HC Deb 07 July 1836 vol 34 cc1317-24

On the motion of Mr. Poulter, the House resolved into Committee on the Bill.

The 1st Clause having been read,

Mr. Forbes

said, he should oppose it, as he considered the Bill most arbitrary and unjust. If it were wished to remedy any defects in the municipal system of Poole, why had not advantage been taken of the Corporation Act Amendment Bill for that purpose? He moved that the first clause of the Bill be expunged.

Mr. Trevor

supported the motion. He believed that if the municipal elections in Poole had turned out satisfactorily to the gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House, the present Bill would never have been heard of. It was a most unjust measure, because the case was about to undergo investigation in a court of law.

Mr. Blackburne

maintained that Parliamentary interference was required, for the ordinary courts of justice could afford no remedy in the case, because, whatever might be their decision, it would not suffice to undo all the mischief which had already been done. Besides, two years might elapse before the judgment of a court of law could be obtained. By the undue election of two councillors, a particular party had obtained the majority in the Corporation of Poole, and had given to the officers employed by them what ever compensation they pleased. If it could be shown him that that grievance might be remedied by a court of law, he would then be ready to vote against the Bill.

Mr. Wynn

had strong objections to the principle of the Bill, and also to the manner in which the Committee of Inquiry on the subject was conducted, for he ventured to say, that every rule which had hitherto governed Committees with regard to the reception of evidence had been violated. He did not understand what useful object the hon. Members opposite had in view in pressing forward the pre sent Bill, for, considering the late period of the Session, and the certainty that in this case the other House would require to hear evidence at the bar, it was impossible for any person to believe that there was any chance of the Bill passing into law before the prorogation. The present Bill was a Bill of pains and penal ties, having for its object to set aside the elections of certain members of the common-council of Poole, who possessed an undoubted right at common law to have their case tried by the Court of King's Bench. The operation of the Bill was not limited to the two individuals with respect to whom evidence had been received by the Committee of Inquiry, but by one sweeping enactment it affected the election of all the members of the council. Moreover, it set aside all the acts of the council, and all elections which it made of officers. Was this a fair course of pro- ceeding? When the present Parliament first assembled, the choice of the Speaker was decided, in the fullest House ever remembered, by a majority of ten votes. Now, supposing that, with respect to the first five seats vacated in consequence of the Reports of Election Committees, Conservative Members had been substituted in the place of Gentlemen who gave their support to the Ministry, would it ever have been allowed that that circumstance should have the effect of nullifying all the previous proceedings of the House? And yet it was proposed in the case of the Poole Corporation, that all its acts should be set aside in consequence of the undue election of two of its members. The Committee stated in their Report, that the petitioners in the present case had made every effort to obtain redress from the courts of law; but there was not a syllable of evidence to that effect in the Re port. In point of fact, the case would, as he understood, be tried at the assizes in the course of a fortnight; and he conceived that nothing could be more inconvenient than to have a verdict pronounced on it at the same time by that House; which, like that in a recent proceeding, might be at direct variance with the judgment of a court of law delivered after hearing evidence on oath. As he felt it to be impossible the Bill should ever pass into law, he would advise hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House not to enter into a discussion of the elections which were alleged to be undue, because what was said in that House would be read out of it, and might have some effect in influencing the decision of the jury before which the case would be tried. He did not think that much attention ought to be paid to the Report of the Committee, because every rule of Parliament had been violated by the admission of affidavits. Those affidavits were not contained in the body of the Report, but they were referred to, so that it was evident they had influenced the conclusions of the Committee. They had been, however, prudently enough separated from the Report, because it was well known that the Report must have been rejected by the House had the affidavits been contained in it. The right hon. Gentleman then referred to the opinion given as to the Bill by the only legal adviser of the Crown who could speak on the subject—namely, the Solicitor-Ge- neral. (The Attorney-General having been counsel in the case could not offer any opinion on it.) That hon. and learned Gentleman (the Solicitor-General) had stated, that he felt it his duty to object to the Bill, as unusual in practice, dangerous in principle, and tending to establish a very bad precedent, and on those grounds he had protested against it. The events to which the Bill referred had taken place last December, and there was then a trial pending in the Court of King's Bench respecting them. Witnesses would be examined on oath, and there was every chance of having the whole truth as to the case elicited. A court of law, he added, was the proper tribunal to which to refer the case. The course proposed by the Bill would be a direct interference of the Legislature with the judicial functions of our law courts. Now, after the declaration of the only legal adviser of the Crown who could speak on the measure, he would ask hon. Members opposite whether they could vote for the Bill.

Mr. Poulter

said., a greater quantity of misconception, of unfair and inaccurate reasoning, was never before presented to the consideration of the House, than was brought before it by the right hon. Gentle man. There had been such a mass of un reasonable arguments that he really was in a dilemma as to what he should begin with. In the first place he would refer to the allusion which had been made to the speech of the Solicitor-General; and here he must say, that he did not know where the right hon. Gentleman had got the speech, but it was certainly an inaccurate version that he gave the House. The Solicitor-General admitted that this was a perfect case for legislation. The fact was undeniable that gross fraud had been practised at the election of the councillors, who had been referred to. The reason why they had not called the eighty-eight witnesses was, because the Committee wished to avoid expense, but no limit was set as to the time when they might be called. Then, as regarded the affidavits not appearing in the appendix, that omission was an error of the printer. The great recommendation of this Bill was, that it provided what the law of the country could not give. If this Bill did not pass, the people would be left for sis years in the hands of those in whose election they had no concern whatever. The Committee had so many gross cases of fraud proved to them, that they felt themselves called on to declare the whole election void. And on the subject of the Report he begged to remind the House that it was unanimous. The utmost that was said by one or two of the Committee was, that they did not like to legislate on this subject. The House should consider that, by a gross falsification, a Corporation had been established that never had been elected by the people. He contended that this Bill was unobjectionable on any constitutional ground.

Mr. Wynn

would ask if any one act of illegality appeared on the face of the Report.

Mr. Poulter

referred to the case of G. Morris, who, having voted on one paper, a second was received by the mayor. Then there was another person whose name was not on the list of voters, but who was allowed to vote because he had the impudence to say that he was the person. James Parker was brought to personate his father, in the case of another person there was perjury.

An hon. Member asked, whether this case was not to come on for trial at the next Gloucester assizes.

Mr. Poulter

replied in the affirmative; and, in answer to another question from the same hon. Member, added, that it was impossible that the decision of a jury could be any other than against the defendant.

Mr. Sergeant Goulburn

said, every body who had heard the statement of the hon. Gentleman must feel assured as to the impartiality with which he had acted in the chair of the Committee. Of course, the hon. Gentleman had not exhibited any thing of the advocate in the inquiry which had taken place. He found it stated, that the Report had been framed on certain affidavits. Now, he thought it unfair for any such proceedings to be founded on affidavits, when there was strong political excitement or feeling, parties were often tempted to put that on paper which they would not say if they apprehended a cross examination. He remembered that Lord Lyndhurst when at the bar said—" who shall transfer the blush of bribery to paper?" He observed that there was a reference to the affidavits in the appendix, but on examining it he found no affidavits there. This the hon. Gentleman said was the omission of the printer, but be the fault i whose it might, he would ask the House would they vote away the rights of the people without evidence? He regretted the absence of the learned Solicitor-General, because he wished to know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman maintained his opinion. This appeared to him to be a Bill founded on injustice. He called on the House to reflect on what their position would be if the judgment of the court, at the assizes, should be in direct opposition to the opinion of this House.

Mr. Leader

defended the conduct of the Committee, and denied that the Chairman had put questions unfairly to any of the witnesses. The Committee was a very fair one, and was attended daily by three or four gentlemen on one side, and three or four on the other side.

Mr. Hardy

could not see how hon. Gentlemen opposite could support the Bill, after the Solicitor-General had described it as a dangerous precedent. For himself, he should give it his decided opposition.

Mr. Twiss

must totally deny that the Committee was satisfied with the evidence, or that they were unanimous in their decision. This was evident from the fact that some members of the Committee voted against the Bill. On the trial also which took place, some of those who had been condemned by the Committee were declared innocent by a court of law. He believed DO enlargement of the rule, as it was stated, Had taken place, and that the case stood for hearing this month. Let them look at the inconvenience which might arise if this matter should be brought before the House of Lords, where it was not the practice to examine witnesses upon affidavit. There was no sufficient reason shown why the House should now prematurely decide upon a question which would be far more satisfactorily decided upon by a court of law.

Mr. Praed

rose, amidst cries of "Question." He was sitting there, he said, judicially, and he trusted the House would hear him. He was not present upon a former occasion when the Solicitor-General delivered his opinion upon this Bill. In this he was unfortunate, but the Solicitor General himself was equally unfortunate in not having heard his (Mr. Praed's) opinion. He did not deny that this might be a case for Parliamentary decision, but not under present circumstances, because it was pending in a court of law. If the Solicitor-General were now present, he felt confident that, after the opinion before ex pressed by his hon. and learned Friend, the Bill would not be allowed to proceed further. He contended that the case of Great Yarmouth was a case in point. There, two witnesses were dismissed by a Committee of the House of Commons, as blameless and without reproach, who, however, were after wards visited with the strongly marked condemnation of a jury. The House of Commons, a political tribunal, was here called upon to legislate upon a political crime. Such a course was pregnant with mischief, and he would oppose the Bill in every stage.

The House divided on the clause—Ayes 98; Noes 64,—Majority 34.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. Lemon, Sir C.
Adam, Admiral Lefevre, C. S.
Attwood, Thomas Lister, E. C.
Bellew, Richard M. Lushington, Charles
Baines, Edward Mackenzie, J. A. S.
Ball, N. Maule, hon. Fox
Baldwin, Dr. Marshall, William
Bagshaw, John Marsland, H.
Baring, F. T. M'Taggart, J.
Blamire, W. Morpeth, Lord
Bridgman, Hewitt Mostyn, hon. E. L.
Byng, George Murray, rt. hon. J.
Brotherton, J. O'Connell, J.
Brodie, William B. O'Connell, Morgan
Buckingham, J. S. O'Loghlen, M.
Blackburne, John Oswald, James
Bowring, Dr. Pechell, Capt. t
Brocklehurst, J. Pendarves, E. W.
Cave, R. O. Pinney, W.
Chichester, J. P. B. Philips, G. R.
Codrington, Sir E. Ponsonby, W.
Curteis, Herbert B. Potter, R.
Cavendish, hon. C. C. Price, Sir R.
Chalmers, P. Rundle, J.
Clive, Edw. Bolton Ruthven, E.
Dalmeny, Lord Sanford, E. A.
Dillwyn, L. W. Seale, Colonel
Dundas, hon. J. C. Sharpe, General
Dunlop, J. Smith, Benjamin
D'Eyncourt, C. T. Smith, Robert V,
Ebrington, Lord Stauley, E. J.
Euston, Lord Stuart, Lord James
Ewart, W. Steuart, R.
Fellowes, N. Strutt, E.
Fergusson, rt. hon. C. Talbot, J. Hyacinth
Ferguson, Sir R. Tancred, H. W;
Gordon, Robert Tooke, W.
Grey, Sir Geo., bt. Thompson, Col.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Thorneley, T.
Gillon, W. D. Trelawney, Sir W. L.
Heathcote, J. Tulk, C. A.
Hastie, A. Wakley, T.
Hay, Sir A. L. Wallace, Robert
Hawes, Benjamin Wason, R.
Hawkins, J. H. Warburton, H.
Hindley, C. Williams, W. A.
Horsman, E. Williams, W.
Hobhouse, Sir J. C. Winnington, Capt, H.
Hodges, T. L.
Kemp, T. R. TELLER.
Leader, J, T. Poulter, J.
List of the NOES.
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Blackstone, W. S.
Balfour, T. Geary, Sir William
Boldero, Captain Gladstone, T.
Bramston, T. W. Gordon, hon. Captain
Bruen, Col. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Goulburn, Sergeant
Clerk, Sir G. Hale, R. B.
Cole, Major Halford, H.
Cooper, Ashley Hardy, John
Egerton, Sir Philip Hay, Sir John
Elley, Sir John Hawkes, Thomas
Freshfield, J. W. Hogg, J. W.
Ferguson, Captain Jones, Captain
Forbes, W. Knatchbull, Sir E.
Fremantle, Sir Thos. Law, hon. C. E.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Lefroy, A.
Lowther, Colonel Ross, Charles
Lowther, Lord Sandon, Viscount
Neeld, J. Scarlett, Robert
Packe, C. W. Shaw, Frederick
Palmer,— Sibthorp, Colonel
Parry, Sir Love Somerset, Lord G.
Perceval, Colonel Sturt, H. C.
Plumptre, J. P. Trevor, hon. A.
Praed, W. M. Twiss, H.
Pringle, A. Vyvyan, Sir Richard
Price, S. Grove Wynn, rt. hon. C. W
Rae, Sir W. Young, G. F.
Richards, J.

The House resumed, Committee to sit again.