Order read, for resuming adjourned Debate [2nd May]—
That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Baron to serve in this present Parliament for the Town and Port of Rye, in the room of William Alexander Mackinnon, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void.'
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR CHARLES BURRELL
said, that the evidence taken before the Committee was only delivered to Members yesterday; there had not, therefore, been time to give so important a subject the consideration which it deserved. Under these circumstances, he should take the liberty of moving that the issuing of the writ for Rye be postponed to that day fortnight. It appeared that the franchise in that borough had, to a great extent, been brought under the control of one individual.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words no New Writ be issued for the said Town and Port until Friday the 27th day of this instant May,' instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that being Chairman of the Rye Election Committee, the House would probably expect him to make some statement after what had fallen from the hon. Member for Shore; ham. He understood him to rest his Motion on the fact that the evidence was not delivered to Members till yesterday morning, and that the House consequently had not had time to become masters of it. That was a fair question for the House to consider, and he would leave the House to 291 adopt what course they would prefer; but if the hon. Member founded his Motion not on the evidence, but on the merits of the case, then he was bound to say, as Chairman of the Committee, that the House of Commons could not justly or properly refuse the writ. The question for the House must be, whether they ought to issue at once the writ, or disfranchise the borough. It appeared to him there was no middle course. He did not think anything could be gained by the suspension of the writ; for, to whatever period it was delayed, they would at the expiration of it be just in the same position as they were in now. For the disfranchisement of the borough he certainly thought there was no ground whatever. It was very true that a considerable number of the electors were at one time influenced by Mr. Jeremiah Smith, of whom they had heard so much. He believed that some electors were still under that influence—how many he could not say—but he had reason to think they were a small minority. He had also strong reason to believe, that a great majority of the electors were as pure and free from taint as any constituency in the kingdom.
§ MR. BASS
said, that having moved the adjournment of the debate when the writ was moved for, he wished to state his reason for doing so. He happened to be acquainted with many circumstances connected with the borough of Rye, and he knew many of the parties concerned in it, and having attended the Committee, he found that at least it was a case deserving consideration. But since then he had heard the opinions of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) and of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) on the subject, and it seemed to him that it would be unfitting for him (Mr. Bass) in his position in that House to resist the authority of such men. He had felt that it was his duty to confer with the noble Lord on the subject, and he asked the noble Lord to grant him an interview upon it. He had had an interview with the noble Lord, who went through the Report of the Committee, and, after very mature consideration, the noble Lord came to the conclusion that the writ for Rye ought not to issue without further consideration. The noble Lord authorised him (Mr. Bass) to communicate that as his view to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tufnell). As many hon. Gentlemen might not be acquainted with the circumstances of the case, it might not be an improper 292 liberty on his part if he called their attention to two or three points, not of the evidence, but merely of the Report of the Committee. He confessed it was a matter of great surprise to him that the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington), who was Chairman of the Committee, having become perfectly acquainted with the history and proceedings of the borough, should have argued so strongly for issuing the writ. It was stated by one of the hon. Members for Dorsetshire, who was a high authority, that no Select Committee appointed to conduct any investigation, issued a Special Report without expecting it to be acted on by the House. The Report stated that the borough was in a most unsatisfactory condition, and called on the House, seeing the constituency was not in a position to exercise free election, to furnish a remedy for such a state of things. The Report stated that Mr. Jeremiah Smith corruptly lent money for electioneering purposes to a very large amount; that, in 1837, loans were outstanding to the extent of 15,000l.; that the Committee had the strongest grounds for believing that the system of political loans, and the exercise of political influence so obtained, had been continued by Mr. Smith, though on a less extensive scale, down to the last election of 1852. The House would recollect that last week he presented a petition from sixty-three gentlemen of the highest respectability in the town, begging the House not to issue the writ, because they were not in a position to exercise the franchise. If they allowed this writ to issue, it would be tantamount to an emphatic sanction for corruption, and would destroy all confidence in the desire of the House to prevent those disreputable practices.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he understood that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, now absent, would reserve his opinion until after he had read the evidence. He begged to suggest that questions of this nature, deeply affecting the rights of electors, should be discussed early in the evening, and not at one or two o'clock in the morning. It was hardly decorous to be legislating on such a subject at such an hour.
§ MR. SPOONER moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. TUFNELL
said, that the argument of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) went to prove that the borough ought to be disfranchised, which was not the conclusion 293 he had arrived at after a careful perusal of the evidence.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he consented to the adjournment of the debate until to-morrow, when he trusted his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) would be sufficiently recovered to attend.
§ MR. FREWEN
said, he thought time ought to be given to enable Members to consider the evidence. But he wished more particularly to call the attention of the House to a concise statement published in the shape of a pamphlet by Major Curteis, which he thought hon. Members would do well to possess themselves of. In his concluding paragraph Major Curteis said—There is no doubt, whatever, that a great many of the respectable and independent electors of the borough would rather see it disfranchised than that the system originated by Mr. Smith should be continued or transferred by him to another. It is to be regretted that the Committee did not prosecute their inquiries further, as the fullest disclosures would have been made of a system of corruption established by one person.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ The House adjourned at a quarter before One o'clock.