the principle which had been often expressed by the late Mr. Hume that it was the system that was at fault, for it was the system that corrupted the candidate. He was anxious, therefore, to disfranchise the freemen of Galway as a class, because, as the hon. Member for Dungarvan had truly remarked, they were "a ragged lot," easily open to bribery and undue influence. If the Committee adopted the Amendment, he should wash his hands of the Bill, and leave it at the disposal of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had moved it.


said, the hon. Gentleman appeared to forget that when a ragged army was disbanded, the officers who had corrupted them were also punished for their misconduct. Now, why not follow that rule here, and visit the briber with the same punishment as the poor and less offending freemen? At all events, he would urge the propriety of postponing the whole matter till next Session. If it should then appear to be necessary to disfranchise all the freemen of Ireland, let them do so, but he protested against their inflicting a palpable injustice in order to serve a party manœuvre.

Question put, "That the words 'no freeman of the,' stand part of the clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 101; Noes 158: Majority 57.

House resumed

Committee report progress; to sit again To-morrow.

Back to