HC Deb 11 February 1834 vol 21 cc211-3
Mr. O'Connell

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to disfranchise the borough of Carrickfergus. It would not be necessary for him to trouble the House at any length by entering fully into the subject which he rose to bring under its consideration, for he had, on a former occasion, when he obtained leave to bring in a Bill on the same subject, stated at some length the grounds upon which he did so. The Bill, for leave to bring in which he was now about to move, was founded upon the Reports of two Committees. One was the Election Committee, which found that, not only was the last election for the borough of Carrickfergus void, but that bribery and corruption had there taken place, in the course of that election. Upon that Report he had brought in a Bill to disfranchise the borough. In consequence, however, of some gentlemen interested in the fate of the borough in question interfering, the progress of the Bill was stopped, and it was referred to a Select Committee, to make a further Report upon the circumstances connected with the election which had taken place in the borough. The Committee, after hearing further evidence, reported to the House that it was a fit case for a Bill. This being the case, he determined upon bringing in the Bill, which he had now the honour to introduce to the House. He should move upon this occasion, that the Bill be read a first time, and then that ample time should be allowed before the Bill would be read a second, in order to afford the fullest opportunity to investigate every matter connected with it. His Bill was one merely for disfranchising the borough of Carrickfergus. He had not substituted in his Bill any other place for Car rickfergus. He understood, that some other hon. Gentleman intended to propose some other place for Carrickfergus, to return a Member to Parliament. If any other place were proposed, he thought it ought to be in the same province that Carrickfergus was in; and, if a new Member were returned to Parliament, it ought to be from that district in which Carrickfergus was situated. If such a proposition as that were submitted to the House, he would support it. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to disfranchise the borough of Carrickfergus.

Lord John Russell

observed, that the hon. and learned member for Dublin had done quite right in giving the parties interested sufficient notice, while at the same time the Bill would be moved forward. He had had some experience in those matters, and the question of the guilt or the innocence of the borough lay in a very small compass. In his opinion, the Bill ought to pass.

Mr. Shaw

reminded the House, that it was one question whether the bribery and corruption alleged to have existed was sustained by the evidence given in; and, another, whether the borough ought to be entirely disfranchised. He was ready to say that it ought not.

Mr. Halcombe

was anxious to impress upon the House the importance of the great and vital principle involved in the question thus brought forward. There were no less than five boroughs with which the House would have to deal, if it proceeded to disfranchise Carrickfergus, upon the grounds stated by the hon. and learned member for Dublin,—namely, Liverpool, Hertford, Warwick, Coventry, and Stafford. He was struck with this important question, which all must ask themselves in this House, sooner or later—Were they prepared, as a Legislative Assembly, to take away constitutional rights, upon investigations before Committees, which had no power to examine witnesses on oath? He thought it a most arbitrary proceeding, to take away the constitutional privileges of boroughs, without giving permission for the witnesses called in before Committees of the House to be examined upon oath. Committees had not the power to put oaths to the witnesses, and he thought they should be invested with this power, that they might be enabled to proceed in a more judicial manner. A Special Committee, not having ower to administer an oath to witnesses, had sent in a Report to the House, and the hon. and learned member for Dublin, adopted that Report for the foundation of a Bill, to deprive a borough of its elective franchise. It was stated in that Report, that according to the evidence given before the Committee, bribes had been offered and accepted. What then? That evidence was not given on oath, and, therefore, as far as his humble opinion as a lawyer was concerned, was good for nothing. Were hon. Members prepared to say they could punish those who had received bribes, and that yet, on the same principle, and on the same ground, they could not punish those who had paid the bribes? If the Report of the Stafford Committee was good for one purpose, surely it ought to be good for the other. By that Report, it appeared that one of the hon. Members, at present in the House, for Stafford, had bribed not less than 582 persons; the other, 420; the losing candidate, 301; and yet the two hon. Members for Stafford had still seats in that House. He implored the House to consider the very awkward situation in which it would be placed, if it proceeded in the manner it was doing. Suppose they were to use the Report of the Stafford Committee, as a ground to punish those who had been bribed, what answer could be made to any hon. Gentleman, who might rise in his place, and move for the expulsion of those two gentlemen who had bribed the individuals who were to be punished? The better way would be, not to sweep away, but to extend the franchise, and add new rights to those already existing; but if the House was determined to disfranchise, that disfranchisement ought to be effected by lawful means. He hoped, that upon this occasion, he should not be called an illiberal old Tory. He might, perhaps, more properly, come under the description of a liberal Tory, or loyal Whig; but he cared little what he was called. He was desirous of correcting abuses, wherever they could be proved to exist; but he trusted that the House would proceed upon legal principles, by which means, they would avoid establishing absurd and dangerous precedents. In the case of Liverpool, a new writ was issued, and he saw no reason why a different course should be pursued in the case of Carrickfergus.

Motion agreed to, and the Bill read a first time.