HC Deb 16 March 1858 vol 149 cc246-8

acquainted the House, that he had this day received a letter from Mr. St. P. B. Hook, as agent for John Joseph Scully, esquire, informing him that it is not his intention to proceed with his Petitions, presented on the 7th and 18th days of August last, complaining that general and extensive Bribery prevailed at the last Election for the Borough of Cashel. Letter read as followeth:— 9, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, 16th March, 1858. SIR,—As Agent for John Joseph Scully, Esq., the Petitioner in the matter of the Petitions presented on the 7th and 18th August last, complaining that Bribery, &c. prevailed at the last Election for the Borough of Cashel, I hereby beg to inform you that it is not the intention of the said Petitioner to proceed with the said Petitions. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your very obedt. Servt., ST. P. B. HOOK. To the Right Honourable the Speaker of the House of Commons.


said, there might be some doubt about the course of proceeding to be taken in this ease. Ordinarily, when a petitioner in a common election petition applied to withdraw his petition, the Order given to the Election Committee was discharged. But this was not a petition of that kind; it was a petition complaining of general and extensive bribery, under the Act 5 & 6 Vict. c. 102. It might, therefore, be governed by that Act, or by the provisions of that Act taken in conjunction with the genera! Act. If it were taken under the first named Act, there might be some doubt whether the petition could be withdrawn merely on the application of the petitioner. If taken in conjunction with the provisions of the general Act for regulating proceedings on controverted elections, there were words in that Act of such a general character that it might be held that the Order could be discharged. But he would remind the House that the other evening, on the Motion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring), the matter was referred to the General Committee of Elections to ascertain the facts, and report them to the House. The matter being thus already before the Committee, he thought the safer course would be, not to discharge the Order, but to retain it until the matter came before that House with a more full acquaintance with the facts. He proposed, therefore, to move that the letter should be referred to the General Committee of Elections to inquire into the circumstances connected with the petition of John Joseph Scully, presented on the 18th of August last.

Motion made and Question proposed,— That the said Letter be referred to the General Committee of Elections, to whom it was referred to inquire into the circumstances connected with the Petition of John Joseph Scully, presented on the 18th day of August last.


said, that the question which now arose was simply a question of law. The reference the other night was not to ascertain the circumstances of the case, but as to the proceedings of the presenting of the petition, there being some doubt whether those proceedings were legal. He did not understand that the Committee were to report on the circumstances of the case. In his opinion, the House could as easily determine now to discharge the Order, as after the reference to the General Committee of Elections. The petitioner had taken no step whatever; he came to the House, and said he was unable to proceed with the petition, and they might deal with his recognizances as they thought fit. He therefore thought that, looking to the two Acts which had been referred to, the best course would be to discharge the Order.


said, it was also his impression that the Committee was only ordered to inquire into the steps taken on the presentation of the petition.


said, that the reference made the other evening was for the purpose of ascertaining the facts; but the point now before the House was a legal one, and be did not see what advantage would accrue from referring this to the General Committee of Elections, as they were not the proper authorities to decide a question of law. The better way would be to adjourn the debate to a future day, in order that, in the meantime, the state of the law might be ascertained.


said, he was willing to accede to this suggestion. The debate might be adjourned to a future day. By that time the Committee of Elections would have reported on the facts submitted to them, and time would have been given to look into the law.


recommended that the House should decide this question on Thursday, in order that, if the petition were allowed to be withdrawn, the General Committee of Elections, which could not meet until Friday, might be spared the necessity of uselessly inquiring into the matter which had been referred to it.


said, he saw no reason why the House should depart from its usual custom of allowing a petition to be withdrawn by the person who had presented it. This was the fourth petition which had been presented against the return of the sitting Member for Cashel. To insist upon retaining this petition against the wish of the petitioners would be a kind of persecution against the sitting Member. If such a course was taken, no man would be willing to sit for Cashel. He might as well go to the Marshalsea or the Queen's Bench at once.


said, he thought that the fullest inquiry should take place into the facts of this case. The House should see that petitions were neither lightly introduced nor lightly withdrawn. All these circumstances showed the necessity for some measure like that proposed by the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) for the regulation of Election Petitions.


observed, that he did not understand that the House was then called upon to decide whether the petition should be gone into or not. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had assented to the adjournment of the debate, in order that the facts might be looked into. He thought it would be the wisest course to adopt that suggestion.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday next.

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