HL Deb 07 July 1870 vol 202 cc1596-602

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


premising that he had no personal connection with the borough, presented a Petition from the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the borough of Sligo against the Bill so far as it sanctioned the disfranchisement of the borough of Sligo, and praying to be heard at the Bar by their counsel, agents, and witnesses, in support of the allegations of their Petition. The case stated by the Petitioners was this—They stated that they deplored the corrupt practices which had prevailed in their borough, but they urged that at the last election only 27 voters were shown to have bribed, 13 of whom were nonresidents; and that though in 1865 the number of corrupt voters was 92, many of these had since died, and others had ceased to reside in the town. They objected to the innocent being punished with the guilty, and they represented that they themselves, and the 427 pure electors, had had no opportunity of a hearing, as the Commissioners, in the event of an application to them, would certainly have ruled that they had no locus standi. They therefore appealed with confidence to the rule of their Lordships' House, that on a Bill of Pains and Penalties, the parties against whom it was directed should be allowed a hearing. This was the ground taken by the late Lord Campbell, and by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, in the case of St. Albans, and, after a debate in which the latter noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) stated that the uniform practice was to hear by counsel Petitioners who presented themselves in a bond fide manner, it was decided that the Petitioners should be heard. This was also done in 1844, in the case of Sudbury. It was true that as regarded Lancaster and Great Yarmouth the Petitioners were not heard; but in those cases the Petitions were presented very late in the Session, when it was necessary that the Representation of the People Bill should be passed with as little delay as possible. Moreover, in those cases no Peer proposed that the Prayer of the Petitioners should be acceded to. Beyond this the present Petitioners contended that the disfranchisement of their borough would be an infringement of the Act of Union. Now, of course it was competent for Parliament to repeal or modify any portion of that Act; but, considering that it was the great legal obstacle to a separation of the two countries, any unnecessary interference with or slight upon it would furnish an argument to those mischievous persons who advocated its repeal. Although 500 freemen of Dublin had been found guilty of corrupt practices there had been no idea of disfranchising the whole body. He hoped that under the circumstances their Lordships would give the Petitioners a hearing before disfranchising one of the few mercantile constituencies of Ireland, a rising town with a large and increasing trade.

The Petition having been read,


asked, whether it was not beneath the dignity of Parliament to punish the retail bribery of Sligo and Cashel, while they overlooked the wholesale bribery carried on all over Ireland at the last Election by astute legal gentlemen desirous of promotion to the Judicial Bench. The consideration with which these gentlemen purchased the rural constituencies was not their own money, but their landlords' land, or at least a good slice of it. Parliament ought not to pass over the proceedings at Longford, where the people were steeped in whisky for three weeks by the agents of the candidate, and other flagrant and dangerous cases, in order to punish bribes of a few shillings.


answered that it was no valid defence for Sligo and Cashel to say that there were other cases as bad or worse. When the latter came before the House they would doubtless be dealt with as their merits demanded. Parliament had established a tribunal which was supposed to work effectively for the investigation of cor- rupt practices. If the Judge who tried the Petition reported that such practices had extensively prevailed, a Commission might, on an Address to the Crown by both Houses, be appointed to inquire into the details. This had been done in the case of Sligo and Cashel, and would have been done in the case of Dublin, but for the objection that the Judge had only reported corrupt practices to have extensively prevailed among a particular class of voters, in consequence of which Dublin had to be dealt with in another way. Under these circumstances, Parliament ought to act upon the Report of the Commissioners, unless there was reason to believe that the Report was not justified by the evidence. Now, nobody could doubt the prevalence of corruption in these two boroughs. At Sligo in 1860 one of the candidates spent £800 or £900 in bribery, and the successful candidate afterwards distributed £500 a year among the charities of the borough. In 1865, 91 electors out of 372 were bribed; and in 1868 one candidate spent £4,028, the object of which in so small a borough might easily be conjectured. Their Lordships would probably think it both unnecessary and unadvisable, the matter having been fully investigated by a competent Court, to hear counsel at the Bar. What the Petitioners should have done should have been to take steps to repress these disgraceful proceedings.


said, that counsel might be heard either on the second reading or on going into Committee; he thought it desirable that the Bill should be read a second time, and that then a Motion should be made to hear counsel. It was quite consistent with the practice of the House to hear counsel against a highly penal Bill like this, when petitioned by the parties affected; and he should, therefore, vote in favour of that course. He did not, however, see how the Bill affected the Union, for the principle of that Act was that Ireland should have a minimum number of Members, and he understood that oven if these seats were temporarily vacant, Ireland would have a larger number of Members than was stipulated for in the Act of Union.


agreed with the noble Lord (the Chairman of Committees) that it was the invariable practice of their Lordships to treat these as Bills of Pains and Penalties, and never to refuse to hear counsel.


said, he could see no similarity between Sligo and Cashel and the county of Longford, which he had had the honour of representing. It was true the Member for that county was unseated for treating; but the fact was that, owing to the intimidation and extreme violence resorted to by the other side—bands of men with firearms going through the country at night, threatening death to anyone who voted for a certain candidate—the friends of that candidate were obliged to organize bodies of non-electors in order to protect the voters at the poll. This, the Judge said, was perfectly legal; but the refreshments given to these men were partaken of by some electors, and he was therefore obliged to unseat the Member, though he refused the Petitioners their costs. At the last election there was a combination of Fenians, Repealers, and Tories, for the purpose of preventing the return of the successful candidate; and had there been the slightest ground for a Petition one would have been presented, but the return had not been petitioned against. Longford could not, therefore, be fairly classed in any respect with these corrupt boroughs.


said, that at the Sligo election undue influence was exercised on the part of the Roman Catholic Bishop and clergy, as was stated in the Report of the Commissioners, against the Conservative candidate. As regarded the question of justice to Ireland with respect to the number of representatives, he would remark that two years ago a number of small English constituencies were disfranchised for the purpose of giving additional Members to Scotland. It was intended that the small Irish constituencies of Cashel, Mallow, New Ross, and Bandon should be disfranchised also, but the proposition was then abandoned. He hoped that these small places would be disfranchised, and their representatives transferred to larger constituencies.

Petition ordered to lie on the Table.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, its object was to disfranchise two important boroughs in Ireland; and though their Lordships would naturally feel pain in considering such a proposal, he thought they would be of opinion that the Government could have pursued no other course. To justify the step taken it would be sufficient to refer to the Preamble of the Bill itself, which stated that the Judges appointed to try Petitions under the Parliamentary Elections Act had reported that bribery and corruption had extensively prevailed at the last elections at Sligo, and that there was reason to believe that it had also extensively prevailed at Cashel; that, therefore, Commissioners were appointed to inquire into the existence of such corrupt practices, and that these Commissioners reported, as regarded the borough of Sligo, that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed there at the elections of 1860, 1865, and 1868; and as regarded Cashel, that in 1865 the election was conducted in a corrupt manner on the part of one of the candidates, and, in 1868, on the part of both. The Commissioners were persons who commanded the respect of the people of Ireland, and no person could object to their finding. If, however, any confirmation of their opinion were required, it would be found in the expression of Judge Keogh, who said that the measure of corrupt practices was full at Sligo, and especially so in reference to intimidation.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Dufferin.)

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.

Then it was moved, "That leave be given to the said Petitioners to be then heard as prayed."—(The Earlof Granard.)


trusted their Lordships would consider the consequences that would ensue if they assented to this Motion. Bridgwater and Beverley had been dealt with without hearing counsel, and the House had decided in the case of Great Yarmouth not to accede to a Motion very similar in character. Their Lordships should consider, too, what enormous expenses the hearing of counsel would entail upon the parties; a matter of little moment, perhaps, to a gentleman who would spend £3,000 or £4,000 among 500 electors, but of great moment to others.


remarked that no application to be heard by counsel had teen made in the case of Beverley and Bridgwater; but where such an application was made, the practice to grant a hearing had been invariable.


said, that when the whole case had in the first place been amply considered by a Judge specially deputed to the duty, and had since been examined into by a Commission, a third inquiry could hardly be deemed anything but unreasonable. On behalf of the Government, therefore, he opposed the Motion.


said, he could not agree with the noble Chairman of Committees, who appeared entirely to overlook the fact that the course he recommended applied to a former state of legislation, before a change had been made in the law applicable to the trial of Election Petitions. He had looked into the evidence of the Sligo inquiry, and pronounced it a shameful case. It would be to him a matter for deep regret if the Motion were agreed to. He hoped their Lordships would reject it by a great majority.


asked whether it was to follow as a matter of course that the result of an inquiry by a Commission should be ratified by the House? If so, and the Commissioners were to exercise a practical power of disfranchising boroughs, the law had better be altered and their power expressly denned. At the same time he would point out that no one had said one word in behalf of these boroughs—all the authoritative statements had been in the nature of attacks; and he had no doubt that, if counsel were heard, the result would not be altered. The Bill was a Bill of Pains and Penalties, and in all such cases the parties should be heard in their defence if they desired it.


said, this was a case which should be decided by precedent, and their Lordships should have time to see what had been done in similar cases before coming to a decision.


pointed out that the Petitioners in no way controverted the facts of the case as set forth in the Report of the Commissioners—they only reasoned upon the facts as found at the inquiry; and he thought their Lordships were fully as capable of judging of their purport as any learned gentleman that might appear at their Bar.

On Question, Resolved in the Negative,