HC Deb 16 June 1870 vol 202 cc309-15

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, in 1868 two candidates of opposite politics stood for Sligo, and that Major Knox was returned; but, a Petition having been presented, Judge Keogh decided that the election was void on the ground of corrupt practices of which persons by name were guilty. The Judge reported that several persons not named had been in the habit of applying to Major Knox for money, in consideration of their agreeing to vote for him or refraining to vote for his opponent. The learned Judge said in his judgment— The measure of the corrupt practices of Sligo, I have no hesitation in saying, is full. In every description of corrupt practices, especially in intimidation, it appears to have attained a bad pre-eminence. After that decision a Royal Commission was issued on the 23rd of June, 1869. Having made its inquiries it reported that at the last three elections corrupt practices had extensively prevailed in Sligo, and that the absence of corruption at the election of 1859 was due to the circumstance that one of the candidates had no money and that the other came forward reluctantly. At the election of 1860 three candidates came forward—Mr. M'Donogh, Lieutenant-Colonel Tennison, and Mr. Somers. Lieutenant - Colonel Tennison retired after the day of nomination, and Mr. Somers polled very few votes—so that Mr. M'Donogh was practically returned without opposition; but, notwithstanding this, corrupt practices extensively prevailed. That election cost Mr. M'Donogh £1,350, of which between £800 and £900 was spent in bribery, and after the election about £470 was distributed among about 14 voters. At the election of 1865 extensive bribery was reported to prevail; the names of the persons bribed were to be found in the Schedules to the Report, so far as they were discovered; and so in 1868, though the number of persons bribed appeared to be smaller than at previous elections. This, however, was not owing to the increase of electoral purity in the borough, but to the fact that, for obvious reasons, the usual practice in Sligo was not to pay money until some time after the election, and after the time for petitioning had expired. The Commissioners, indeed, reported that large numbers of persons were expecting money. The Government did not desire to make this a political question or a party one. They had introduced the Bill, because they felt that, if they had not done so, the sending of Commissioners to report on corrupt practices would in the case of Sligo and Cashel have been a mere mockery. With regard to the former borough, it might be urged that if they disfranchised it, the western sea board of Ireland, from Galway to Londonderry, so far as the towns were concerned, would be unrepresented. He was aware of that; but the more important the town the more necessary was it to make an example of that town where the corrupt practices were shown to have widely prevailed among the constituency. In the case of Cashel, it was only necessary for him to particularly refer to two elections—those of 1865 and 1868. In 1865, there were two candidates, Mr. O'Beirne, and Mr. Lanigan. The number of persons who voted was 109, and 32 of them were reported as having been guilty of corrupt practices. The last election held in the borough was in November, 1868, when the candidates were Mr. O'Beirne and Mr. Munster. Mr. O'Beirne was returned, but was unseated on Petition. The Judge reported that corrupt practices extensively prevailed. A Commission was issued, and the Report of the Commissioners was the foundation of these proceedings. The number of persons who voted at this election was 184, and of these 77 were reported as corrupt. The Report stated that the election was conducted in a corrupt manner on the part of both the candidates. In one shape or another—in one or other of the Schedules—fully one-half of the constituency was implicated in the corrupt practices, and the House might come to the conclusion that if the truth could have been fully elicited a considerable percentage of the remaining half would also have been added to the names in the Schedules. Under these circumstances the Government had only one duty to discharge, and that was to ask the House to read the Bill a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Solicitor General for Ireland.)


protested against the course taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman. For the purpose of eon-fusing those listening to him, he jumbled together two matters perfectly distinct and separate from each other—the opinion of a Judge and the Report of a Commission—neither of which sepa- rately would justify the harsh and vindictive course he was directed to pursue in relation to the borough of Sligo. The statement of Mr. Justice Keogh related entirely to the intimidation proved before him to have been carried on at the last election for that town—"That in Sligo the cup of iniquity was full to the brim;" it had no relation to bribery, as but four cases had been brought under his notice. This sentence had been three times quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, whose stock of ammunition was not over abundant. Two of the Commissioners only signed the Report; the name of the Chairman was not attached to it. The conclusion, they arrived at was not borne out by the evidence—they reported as bribed persons those who contradicted on oath the charges against them. They reported one candidate to have declined standing, on being told that a sum of money to pay some voters would be necessary to secure his success. They did not examine this gentleman. He (Colonel French) was assured that this gentleman had left Sligo without making any communication to his committee, who felt certain of returning him—without any bribery—had he remained and gone to the poll. He did not rely on his own opinion as to the insufficiency of the evidence; he had spoken to several barristers ranking very high in their profession, who fully agreed with him. On an average, not 4 per cent of the 530 voters in Sligo were implicated; there was no precedent for the disfranchisement of a borough under such circumstances. In Norwich, where the report of bribery was far more extensive, it was not even thought of. Ireland, which in justice should have a large increase, was to be deprived of two votes by a Parliament professing, in words, a great regard for her interests, but taking the first opportunity of striking her a blow. How was Ireland dealt with in the last Reform Bill? Whilst a reduction of the franchise from £50 to £12 was given to England and Scotland, Ireland was refused a reduction of £4, although the late Sir Robert Peel declared her fully entitled to it. Scotland got seven additional Members. Ireland, since the meeting of the present Parliament, has been kept with three less than her number—two of whom, by this Bill, are proposed to be permanently swept away. By the Acts of 1866 and 1867, England had one representative for every 41,000 of population, Wales one for every 38,000, Scotland one for every 52,000, Ireland one for every 56,000. The English, counties had a Member for every 58,000, the Scotch one for 56,000, the Irish but one for every 78,000. Ireland returned but 64 Members for her 5,000,000 of inhabitants. Had these counties been in England they would return 86 Members. Ten counties in England returned six Members each; 13 English counties, with a population from 150,000 to 300,000, returned four each, while the largest of the Irish counties only sent to Parliament two Members each. He (Colonel French) attempted to remedy this state of affairs. The Liberals had a very large majority brought up to support the addition of seven Members for Scotland, and to keep her nomination counties. Sutherland, with their sanction, continues to send a representative for 300 electors; but, when Ireland required their assistance, no majority was to be had. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated the addition to the character of the Government under which he serves for honesty, impartiality, and firmness this Bill will bring them—the very reverse of this will be the case; they are now looked on with distrust—which they may manage to change to dislike, but no credit could they look for from any section or party in Ireland for their wanton attack on the only stirring trading community in the West of Ireland. Connaught, entitled to a fourth of the representation of Irelard—26 Members—now sends but 13, one of whom they sought to destroy—by numbers they might do so—but their victory would not be one for the Government to plume itself on. He asked leave to move the I Amendment of which he had given Notice.


seconded the Amendment. The Judge who tried the Petition of 1868 examined 80 witnesses, and reported that he had only been enabled to discover 15 electors who had been guilty of taking bribes; but that 40 others might have taken bribes if they had been offered. He thought it was only just to take into consideration the last election of 1868, and that alone, and that it would be unjust to disfranchise those persons who were not actually guilty of corrupt practices. Sligo was as great a borough in Ireland as Norwich was in England, yet the Government had not ventured to disfranchise Norwich. He demanded that the same principle should be applied to Sligo as had been applied to Norwich. They had, in fact, no right to disfranchise Sligo.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "inasmuch as the evidence taken before the Royal Commission establishes the fact that corrupt practices did not extensively prevail at the last Election for Sligo Borough, only 14 voters out of a constituency of 520 having, after a most protracted inquiry, been proved guilty of any such practices, the Report of the Commissioners, so far as regards the last Election, was not justified; and, under these circumstances, the House considers the disfranchisement of the Borough should not take place,"—(Colonel French,") —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that having been at the head of the Commission which reported against Cashel, he did not intend to vote upon the question. Compared with other constituencies, he did not think that Sligo had been proved deeply tainted with corrupt practices, as far as bribery was concerned. He found that, in the case of Norwich, 14 per cent of the constituency had been proved to be guilty of bribery, and the bribers only were punished; in the case of Sligo 13 per cent of the constituency had been found guilty of bribery, and the whole borough was disfranchised. The Solicitor General for Ireland relied on the fact that 60 out of 91 corrupt electors in 1865 remained on the register; but it seemed to him that if these corrupt electors, or, rather, those still in the borough, had mended their ways, the result was rather in favour of lenient treatment of the case.


said, the distinction between the cases of Norwich and Sligo was a very simple one. In the latter case, it was reported by the Commissioners that at the last three elections corrupt practices extensively prevailed; whereas, in the case of Norwich, the Commissioners reported that such practices did not extensively prevail. That distinction was a very material one; and he thought the only course open in the case of Sligo was that of disfranchisement. The present case seemed to him to be entirely governed by former precedents. The hon. Member said that 14 per cent of the Norwich voters were found guilty of bribery; but the real number was 184 in a constituency of 12,000.


thought that the Government were scarcely justified in singling out for condemnation Sligo and Cashel, against which but few Petitions had been presented. He asked the House to consider that in Ireland there were 30 boroughs with a population of less than 70,000, returning 13 Members, and that they were asked to disfranchise a borough which contained 12,000 or 13,000, in which only 14 persons were reported to have been guilty of bribery. He thought the House should pause before disfranchising Sligo and Cashel—leaving Youghal and other boroughs, equally corrupt, unscathed.


said, he would answer several remarks which had been made about the unfortunate borough of Youghal. It was very hard that Youghal should always be picked out for animadversion. No one could show that Youghal was guilty of corruption at previous elections; and even at the last election it was found guilty, not of corrupt practices, but simply of a small trifle of treating. He must protest against the practice of crying down Youghal.


said, that he moved last year for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at Youghal, where £5,000 had been expended in treating. The circumstance of that Commission not being appointed was no reason why Cashel and Sligo should not be dealt with. He believed that all three boroughs were a disgrace to the representation of Ireland; and that the sooner they were disfranchised the better. If a Division was taken he should certainly vote with the Government.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 158; Noes 23: Majority 135.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.