then proceeded to move the Second Reading of the Carrickfergus Disfranchisement Bill. In doing so, he was exceedingly glad to congratulate the House on knowing that those who objected to some of the details of the Bill, did not object to the principle of the measure, and, therefore, that this reading of the Bill would not be opposed. This obviated the necessity of his trespassing at any length on the attention of the House. This much he desired to say; he had not volunteered this task,—on the contrary, he had desired to avoid it,—but it had been forced upon him as an imperative duty, in consequence of his having been the Chairman of a Committee which decided that Mr. Dobbs had been returned as the Representative of Carrickfergus by bribery and corruption. In the discharge of this duty he entertained not the slightest, party feeling. The Bill he brought in was simply for disfranchising the borough of Carrickfergus, without proposing any substitution. He did not think, however, it would be doing Ireland justice to take away one of her Representatives without substituting another in his place; and, in his opinion, if a substitution should take place, that substitution ought to be given to another part of the province of Ulster. He had understood it was the intention of 1156 the hon. member for Donegal to nominate another part of that province to which the franchise should be given; should that hon. Member do so, he should feel it his duty to support such a proposition. At present his Bill was purely one of disfranchisement, without regard to any substitution. In stating the grounds for his Motion he should be very brief. In the election to which he had alluded, it was proved that the practice of bribery was fast rooted in that borough, and that it had been of long standing. The contest appeared to be between two noble families, who struggled for the supremacy; and whoever succeeded, did so at an enormous expense. After the passing of the Reform Bill, there was, in most places, a strong contest between Reformers and Conservatives, but in Carrickfergus there was no struggle of that kind. In Ireland there was generally a struggle of a different kind, namely,—upon the subject of religious differences; but, at Carrickfergus, there was neither a religious nor political distinction, it was generally a mere question of pounds, shillings, and pence; and whoever had the longest purse carried the election. He took this opportunity of totally acquitting the electors of Carrickfergus of allowing any political or religious opinions to influence their votes. There was one family which, in order to increase its interest, made fifty-three tenements, with three potato grounds, worth some 3l., 4l, or 5l. a-year, in fact, as tenants at will, but apparently in perpetuity; yet it appeared that, at the last election, only seventeen of those persons voted for the person who gave them subsistence; and, consequently, there must have been a very strong reason for the others voting against the interest of the person who gave them bread to eat. If the practice of bribery were confined to the poorer classes, there might, possibly, be some extenuation of the crime; but it extended itself to other classes. One of the individuals who had been bribed refused to take the bribery oath when tendered. He had a paralytic conscience,—it was dead at one side (that on which he was bribed), but alive on the other, and he rejected the oath. Woe to the individuals of higher rank who had brought that wretch into the situation of refusing to give value for the money he had received, or of burthening his conscience with the further crime of perjury! As Christians, it was 1157 their duty to abolish the temptation to the commission of such offences. To show how far the public mind in Carrickfergus had been contaminated, he would appeal to the evidence of Mr. Brierley, a Magistrate, an active partisan, and one of the committee of a candidate who was examined before the Committee appointed by the House. That gentleman denied everything; but in the course of the investigation, a letter from Mr. Brierley was read, dated from the election committee-room, referring an elector to his agent, Mr. Legg, which agent offered the man a bribe of 6l.; and it also appeared, that Mr. Brierley accompanied the agent to the elector. He was sorry to be obliged to mention the name of an individual who was, by his education, a gentleman,—he meant the Rev. Mr. Cheyne, of the Established Church;—but the House could estimate what was the state of the public mind in Carrickfergus, when that reverend gentleman held in his hands a sum of money which he knew was to be distributed in bribery. There was no doubt that it was for such purposes. How contaminated must have been the public spirit when no species of shame was attached to such proceedings, even in the person of a clergyman! The words of the witness before the Commissioners proved, that the only feeling which existed was one of regret on the part of those who had not the means of being corrupted, because they had not a franchise to sell. After the first examination that took place before a Committee of that House, in which he was Chairman, the Corporation demanded a re-examination. That was granted to them; and what was the evidence after all? Why, by the Report of the Committee, it was pronounced to be a case most deserving of disfranchisement. He would trouble the House with one fact more. The Corporation of that town actually wanted to take the franchise into their own hands; and he could prove, that the sum of 450l. was subscribed towards disfranchising their own freemen. Mr. David Legg, who was the acting man at that moment in London, to prevent the disfranchisement of this borough, was the agent of the Corporation upon the occasion he alluded to. The same Mr. Legg swore, that he only bribed five persons; but Mr. James Legg, his brother, concurred with a Mr. Cohen, in stating, that they had bribed 214 persons. That gen- 1158 tleman, who was so active in the work of corruption, instead of being tarnished by that, was rewarded by being appointed to the office of High Sheriff of the county of the town of Carrickfergus. The same gentleman would probably be mayor in some few years hence; and on a future occasion that House would have the pleasure of seeing that gentleman take his seat as Member for the renovated constituency of Carrickfergus. He had to apologise for having troubled the House at such length; but he considered it his duty to use the strong hand in putting down bribery, and seek the only remedy that was left to purify a corrupt constituency. He moved that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Mr. Emerson Tennent
said, that, so far from opposing the Motion of the hon. and learned Member, he should give it his most cordial support. He was prepared to visit, to the extremity of severity which that House was authorised to exert, every and any individual who might be convicted of violating or abusing his elective franchise. He was as anxious as the hon. and learned Member could be, to see every individual who had been guilty of bribery at the late Carrickfergus election disfranchised. It was for the purpose of carrying that into effect, that he was willing to vote for the second reading of this Bill. But he did not hesitate to say, that he differed altogether with the hon. and learned Gentleman, as to the extent to which he wished to carry his propositions. He was willing to admit, that bribery had been carried on, to a certain extent, by one class of the electors; but it did not, therefore, follow, that this bribery had extended among them all. He should be prepared to show to the House, on the committal of this Bill, that the Carrickfergus constituency was, as a constituency, unimpeachable. The hon. member for Dover had a Motion, he believed, with regard to the business before the House. He hoped that the hon. Member would see the propriety of withdrawing that Motion, as he (Mr. Tennent) should, for one, oppose it; and he should oppose it on the same principle as he voted for the second reading of the Bill before the House.
, in rising to propose an Amendment, would only say, that, with regard to what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down, and 1159 who was unknown to him, it appeared to him that the hon. Member had taken an extraordinary course in declaring what his vote should be upon a proposition the merits of which he at present must be perfectly unacquainted with. It was inconsistent with his (Mr. Halcombe's) notions of legislation, that any hon. Member should state, that he should give his vote against a proposition to be submitted to the House, before he had condescended to attend to a single observation, or before the hon. Member who meant to bring forward the Motion, had had an opportunity of addressing the House. With regard to the Amendment which he meant to propose, he could assure the House, that he made this proposition to them after much, and anxious consideration,—after full examination of the course which had hitherto been pursued by the House in furtherance of just objects, when they were sought to be enforced against boroughs alleged to be in circumstances that entitled the House to deal with their elective franchises. Without one single exception, whenever a Select Committee had reported, that delinquency existed in a borough, the House had resolved itself into a Committee of the whole House, in order that the parties accused might have an opportunity of defending themselves at the Bar. The House, and not the Committee, had afterwards determined what course ought to be pursued. He hoped that the House, by now pursuing a different course, would not involve itself in a long train of inconsistencies, and lay itself open to the charge of dealing differently with different boroughs, under precisely the same predicament. Only a limited number of freemen were bad in the present case; and if they were disfranchised, all the ends of justice would be attained, and the unimpeached portion of the constituency might be left in possession of the franchise. If the House would only give the accused parties an opportunity of defending themselves, he understood that they pledged themselves to prove, that forty of the charges against individuals were destitute of foundation. He called upon the House to be consistent with their own proceedings in the boroughs of Shoreham, Grampound, Cricklade, East Retford, and all other accused boroughs; and he should not only submit an Amendment to that effect, but he should take the sense of the 1160 House upon it.—[The hon. Member, who throughout his speech had been much annoyed by various signs of impatience, now became nearly inaudible, but he was understood to say,]—He never intruded himself on the attention of the House, and he thanked the House for the kindness of its attention towards him. The House, by proceeding in the manner now proposed, would involve itself in judicial cases, not with five, but with fifty or sixty boroughs, for so many would be before the House in a similar manner. The noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, had brought in a Bill, in which he had displayed what were his views, and the views of Government, as to the course which the House ought to pursue in cases of this nature. The noble Lord's Bill had allowed the accused parties the advantage of a review; and the borough itself was not to be dealt with otherwise than by an Address of the two Houses to the Crown. The noble Lord now got rid of the duties of this House by delegating its powers to three Barristers, who were to be paid so much a day for saving the Committee trouble. He felt that he was offering to the House observations worthy of any Legislative Assembly, and he was not to be deterred from his duty by taunts of any sort. The House was about to bring it-self into a collision with the other House; and he would maintain, that the other House had lately risen exceedingly in public estimation in comparison to the Assembly he was addressing. The country would at last find safety in the Refuge for the Destitute. ["Hear" and laughter,] He hoped that hon. Members did not mean to insult his person,—if they did, he begged any man to stand forth and tell him so. He was as independent a Member as any man in that House; and humbly as he might think of himself out of it, he would yield to no man in the character which attached to him as a Member. In the case of Ashby v. White, in Hatsell's Reports, it was decided, that the House had no right to go further than to decide upon the fitness of the person elected to sit within its walls; and that it ought not to determine upon the delinquency of particular constituents. Mr. Canning had warned the House not to tamper with elections, lest, as a popular Assembly, it might be urged on by party spirit to act improperly in the discharge of its judicial proceedings. He would 1161 move, as an Amendment, "That the House will, on the 19th of March instant, resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the Report and evidence taken before the two Committees with respect to the borough of Carrickfergus, and in the meantime that further proceedings in the case be suspended."
therefore altered his Motion as follows: "That the further proceedings of the House on this Bill be suspended, and that the House do resolve itself into a Committee on the 19th of March."
§ The Speaker
did not see how such a Motion could be put. If the hon. Member wished to submit any Motion, he must proceed according to the regulations of the House.
said, he was but a young Member, and must ask instructions how he was to proceed. His wish was, that further proceedings on the Bill should be suspended, and that the House should resolve itself into a Committee on the 19th instant.
§ The Speaker
said, that this was only the converse of what the hon. Member had before put. The hon. Member's object was to get the House to resolve itself into a Committee, to consider certain Reports, and then, if they adopted his Motion, that they follow his further views upon the case.
would move only the first part of his Amendment, "That the House would, on the 19th of March instant, resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to take into consideration the Report and evidence of the two Committees with respect to the borough of Carrickfergus."
§ Sir John Byng
could but congratulate the hon. Member on the unenviable position he had taken up as the champion of all the corrupt boroughs.
§ The Speaker
requested the hon. Member to address himself to the question and not to the person, and still less ought he to address any person in that House disparagingly.
§ Sir John Byng
apologised for the breach of order, and assured the hon. and learned member for Dover that it had not arisen from any want of personal respect towards him. He spoke as Chairman of one of the Committees, and, in his opinion, the 1162 evidence of corruption was so complete, that Parliament would neglect its duty, if it did not disfranchise the borough. He gave the Bill his cordial support.
Mr. Ruddel Todd
was a member of the Committee, and thought the evidence of the bribery complete. He, therefore, should oppose the Amendment.
§ Sir Robert Peel
, being now called upon to exercise functions of a judicial nature, felt himself bound to state to the House why he for one did not think himself competent to discharge that duty satisfactorily. He had no personal interest whatever in the borough of Carrickfergus, and it was a matter of indifference whether it were or were not disfranchised; but before the House divided on the principle of the Bill under consideration, which destroyed for ever the right of voting in that large and respectable town of the sister kingdom, he ventured to ask whether it possessed sufficient information to enable it satisfactorily to pronounce a judicial opinion on the question? If the hon. member behind him (Mr. Halcombe) felt a deep impression that the House was not in a condition to act judicially with perfect impartiality—if he felt it incumbent on him to call the attention of the House to this difficulty—he did not think that the hon. Member was open to sarcasms, or that he ought to be taunted as the champion of corruption. The hon. Member might act as the champion of this borough, and without any other motive than that of seeing impartial justice administered. If general corruption were proved against any borough, he could readily conceive many cases in which there would be no alternative but to make a public example, although this should be done at the expense of many unimpeachable individuals in it. Though private individuals might sustain private wrong; yet a borough might justly be disfranchised if, as a borough, it was disqualified to perform its duty of electing proper Representatives for that House. Public consideration, in that case, would overweigh private feelings; but before he came to any such determination, he must take care to know the precise extent of the corruption that prevailed. In neither of the Reports—the Report of the Election Committee, nor the Report of the Select Committee—was there any information as to the proportion of corrupt votes.
said, the number of 1163 householders was 105, and of freemen 885; and the evidence against the freemen was so strong, that they were given up by every one.
§ Mr. Tennent
said, that 240 freemen out of 885 were proved to have been corrupt, but that there was not a tittle of evidence against the remainder. The number of freeholders and householders was 144, and there was no evidence against them.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that the House must perceive, from the statements of the two hon. Members, how little was known of the facts of the case. The Committee had not given a detail of the facts on which the House was now called to act judicially. They were called on to affirm that, "Gross and scandalous corruption had prevailed at the late election for the town of Carrickfergus, and that the great proportion of the constituency, composed of freemen of the Corporation, were influenced solely by bribery in giving their votes; that similar practices have prevailed at former elections; and that the borough should, therefore, be excluded from hereafter returning a burgess to serve in Parliament." Now, that gross and scandalous bribery did prevail, he could, perhaps, with a safe conscience pronounce; but surely the parties who received the bribes, and still more, those who offered them, were the just objects on whom to visit the penalty. They were called on to dispossess the town of its franchise; but, before any opinion could be pronounced in favour of its forfeiture, it was necessary to know the precise state of the facts of the case, the details of the alleged corruption, and the extent to which it had prevailed. The charge of bribery, as it now stood, applied to the constituency generally. But there were two classes of voters in this borough, the freemen and the 10l. voters. Hitherto, they had no means of ascertaining whether the charge of bribery applied to one only, or to both of these classes; or whether, if both were guilty, one of them was guilty to a greater extent than the other. His wish was to obtain information. He spoke quite disinterestedly on the subject; in fact, he had not seen or been consulted by any party in reference to it; but be could not help saying, that the Report of the Committee was most unsatisfactory. The country had been agitated for two whole years by discussions on the elective franchise. These discussions were conducted in a manner which implied that 1164 the elective franchise was little less than an absolute right; and would they now dispossess persons of it upon a Report of this kind, and without any further evidence—without going into such inquiry as would enable the House to decide in a more satisfactory way than it was possible to do at present? The Committee should at least have given a digest of the evidence. In place of this, they reported an opinion, that gross bribery took place. Had they even informed the House that a majority of the freemen had been bribed, or a majority of the 10l. voters, they would have communicated important information. Instead of this, they had merely reported their opinion that corruption having generally prevailed, without going into detail, the borough should be disfranchised. What satisfaction could such a Report give? They ought to have dwelt on the state of the constituency, which consisted of two classes: with respect to the free-men, for example, they should have stated bow many were entitled to vote, and how many, after weighing the evidence, there was every reason to believe, had received bribes at the election. They ought, in short, not merely to have given their opinion, but to have accompanied it at the same time with a statement of facts. He must say, he was not in a condition in which he could, with satisfaction to his own mind, vote for the disfranchisement of the borough upon the Report of the Committee. Another very important question arose: by the Reform Bill, a new class of constituency had been called into active existence—the 10l. householders. Before the House determined that this town, which appeared to be the 13th or 14th in the ratio of importance in Ireland, should altogether lose its franchise, ought they not to have the opportunity of maturely considering whether it was just to disfranchise the whole of the freemen, and whether it might not be possible in that case to find a good constituency, not open to bribery, from the 10l. householders? Sir Frederick Yates was one of the Commissioners appointed under the Reform Bill—a Gentleman, he was bound to believe, of intelligence, and, from the situation he filled, sufficiently capable of forming a correct opinion. The opinion given by him before the Committee was, that the freemen ought to be disfranchised, but he was favourable to the retaining of the franchise still in the householders. It 1165 would be monstrous to deprive the innocent householders of their franchise in consequence of the guilt of the freemen, and that, merely in consequence of an opinion expressed by the Committee in a single sentence, and without having the details before them of the evidence upon which that opinion had been formed. The case presented matter of great difficulty; and although it might be right, perhaps, that Ministers, as such, should not take any-very decided part in the details of such proceedings, he was most anxious that Government should throw out some general principle by which such proceedings should be regulated. Hitherto the House, on disfranchising a borough, had reserved to itself the important preliminary of examining the witnesses at its bar; and, not till after due investigation, should they proceed to visit convicted delinquency with forfeiture of the elective franchise. They had passed the Grenville Act, because it was found, that when party feeling ran high, its influence was unavoidably felt in the determination of the rights of election. By the right of challenge given by that Act, and the examination of evidence on oath, the influence of party feeling had been prevented; but the utility of that would be set aside, if they were to decide upon the report of another Committee which pronounced its opinion upon evidence not taken upon oath. He was aware, it might interfere materially with the progress of public business in relation to questions of pre-eminent importance, that, on such occasions as the present, the witnesses should be examined at the bar of the House; but some scheme should be devised by which questions of this kind could be settled. He would seriously recommend the House to take into consideration the propriety of establishing some tribunal, to act under the authority of that House, and receive evidence, sanctioned by oath, on such matters, which should be called on to report its opinion in detail, verified by a reference to the facts which would give some satisfaction to a man desirous fairly to administer justice, and enable him to decide whether a case of corruption were established, rendering it expedient to make a public example, while they guarded as much as possible against committing injustice on individuals.
§ Sir John Byng
felt himself called on to disclaim having made use of the ex- 1166 pressions attributed to him by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) in allusion to the hon. and learned member for Dover (Mr. Halcombe). He had never used the liberty of characterizing that hon. and learned Gentleman as the champion of corruption or corrupt boroughs in that House.
§ Lord John Russell
did not think it was right that Ministers should, on such occasions, take a part as a Government, in the discussion, so as to influence the opinions and votes of that House. Certainly, if they did so, the evil complained of most justly by the right hon. Baronet, of bringing party influence to bear on such questions, would, instead of being removed, be greatly and alarmingly increased. But as a Member of that House, he had, in former times, paid a good deal of attention to questions of this kind, and having gone through some very laborious inquiries, he had certainly thought it his duty to apply the best of his judgment to the different cases in detail. The right hon. Baronet complained, that, in the present instance, they had not had an examination that established the case upon oath before the Committee, and that it ought to be instituted at the Bar of the House. With regard to the latter part of the objection, the right hon. Gentleman said, in that respect, answering his own objection, that there were so many cases, that the time of the House would be entirely taken up if it were insisted on conducting the examinations at the Bar of the House. With respect to the other point, it was certainly a great and serious objection; but it was the misfortune, and not the fault, of that House. For several years he had proposed Bills to that House, which it had shown itself most willing to adopt, by which the examinations into such questions by Committees should be conducted upon oath; being empowered to summon witnesses, and go through the whole of the case, in order to enable the House to arrive at a proper judicial decision. A bill of this nature, had, two years ago, passed that House, but was rejected by the House of Lords. He had also brought in a bill of the same character last year, which had received very serious and ample discussion before a Select Committee; but he had been induced to refrain from proceeding with it in consequence of the pressure of other questions of great magnitude and importance, then demanding 1167 the urgent decision of the House. Having thus passed a bill to enable them to conduct such grave and serious inquiries before a Committee on Oath, which was rejected by the other House, they found themselves in this dilemma—either they must have an inquiry which was in some degree imperfect, by submitting such questions to a tribunal which could not have the sanction of an oath administered, or take the other alternative, and say, because the Lords refused that power, the House should sit still and allow all cases of corrupt boroughs to pass unnoticed and untouched. Whatever, therefore, the inconvenience might be, and it was certainly great, of having to act on reports of that kind without evidence upon oath, it was not the fault, but the necessity under which the House found itself; and certainly he did hope, that if another Bill should be introduced, and passed this Session, to meet the case, when sent up to the other House, it would receive a more favourable reception, and that they would be ultimately enabled to enter upon and adjudicate such questions relative to the franchise of elections, which, if not kept pure, was not worth preserving at all, with that satisfaction of mind, having every means of examination furnished to them, which the nature and importance of the subject undoubtedly required. With regard to the question immediately before the House, although the Committee had not embodied any digest of the evidence, and of those facts which induced them to come to the conclusion that the borough of Carrickfergus should be disfranchised; yet Members of that House were hardly entitled, he thought, to say that they had not read the evidence, which he admitted, was an irksome task, and therefore were not prepared to vote on the subject. He had carefully read the volume, and was amply convinced by the evidence at the latter part of it, that the borough ought to be disfranchised. The noble Lord referred to several parts of the printed evidence, and at considerable length, for the purpose of establishing the case of general bribery and corruption, extending not only to freemen of the corporation, but also to the 10l. householders of the borough. The evidence distinctly proved a wholesale and long-established system of corruption. The question therefore was, whether a constituency could be found, who really possessed the bonâ fide 1168 qualification, and against whom there was no imputation of bribery. It did appear to him, that the greater part of the 10l. householders having been bribed, as well as the freemen of the corporation, and especially as no attempt had been made to prove the possibility of finding in Carrickfergus an uncorrupted constituency, it was the duty of the House to carry through the present Bill, and send it to the other House. He should therefore vote for the second reading.
explained. The course which they had agreed to adopt was, if the second reading was carried, on a Motion in Committee by the hon. member for Belfast, the question should be discussed, whether the franchise of the 10l. householders should be continued? Having no personal end to serve in the matter, he had no objection, if the House thought proper, to procure further evidence.
§ Mr. Emerson Tennent
said, a petition from Carrickfergus was now lying on the Table of the House, offering to prove that an uncorrupted constituency could be found.
§ Mr. James
expressed himself in favour of so extensive a franchise as would render bribery impossible. In fact, he thought it should be universal; no man had a sufficiently long purse to bribe a whole community [Some hon. Member called, "Liverpool."] He was aware, that corruption had existed in that borough, of which he was a freeman; and it had first commenced when the present Lord Chancellor went down in 1812 to contest it with Mr. Canning. He could not help thinking, that these disfranchisement bills were partial and unjust, because they invariably confounded the innocent with the guilty.
§ Mr. Aglionby
, being a Member of both Select Committees which had sat on the Carrickfergus election, was anxious to address a few observations to the House. Being altogether free from prejudice in this matter, the first question he had proposed to himself was, whether they should inflict individual hardship for public good? and in that he agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel), that cases might occur in which such a course was the obvious and direct duty of the House. The next point he had to decide was, whether there was any thing which might lead him to believe, that there could be a full, fair, and honest constituency left after disfranchising those who might be con- 1169 victed of corruption. With respect to the second question, he was led by the evidence to this conclusion, that, in Carrickfergus, the leaven of corruption was so great, and had been so long in action, that an honest constituency was not to be expected. It was the evidence taken upon oath, that led him to this conclusion. To be able to form a just opinion on the force of evidence, it was not enough to see it in writing. The countenance and manner of the witnesses under examination must be observed. The hon. Member quoted some of the facts given in evidence to show the prevalence of bribery. That evidence was, he thought, quite sufficient. In fact, the only notion which the people of Carrickfergus had of independence, was to be released from the thraldrom of one family to be placed under the yoke of another. A large body of uncontaminated electors could not survive the disfranchisement of those who had been bribed; and the evidence on which he had come to that conclusion was upon oath. At the same time, he did not wish, that his opinions should bind any other individual, and therefore he was not inclined, if the House found it consistent with its forms, at some subsequent stage of the proceeding, to preclude further investigation.
§ Mr. Littleton
had given a close examination to the evidence, but before he stated what the result of that examination was, he would observe, that he considered it very unfortunate that the House had not a better and more efficient mode of taking testimony. He hoped that before the next Session of Parliament his noble friend near him would bring in the same Bill which he had introduced in the last Session of Parliament, to enable a Committee to take testimony upon oath. After reading the evidence, the bias of his mind certainly was in favour of totally disfranchising the present constituency of Carrickfergus. If the hon. Gentleman, however, could show that there was any mode of obtaining an honest 10l constituency, he should be acting contrary to the principles which he had always advocated if he were to oppose any measure of that description. He should support the second reading of this Bill.
§ Colonel Leith Hay
having been a member of the second Committee of last Session, wished to say a few words in consequence of what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) in his remarks 1170 on the proceedings of that Committee. He had entered upon it, and he could safely say his right hon. and gallant friend the Chairman had also done so, with an anxious desire to preserve the franchise of the burgh if they could do so consistently with justice, and visiting the corruption proved with its well-merited punishment. In following this principle of conduct an examination was instituted to ascertain, if possible, the means of separating the innocent from the guilty, and preserving the rights of the former—to visit with punishment those who had been satisfactorily proved to have participated in the most barefaced bribery. This investigation was carried on under the disadvantages described by the right hon. Baronet of the persons examined, not having an oath administered to them, but it so happened that the principal evidences on the first Committee, whose testimonies were taken on oath, became the most important witnesses during the second inquiry; they also gave their evidence not only with their former assertions recorded, but under the peculiar circumstance of having been in most instances themselves personally implicated and consequently unlikely to advance facts of an over-coloured description, when those points must essentially tend to criminate themselves. With regard to the injustice of disfranchising the householders, because the freemen had proved corrupt, no injustice could be made out, inasmuch as many of these freemen proved to have been bribed stood in the double capacity, and it was consequently impossible to discriminate. He had said thus much in defence of the proceedings of the Committee; and he could assure the right hon. Baronet and the House, notwithstanding his conviction that no case could be made out calculated to induce another decision than that arrived at by the Committee of which his right hon. and gallant friend was Chairman, still wishing, as he did, and anxious as he ever should be, to save any inhabitant of this country possessed of the elective franchise from being deprived of it, if that could be done consistently with public duty, he should be happy to see this case again submitted to a tribunal calculated to elicit truth, if that had not been already arrived at, and finally to decide upon the claims of the inhabitants of Carrickfergus to retain their franchise or not, as was most consistent with the public good.
§ Sir Robert Peel
had not defended the conduct of the electors of Carrickfergus, as had been supposed. He had said, that if corruption prevailed in that place to the extent stated, it ought to be punished as a warning to others. He thought, if the House determined to proceed with the Bill, that it would be more convenient to enter into the investigation in the morning sittings. The inquiry would probably be got through in three sittings; but if it were thought that would interfere too much with the public business, it would be better to appoint a Select Committee.
§ Sir Edward Knatchbull
was not in favour of disfranchisement. He thought that it would be much better to make it imperative for every Member to swear at the Table that he had not been guilty either directly or indirectly of bribery. He was as desirous as any Member to put down corruption, but, in his opinion, that object would be better attained by punishing the Member or candidate who was guilty of it. With respect to the present case, the evidence taken before the Committee was of so loose a character that no reliance ought to be placed upon it. It ought also to be observed, that there was not a word affecting the 10l. householders, and they ought not to punish the innocent with the guilty. He thought that it would be better that some general measure should be passed, by which the various Disfranchisement Bills before the House might be disposed of.
§ Lord John Russell
thought that there was quite sufficient evidence before the House to justify their proceeding with the Bill. If, however, the hon. Member for Belfast proposed that an inquiry should take place before a Select Committee he would not oppose it. If there were sufficient 10l. householders in the town to form an upright constituency, there would be no necessity to pass the Disfranchising Bill. If there was only one Bill of the kind before the House, he should agree with the right hon. Baronet that evidence should be examined at the bar; but there were several.
§ Sir Robert Peel
, after the explanation of the noble Lord, would not vote against the second reading of the Bill.
, in reply, stated, that he had undertaken the conduct of the Bill with the greatest reluctance, and that he was at any time prepared to give it up with the greatest delight. As long, how- 1172 ever, as it remained in his hands, he was bound closely to prosecute it; and to declare that he was ready to give evidence of the grossest corruption existing in the borough in question.
§ The Bill was read a second time.