HL Deb 02 June 1834 vol 24 cc2-5
Lord Wynford

expressed a wish that something should be done to accelerate their Lordships' decision with respect to the Bill for regulating the Borough of Warwick. Many witnesses had been examined, and yet they saw no end to the case. The expense was enormous, as those witnesses were very liberally paid. They had as yet made no progress in proving the preamble of the Bill, and they might be going on in this way for three or four months longer, unless some arrangement could he made to bring the matter to an end.

The Lord Chancellor

could not complain of his noble and learned friend for having brought this subject before the House. That to which his noble and learned friend had particularly called their Lordships' attention—namely, the great expense that was incurred—was well worthy of consideration. For the last week or ten days, very little progress had certainly been made. At the commencement of these proceedings, he felt very great reluctance to appear impatient, or to do anything which might look as if he wished to obstruct evidence, and so long as anything was brought forward which bore on the preamble of the Bill, he did not interfere. But still he thought some arrangement ought to be made as to the compass to which the residue of the evidence should be suffered to extend. He had not the smallest wish to cut out evidence, but he would call on counsel to adduce that evidence only which appeared to be really material. It should particularly be recollected, that this was not the only Bill of the kind then before their Lordships. It was, on the contrary, one of four bills; and if they went on with the examination of fifty-nine witnesses, who were yet unexamined, a prorogation of Parliament would take place before the number was exhausted. If it could be so arranged that the evidence given in this Session should be accessible in the next, some part of the difficulty might be overcome; but it was not very usual to take such a course. It was, indeed, rather to be avoided, and simply on this account: sitting there as a Judge, he should not be doing his duty to their Lordships, if the case having been postponed, he did not sum up the evidence in the following Session; but after such a lapse of time, what chance was there that he would retain the impression which that evidence, at the moment, had made on his own mind—what chance was there that their Lordships would retain the impression which the evidence, as given in their hearing, had created in their minds? Evidence might be made to appear credible or incredible on paper. It might be made to appear just the reverse of what it seemed at the time when it came from the witness's mouth. The expense was unquestionably very great, and ought, if possible, to be avoided. The subject was, however, beset with difficulties, and he wished that he could see his way clearly through them. He had merely thrown out these observations for consideration, leaving it to others to point out what they might conceive to be expedient. Some rule might, perhaps, be adopted by the learned counsel (and no men were more able to discharge their duty to their clients) by which they could confine themselves to those points of the case on which they thought they could confidently rely, while, for the present at least, they dispensed with everything that did not appear to be absolutely necessary.

The Earl of Durham

said, he was as anxious as the noble and learned Lord opposite, or as the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, to bring this matter to an end as soon as possible: therefore he should not oppose any proposition for effecting that object. For himself, he should suggest, that the best mode of proceeding would be to meet early in the morning; and go through with the evidence from the beginning to the end.

The Duke of Cumberland

was understood to accede to the proposition of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, that the counsel should be requested to confine themselves to material points. It would be most inconvenient to meet in the morning, and he hoped the noble Earl would not make a Motion to that effect.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, they had now been upwards of three weeks considering this subject, and, from the anxious attention he had paid to the evidence, he could safely may, that the counsel at the bar had made little or no progress in establishing their case. Indeed, during the last three or four days the evidence they had called completely contradicted the main facts on which they rested their case at first. Nearly sixty witnesses had now been examined; and he knew so much of the experience and ability of the learned Gentlemen at their Lordships' bar, that he was convinced, if they failed in making out a case with the assistance of the witnesses who had already been heard, it was but a waste of time to go on with the witnesses that remained. The noble and learned Lord on the woolsack had called on counsel to state the points to which they intended to direct their examination. He approved of that suggestion; and he had attended to hear the statement of Mr. Harrison. It was, he might say, a statement of the most vague description that could be imagined; and he left the House with pretty much the same degree of information as it possessed when he entered it. What did the learned counsel say he would endeavour to prove? 1. Some few instances of bribery. 2. Acts of treating to a considerable extent before testing the writ, and many afterwards; and he stated, that he would connect the treating before testing the writ with the treating after it. The third proposition was, that he should prove, that frauds had been committed, names having been placed on the registers that should not have been there; and lastly, he stated, that he should prove the existence of great violence and tumult. With respect to the first point, even if they gave the utmost credit to the witness Macdonough, still not more than ten or twelve cases of bribery were proved. With respect to treating before testing the writ, and treating after it, it had been proved, during the last two or three days, it was wholly unsanctioned by the candidates. With respect to the argument as to improper registration, it was one of the most extraordinary reasons that ever was given for such a measure as this. It was an attempt to prove, that because persons unconnected with the Borough, and having no right to vote there, had got their names improperly inserted on the registers, therefore their Lordships were called on to disfranchise those who had, by law, a right to vote. To attempt such a thing as that was quite unexampled. As to the riots, it appeared that, in 1831, men had been hired to protect the real voters, and to enable them to vote, in consequence of hostile attempts which had been made by members of the Birmingham Union. It was, in fact, a matter of self-defence. He was willing to rest the case on the statement of counsel at the bar, and even then it could not stand. In conclusion, the noble and learned Lord adverted to the great expenditure, which, in the end, must amount to many thousand pounds, if they proceeded in this manner.

The Lord Chancellor

objected to proceeding with the Bill in the morning. If he and other of his learned friends were obliged to attend to hear the evidence, justice, both in law and equity, would be to a considerable extent suspended.

Lord Wynford

said, it would be very desirable to hear from the counsel at the bar what more evidence they could adduce to support the charge of bribery. The persons who had absented themselves from this inquiry might have done so in consequence of their poverty, and not from any feeling of contumacy. He doubted, however, Whether they could be arrested under a royal proclamation. He thought it was necessary that those who attempted the arrest should be armed with a warrant from that House.

Counsel were called in, and their Lordships proceeded with the Bill.

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