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Motion For An Address

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1870

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, in rising to call the attention of the House to the case of Richard Fennelly, convicted of Bribery at the last Election for Bridgwater, and of the circumstances under which he was induced to confess his participation in such Bribery, and was, notwithstanding, refused a Certificate of Indemnity; and to move a Resolution, said, he proposed to confine himself to this point—that, the House having created an extraordinary tribunal for discovering the secrets of corrupt practices, the Commissioners who were sent down to examine into the election at Bridgwater were mistaken in the course they pursued in not examining Mr. Fennelly and giving him a certificate. Mr. Fennelly had been examined by the secretary to the Commissioners, Mr. Purcell, and he afterwards wrote to them to say that, being under the impression that that gentleman had authority to examine him, he had given him all the information he required, with the firm belief that he was to be afterwards examined by the Commissioners themselves. The Commissioners, however, had not examined him, and it was greatly to be deplored that they did not adhere to the ordinary rule in such cases and hear both sides. The consequence had been that Mr. Fennelly had been refused a certificate, and that he had been prosecuted by the Attorney General. It was true it was stated by the Commissioners that they had never given any authority to their secretary to convey to Mr. Fennelly the idea that they intended to examine him; but it was clear that the influence of the secretary had induced him to make a confession of guilt, and there was, therefore, an implied understanding that having made that confession he would not be prosecuted. Mr. Fennelly under those circumstances had, he contended, a right to expect that he would be protected; and, when the matter had afterwards come before the Court of Queen's Bench, Mr. Justice Blackburn said that the point was one rather for the decision of the Secretary of State. One could not tell what might be the result of an application to the Secretary of State; but he thought that before deciding in such a matter the Secretary of State ought to hear the opinion of that House; and the House ought to see that a conviction had not been obtained by means which were in any way questionable. He moved the Address of which he had given Notice.

, in seconding the Motion, said it appeared from the correspondence that the letter of Mr. Gould the acting secretary to Mr. Fennelly had been written with the knowledge of the Commissioners. Mr. Gould distinctly stated that it had been. In that letter Mr. Fennelly was told that he would be examined.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She may be graciously pleased to grant a free pardon to Richard Fennelly."—(Mr. M'Mahon.)

said, the extraordinary conduct of the secretary to the Commission led him to doubt whether they might not apply to the authorities on the Treasury Bench for some modification of the position of Mr. Fennelly.

said, that no one but an Attorney General could appreciate the difficulties of a prosecution for bribery. If everyone who was examined, or who had been summoned for examination, received a certificate there would be very few prosecutions for bribery. He thought the granting of certificates ought to be a matter for the Commissioners; but what was now asked was that he or the Home Secretary should review the decision of the Commissioners in respect of the refusal to grant Mr. Fennelly a certificate. But the Commissioners denied that they had caused Mr. Fennelly to be informed that he would be examined as as a witness. The Commissioners stated on oath that they gave no authority express or implied to their secretary to give any pledge or assurance to Mr. Fennelly that he would be examined, and that their secretary never communicated nor suggested to them that he had given Mr. Fennelly any pledge or assurance to that effect. In his belief, Mr. Fennelly gave but very partial disclosures, almost all of which went, as far as they did go, in his own favour, and the case against him had been proved by the evidence of independent witnesses. His belief was that the Commissioners had acted in a perfectly right way, and had exercised a wise discretion in doing what they had done. He, for one, could not undertake to say that Mr. Fennelly ought to have had a certificate, or that his sentence had been too severe. The matter now rested with the Home Secretary; but he was bound to state that he did not himself see any ground for interfering with the sentence.

said, he thought the Attorney General had, with more than his usual skill, evaded the question. The Commissioners guarded themselves by saying they gave no instructions to their secretary to examine Mr. Fennelly; but they did authorize their secretary to conduct a preliminary inquiry by putting questions to persons who were to give evidence which might criminate themselves, and they could not be exonerated from the consequences of their secretary's acts. He maintained that the Commissioners through their secretary constructively examined Mr. Fennelly, and that they were bound by what he had done.

said, the memorial addressed to him to induce him to recommend Her Majesty to extend her prerogative of mercy to the person who had been the subject of this discussion was of a very unusual character, being signed by upwards of 100 Members of Parliament. Such a memorial would, of course, demand very careful consideration. That consideration he had given to it; but he had arrived at the conclusion that the gentlemen who signed it were not fully alive to the facts of the case. There could be no doubt that Mr. Fennelly had been guilty of gross bribery—bribery for which the punishment inflicted was not too severe. It should be remembered that the Commissioners stated that the reasons which induced them to refuse Mr. Fennelly his certificate were entirely independent of his statement to Mr. Purcell. The evidence on which Mr. Fennelly was convicted was entirely independent, as Mr. Justice Hannen had stated to him, of evidence which he had furnished. It was, of course, possible for the House to overrule the decision which he had arrived at, a decision which he believed was necessary to meet the justice of the case; but if that decision were overruled the responsibility should rest with the House, and not with himself.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned.'—( Mr. Montague Guest.)

appealed to the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion, as he thought the question could be decided at once.

said, he would withdraw his Motion on the understanding that the House would at once divide on the original Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

observed that in matters of this nature he felt disposed to attach pre-eminent importance to the opinions of Her Majesty's Government, who must, of course, be in the best possible position to arrive at a just decision. After the statement which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had so fully and fairly laid before the House, he should certainly give his support to Her Majesty's Government.

Original Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 63: Majority 22.