§ Viscount Melbourne
My Lords, I now rise to make the Motion which I proposed on a former occasion, when I was interrupted by the Motion made by a noble Earl, and adopted by this House, for hearing Counsel and receiving evidence at the Bar. When I consider the length at which I addressed your Lordships on a former occasion, when the general principle of the Measure was discussed, and when I consider the very clear and distinct arguments both for and against that Measure which were then addressed to your Lordships, I do not think it my duty to offer any very lengthened observations to your Lordships on this occasion. Your Lordships have heard Counsel at the Bar; you have heard the evidence also at the Bar. Your Lordships well know my opinion of the inconvenience of that proceeding, as well with regard to the present Measure, as with regard to the precedent it would establish. I shall, therefore, 331 make no further observations upon that part of the subject. I think the inconvenience has been fully exemplified by the many petitions that it has called forth, by the nature of the debates which it has produced, and by the many small matters that have been brought in question before your Lordships. Such, for instance, as to whether a person possessing a beneficial lease under the Corporation of Coventry, has any interest in that Corporation, so as to bias his evidence in favour of that Corporation? These were small matters, but which might take your Lordships a great deal of time to unravel and discover; and which I apprehend at the same time could have no possible effect whatever upon the Question before you for your Lordships' decision. Having produced such an instance, I shall not dwell further upon this part of the subject, or produce other instances to show that my anticipations of the great inconvenience that would result from your Lordships' recent decision has been borne out, and has also been attended with some degree of injustice, because it is injustice, that imputations should be cast upon persons in the solemn and formal manner in which they have been, who had not the means of refuting or rebutting them. I think it is impossible not to feel, not only that considerable inconvenience, but that some injustice, has resulted from the mode adopted by your Lordships. With respect to the evidence given at the Bar, I shall not enter at present into an analysis of it. In the course of the debate upon this Measure we shall probably hear what part of that evidence is, and what part is not, material in the decision to which we ought to come on the Question before your Lordships. With respect to that evidence I will only say,—not meaning in the slightest degree to impeach the talents or the integrity of the persons by whom that evidence was given at the Bar, all of whom were well acquainted with the subject on which they spoke; but at the same time I must state that they were all persons either in the employ of these Corporations, or leading members of them; that they were involved entirely in the proceedings of these Corporations, for the reformation of the abuses of which this Bill is brought forward; that they were either the advisers or participators of all the acts their this Bill goes to correct; and that interests will be seriously affected by the provisions it contains. I must also 332 say, with respect to the mode in which the evidence was given, that it has been entirely ex-parte evidence, and conducted in an ex-parte manner. The witnesses were all examined on one side, and not cross-examined by Counsel on the other. They were examined in a most leading manner, and the only check upon them was any examination which any noble Peer might think proper to put; and which examination was necessarily very much curtailed and abbreviated from the anxiety we all felt to relieve ourselves as speedily as possible from a course of proceeding in which we felt we had most incautiously and injudiciously involved ourselves. With this observation I will dismiss that evidence; because, supposing all the facts it alleged were admitted to be true—yet the deductions from them were only the mere opinions of the witnesses who delivered them, and in my view of the case there are sufficient grounds for entertaining quite contrary opinions; while many of the statements themselves are capable of being contradicted by other evidence. But supposing this were not so, and all the facts were true, what do they amount to, beyond that of a re-statement of all the facts already given to your Lordships in the Commissioners' Report, except certain mistakes of a trifling nature, which are admitted by the Commissioners? But to any counter-statement made by the witnesses at the Bar against the Commissioners' Report, I am instructed to say that the Commissioners can satisfactorily defend their Report against the charge of mis-statement or error. But, my Lords, I again say, if the whole of the evidence taken at the Bar were admitted to be true, it would not in the slightest degree affect the general grounds upon which I rest my defence and support of this Measure—general grounds, the justness of which, in a certain degree, was admitted on a former occasion by some noble Lords in this House, who are nevertheless opposed to this Bill. With respect to the Corporation Commissioners, I cannot but think that they have been treated with great and unmitigated injustice. Their names have been derided, and definitions of their political characters given, from whence collected I know not. But when observations of the same sort were made which were supposed to reflect upon the early political character of others, the answer immediately was this—"No—you have no right to say that—you 333 have no right to attack me for opinions I may have entertained before I came into Parliament; it is my public acts alone that you have any right to impeach." My Lords, I think there is great justice in that remark; but then, my Lords, let the same justice be rendered to the Commissioners which you demand for yourselves, that which you ask for yourselves should be also meted out to these Commissioners, who stand precisely in the same situation as you did—who stand precisely in the same rank of life—who stand precisely in the same profession as those did who now charge them with undue violence—with going beyond due bounds in their political principles, political feelings, and political opinions. This, my Lords, is no light charge. It is very well known what is meant by this. I say it would be perfect injustice to ascribe these feelings and opinions to the Commissioners, for nobody can be positive or certain of what are the real political principles and opinions of men when they are merely collected from common report, and common conversation, and not from the intimate intercourse of private life. It is not fair, then, with respect to men struggling upward in their profession, to stop them in a manner which may be of serious mischief to them, and greatly prejudicial in the course of their after-life. Your Lordships must expect that these Commissioners, attacked as they have been—accused of the most violent principles—charged with stating direct falsehoods—and threatened with punishment—must necessarily feel—as men of honour and integrity, who are conscious of having discharged a great public duty to the best of their ability—indignant and impatient under such imputations. They have been most anxious to petition your Lordships, in order that they may be heard at the Bar in refutation of those aspersions. They feel confident they could, in a short period, dissipate the whole of the imputations thrown out against them. I have, however, entirely dissuaded them from such a course. I was afraid that we might be involved in further inconvenience; I was afraid that some of your Lordships would say, that it was due in justice that they should be heard. I therefore persuaded them from pursuing that course, distinctly informing them that I could not refuse presenting their petition, but that I thought it more prudent not to present it; because I did not in my mind 334 feel confident that if I did not move that they should be heard at the Bar some other noble Lord might do so. In consequence of this they addressed to me a letter, which states more distinctly than I could do, the grounds on which they rest their case, and the manner in which they reply to the charges made against them, which letter I think it my duty to trouble your Lordships with. I have also received a letter from Mr. Buckle, and one from Mr. Austin, to a similar effect.* The*The following are the letters referred to in the text:—Aug. 12, 1835.MY LORD—Having just read a letter written to your Lordship by Mr. Drinkwater and Mr. Rushton, relative to the attacks made upon the conduct of the Corporation Commissioners by the Counsel and witnesses at the Bar of the House of Lords, I beg leave to assure your Lordship that I concur in the feelings expressed in that letter by the Commissioners who signed it; and I strenuously protest against any unfavourable inference being drawn either against my own, or the reports of other Commissioners, from the unproved statements of Counsel or the evidence of witnesses interested in the present Corporate system, and who were subjected to no cross-examination.Iam, &c. &c. "C. AUSTIN.House of Lords, half-past seven.Penzance, August 10, 1835.MY LORD—I learn from the newspapers that the House of Lords is now engaged in a quasi-judicial inquiry into the conduct of the Corporation CommissioCommissioners, may I be permitted to ask whether it is the intention of the House to limit this inquiry to the statements of town-clerks and aldermen; or whether the numerous witnesses, upon whose testimony our reports are founded, and whose evidence was publicly given upon oath, in the presence of the several Corporations and their opponents, subject to any questions that might be suggested on either side, will be called to their Lordships' Bar for examination?Without presuming to understand the precise nature of those functions which the House is now exercising, I may be allowed to observe that if their Lordships propose to judge the conduct of the Commissioners or the faithfulness of their Reports, by the ex-parte statements to which they are now listening, it will be a very novel mode of exhibiting to the country that nice sense of justice to which they have laid claim upon this occasion. Confident that in such a case your Lordship will not suffer the character of this inquiry to pass un observed, when the Commissioners cannot be heard, I will only add, that I am prepared to justify my Reports on the Corporations within 335 first letter is signed by John Elliot Drink-water and Edward Rushton, and runs thus:—Westminster, August 12, 1835.MY LORD—We feel ourselves placed in circumstances of great pain and embarrassment, by the course adopted in the House of Lords with regard to the Municipal Corporation Reform Bill, being compelled either to permit our characters to be unjustifiably assailed with impunity, or to promote the objects of the parties, by whom the attack has been instigated, by offering to vindicate ourselves at the cost of certain delay, and probable consequent defeat, of a great public measure, involving the present peace and permanent interests of the empire.Your Lordship is aware that almost all the Commissioners are absent from London, and are even now very imperfectly informed of the charges against them; but we are confident that the feelings with which we now address your Lordship must be shared by all our colleagues who are placed in the same situation.Our natural impulse would lead us to present a petition to the House of Lords, praying to be allowed the opportunity of repelling the mis-statements which have been made at the Bar affecting us, and of supplying the additional information to the House, without which it is impossible for their Lordships to estimate the propriety of the manner in which the inquiry was conducted, or the correctness of the Commissioners' Reports. But your Lordship informs us that this course will not have the sanction and support of Government on account of the necessary consequences to which we have already alluded.We are therefore driven to request this, at least, of your Lordship, that the House may be made aware that it is from no indifference to their Lordships' censure, from no want of regard to our own reputation, and from no want of means fully to establish the propriety of our behaviour, that we are reluctantly induced to forbear appearing as petitioners before your Lordships.The present occasion is not a fitting one to make general allegations of the spirit in which we attempted faithfully to discharge the important duty intrusted to us, and of which we have the satisfaction to believe that your Lordship is fully convinced. We pass by in silence much of the intemperate abuse with which we have been assailed, since their Lordships did not deem the language in which it was uttered unfit to be heard at their Bar. But we cannot entirely repress the indignation the Eastern Circuit, including those upon Norwich and Boston, which have been subjects of complaint.I have the honour to be, my Lord,Your Lordship's most obedient servant,JOHN BUCKLEViscount Melbourne, &c. &c, &c.336and disgust with which we have heard ourselves accused by Counsel of malignity, and of wilful and scandalous falsehood, which feelings have been greatly heightened by observing that none of the witnesses would adopt the language which the Counsel ineffectually endeavoured to put into their mouths.We have carefully examined the whole of the evidence given at the Bar, and are not a little surprised at perceiving that by far the largest portion of it consists merely of an imperfect repetition of statements already made more fully in our Reports, with which we have not conceived that it was the intention of their Lordships to allow their time to be occupied. The facts contradicted in detail are not only exceedingly few in number, but are altogether unimportant.Even under the strong provocation that we have received, we are very loth to accuse either Sir Charles Wetherell or Mr. Knight of an intention to mislead the House, although they have shewn little forbearance or delicacy towards us; but we earnestly beg your Lordship to take an opportunity of pressing on the attention of the House that the abuse of us, in which those gentlemen indulged, was neither grounded on any specific allegations in the petitions on which they were heard, nor has it been sustained or justified by the evidence which they have called.Among many other things of which we have just reason to complain, we have discovered, with the greatest regret, that in more than one instance a witness was prevailed upon to swear that the Report was false and incorrect, by Counsel pretending to read, as part of the Report, that which is not part of the Report, and by incorrectly stating that to be omitted from the Report which is not omitted from the Report. Three instances of this occur in the evidence on Coventry alone.Your Lordship is aware that our Reports do not profess to give the evidence which was taken by us, but merely the general effect and result upon our minds of all the evidence which we received; and we are perfectly sensible that the reliance that can be placed upon the truth of the matters which we have so reported must depend upon whatever character we are supposed to bear for intelligence and impartiality; but we protest against any conclusion being drawn with respect to the accuracy of the representations made by us from a review of evidence on both sides of the question, from the picture which has been drawn by witnesses on one side only. All our inquiries were conducted in public, and all evidence which was tendered to us was received, and notwithstanding the assertions of Counsel, no satisfactory proof has yet been offered to the House that the testimony of any of those witnesses was disregarded by us. It is not however surprising that those who are implicated in a system which we denounce as bad and unpopular, should cavil at our conclusions, and should think that until they were called to 337 make an ex-parte statement at the Bar of the House of Lords, sufficient weight was not allowed to their own evidence in their own favour.It has been alleged, and strongly commented upon, that we were in private communication with the adversaries of the Corporation, which in the sense in which alone the witnesses could swear to it (namely, for the purpose of learning the subjects of inquiry), is true and justifiable, but in the sense in which it was brought against us, as an accusation, is absolutely groundless.It must be obvious to your Lordship that it was only from the adversaries of the Corporation that we could learn what were the complaints that existed on which the inhabitants wished an inquiry to be instituted: but the examination appears to have been cautiously conducted, so as to lead the House to believe, contrary to the fact, that evidence was received in private, and that complaints have been noticed in the Report which were not made the subject of public investigation.Your Lordship is perhaps aware that even in the short interval that has elapsed since the evidence before the House has been made public, the accuracy of the Reports have been vindicated in several towns in which the conduct of the Commissioners has been most strongly attacked, by resolutions unanimously passed at large public meetings of the inhabitants. It is possible, therefore, that we might have safely treated the attack upon us with silent contempt.We trust, however, that some allowance will be made by your Lordship for the feelings of men who conscientiously believe that they should not have been calumniated, if a more important object had not been in view than the defamation of their character, and who are told that it is their duty to submit for a time to the aspersions cast upon them, rather than throw additional obstacles in the way of a measure of great national importance.We have the honour to be, my Lord,Your Lordship's obedient servants,JOHN ELLIOT DRINKWATER,EDWARD RUSHTON.This, my Lords, is the statement made by the Commissioners. It is more distinct, more forcible and positive than anything I could advance; and with that statement of their case I leave these gentlemen to your Lordships' justice, and submit their conduct to your fair and impartial consideration. With respect to the general measure itself it is not my intention on the present occasion to repeat all those general arguments by which I before attempted to induce your Lordships to consent to the second reading. Your Lordships must be fully aware that there is a great and general feeling prevailing 338 on this subject: that that feeling is not confined to one part of the country, or to one class of the community; but that it prevails as well in corporate towns and cities as in towns not corporate; that it in short pervades the whole mass of the community. I am not, as your Lordships are well aware, one of those who think that public opinion is always necessarily correct, just, and right—or that we are always to be bound to obey its dictates. I am perfectly ready to admit, that the people may be misled by passion, their judgment warped by prejudice, that their opinions may be erroneous, and their views mistaken: but, my Lords, I nevertheless am bound to say that there is a state of public feeling and opinion upon this question under circumstances which call upon your Lordships to give it your particular attention; and which make it necessary that your Lordships should think of it with more than ordinary interest and concern. Whatever may be thought of the liability to error on the part of the people, yet when general views on any given subject are entertained by large masses of the community, no wise statesman, no prudent legislator, would ever treat those views with neglect or disregard. Your Lordships know very well that throughout all those towns where the name of a corporation exists, a long, deep-rooted, and settled opinion has prevailed that the present constitution of those corporations is an usurpation; that it is a deprivation of rights which formerly existed; that it is an encroachment and an innovation upon the more popular form of the institutions which were established in these boroughs by our ancestors. The public opinion is never so much to be regarded, or to be looked at with so much caution and respect, as when it is founded on a feeling of right, and when the people think they have been treated with injustice. Such are the feelings that have been manifested by the various corporate towns on this subject; they, therefore, demand your Lordships' particular consideration. Another circumstance which requires your Lordships' serious attention is, that this is a question which peculiarly concerns the middle orders, and those who constitute the great bulk of the people. They feel it more, and consequently they understand it much better than your Lordships. There may be questions upon which your Lordships may be able to form a better judg- 339 merit than the bulk of the people; but upon this question the people, I repeat, are much better judges than you are. They know intimately the workings of, these corporations. There may be, in a local Government, a system extremely partial, a system extremely troublesome, a system extremely annoying, a system extremely offensive, a system felt by everybody in the place to taint, as it were, the very air about them, making it noxious and hurtful to all but a few, and yet, for all this, it may be very difficult to detect any actual abuse, or to fix upon that which is, in fact, the real cause of the evil. This, then, my Lords, is a strong reason why you should pay particular attention to the feelings expressed by the people on this subject. But there is another reason: my Lords, I tell you that this is not only the feeling of the people, but it is a sound, it is a sincere feeling. It is in their hearts. It is not a momentary feeling got up for the occasion—it is not a factitious feeling—it is not a feeling capable of being raised by exaggeration. On other questions I do not deny that great popular prejudice, great exaggeration existed, both with regard to the evils produced by the existing system of things, and the good to be derived from the removal of them. But that is not the case upon this subject. I do not mean to say that there is no exaggeration upon this subject; that no violence—no passion has been displayed; but I do maintain, my Lords, that it is a subject less capable of exaggeration, less susceptible of misrepresentation—a subject upon which the passions are less likely to be inflamed than any other question that has been placed upon the basis of the popular opinion. My Lords, I have but little more to state upon this question. It is impossible not to feel that it is a very great misfortune when the three branches of the Legislature do not act at least with something like unanimity, when there is not something like agreement in their proceedings, when there is not something like sympathy in their feelings and opinions. My Lords, I feel this to be a very delicate subject to touch upon; but, my Lords, I do say that if any alienation between your Lordships and the House of Commons should be of long continuance, it would and must lead to consequences of the most disastrous kind. Your Lordships well know, indeed it is too clear to be doubted or denied, that there 340 is not that union and that sympathy between your Lordships and those who constitute the majority of the other House of Parliament which it is desirable on all considerations should subsist. Your Lord-ships do not sympathize with a very considerable majority of the House of Commons. I beg your Lordships to recollect that this Bill passed the second reading in the House of Commons without any division; and not only so, but after it had undergone the scrutiny of a committee, and after all the amendments which were moved had been negatived in that committee, those who proposed such amendments did not think the Bill, even though their improvements were rejected, was so unfitted to pass into a law as to justify them to vote for its rejection; but it was read also a third time without a division. I say, therefore, my Lords, that this ought to make you to pause before you determine to reject the Bill so passed by the House of Commons. I call upon your Lordships to consider; to reflect. I do not speak this by way of menace, or in the way of intimidation. I offer it to your Lordships' calm judgment. But your Lordships will recollect, if you refuse to conciliate, if you refuse either to go into committee, or to give this Bill a fair consideration, you will be setting yourselves in opposition, not to a majority of the House of Commons that support the Ministers, but you will be setting yourselves in opposition to almost the whole House of Commons. You will be setting yourselves in opposition to the opinions of the people of England, collected, not from public meetings, to which objections may be made—collected, not from petitions presented to this House, to which objections may be made; but you will be, and are, setting yourselves in opposition to the opinions of the people of England, declared through the legitimate organs—their representatives in Parliament. I now move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House on the Bill.
The Duke of Newcastle
rose to move an amendment. He felt as much as the noble Viscount could feel the inconvenience arising from this House being in opposition to the other House of Parliament. He should be very much disposed to prevent a collision between the two branches of the Legislature; but, after all, he could not see any reason why this House should be obliged to adopt the measures of the House of Commons, if their Lordships in 341 their wisdom should think those measures were not correct. It was possible that even the acute mind of that highly-talented person who stood so eminently forward in the other House of Parliament might not see everything in a correct point of view. No human being was infallible. If he differed from the noble Duke (Wellington), whom he respected beyond what his powers of speech would enable him to express, he did so upon purely conscientious grounds. This, however, was not the first time in which he had differed from the noble Duke. When the noble Duke came forward as the advocate of the measure for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act, and also of the Bill for the Emancipation of the Roman Catholics, he had stated his objections to those two measures, and warned their Lordships not to adopt them. Subsequent experience induced him to think that the warning he then ventured to give was not out of place. Subsequent experience taught him to think that it would have been well if his warning had been listened to with a more attentive ear. In the same way that he had warned the House on the two former occasions to which he had alluded, he begged to warn them now. He would have them beware how they adopted a Bill of the description of that now under their consideration. He did not mean to say that his views were right; but he believed them to be right, and believing them to be right he was prepared to avow and maintain them. He believed that the measure was fraught with every evil that could beset a legislative enactment. It was a measure of the worst description—it was a measure which had for its object the spoliation of property, the deprivation of rights, and the violation of that good faith which the Government and the Parliament had universally observed towards all British subjects. If their Lordships consented to the violation of that good faith, and of those rights and privileges which pertained to certain classes of the community, they might depend upon it that at no distant period they would have to lament a similar violation of their own rights and privileges. The vote of the same House of Parliament which tended so injuriously and so unjustly to deprive the existing corporations of the country of their rights and privileges, might just as easily be applied to deprive every one of their Lordships of their estates and to 342 subject them to the arbitrary will of a tyrannical House of Commons. The noble Viscount at the head of the Government, in introducing the Bill a few days ago, had called it a remedial measure: but he (the Duke of Newcastle) stated on that occasion that he could only regard it as a Bill of Pains and Penalties. If it were indeed a remedial measure, where was the necessity for appointing the Commission. The Commission had cost the country a great deal of money, yet the noble Viscount had declared that its opinion was in fact of no value, and that it had only been appointed pro forma. If that were really the fact, he (the Duke of Newcastle) must say that his Majesty's Ministers had been guilty of a shameful waste of the public money, to squander it away on a commission whose opinion they declared was not worth having. A noble Earl the other day, in alluding to a commission which was about to issue with respect to the church affairs of Scotland, had very ably and very properly pointed out the immense mischiefs which result from the issuing of commissions of this description; and on that occasion the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, with the view, he supposed, of removing all objection upon the subject, stated that the Commission alluded to would be composed of persons of all sentiments. Persons of all sentiments! A goodly company indeed to inquire into the affairs of a church. In former times, when arbitrary rule used to exist in this country, commissions issued in this manner were the usual and ready instruments by which the most arbitrary measures were effected; and it could not have escaped their Lordships attention that one of the strongest provisions of the Bill of Rights was particularly directed against these very commissions, and with good reason, since experience had shown that they were calculated to centralize in the hands of Government all those powers which, useful and valuable as distributed over the whole country, became dangerous when vested in the Minister of the Crown. It was necessary, looking at the prevailing spirit of the day, that their Lordships should not lose sight of their privileges, or be wanting in courage to perform the duties which had been marked out for them by the constitution. In 1815 it was impossible to find a country in Europe so happy as England—so prosperous in every respect, 343 and so much looked up to by every nation under the sun. What had happened since then? We had trusted since then too much to our own wits, and we had gone totally astray from the political light, which unfailingly led us to that prosperity and honour. We were, consequently, day after day becoming more unhappy, and less prosperous; and he foresaw that we should go on in that downward track until we came to a revolution, unless it were speedily and effectually averted by the exertions of their Lordships. He was inclined to come to these conclusions by his observation on the spirit of universal anarchy which was abroad; and he should warn their Lordships that, unless a check were speedily put on it, all would be lost. At the onset he had stated his objections to its proceeding further, on the grounds that it was a condemnation of parties unsupported by evidence, and a deprivation of property without the formalities even of justice. The House had seen it in the same light; and evidence had been heard. What was proved by that evidence? The contrary of all the allegations in the parts of the report which had been entered on; and the total absence of every shade of delinquency on the part of the corporations. However, notwithstanding all that, it appeared that the Bill was to be proceeded with—that it was to be permitted to go into Committee for the purpose of amendment, which he felt bound to say could never take place, the measure was so radically and essentially bad. He considered that in that respect the corporations had been very ill used; because their money had been expended in procuring evidence which it appeared was not to have the effect it deserved. He had heard it alleged against the corporations that their magisterial authority was of no avail; but this he could, from his own knowledge, deny. He lived in a county where riots were frequent, and organised opposition to the law extensive; and he had received proofs on more than one occasion of the efficiency of the corporation in checking the one and putting an end to the other. He would instance the town of Nottingham, with whose corporation he entirely differed in politics, the more willingly; for the purpose of bearing his testimony to the excellence of their police, and the great assistance derived from their local authority on all such occasions. If the Bill for the extinction of municipal 344 corporations should be passed, the House would be called on to perform the same office for others, of a similar character and founded on the same principle. The Established Church was a corporate body. Its possessions and privileges could consequently be attacked on the grounds which served the supporters of the Bill before their Lordships; and their Lordships if they passed the one could scarcely refuse to pass the other. The Colleges and Universities of the kingdom were also corporations, equally obnoxious to those whose trade it was to excite sedition, whose object was plunder, and whose lure was the spoil they could obtain in the overturning of old establishments. It would be the wiser plan to put down at once the arbitrary and indefensible measure before their Lordships; for all establishments would be endangered if it were not rejected. He (the Duke of Newcastle) was a friend to liberty, but it was to constitutional liberty, and not to uncontrolled licence. He lamented exceedingly the popular error, the erroneous view which which was generally taken, that it was necessary to concede to public opinion and to yield to the spirit of the times. If it were a proper description of public opinion he would adopt it as soon as any one; but the public opinion which now prevailed was a spurious opinion, and based upon bad principles. The public opinion which he should adopt was that which was based upon the religion of the country—the Protestant religion. An hon. Friend of his had done credit to his head as well as his heart when he said that all good Governments were based upon religion, and that no good Government could exist without it. With that opinion he (the Duke of Newcastle) fully concurred. He would unite religious reverence with veneration for the Throne, and on no pretext whatever separate them. Trusting that their Lordships would concur with him in sentiment, and express it by their course of proceeding, he should move that the Bill be recommitted that day six months.
The Earl of Mansfield
said, that although he participated in many of the objections which had been advanced by the noble Duke, he could not concur in the Amendment which he had concluded by moving. He should give his vote for the proposition of the noble Viscount (Melbourne), that the House do now resolve itself into Committee upon the Bill; but 345 with their Lordships' indulgence he should wish to explain that vote, and to make some observations upon the circumstances in which they were placed, and upon the feelings with which he should address himself to the subject when it came to be discussed in Committee. Objecting as he did to the principle and details of the Bill as strongly as his noble Friend who had last addressed the House, he should certainly have felt himself justified in refusing to vote for the second reading, that reading of a Bill being generally supposed to involve an admission of its principle. But in practice, as their Lordships well knew, they had often allowed a Bill to which there were strong objections to go into Committee, and if in that stage it were not in their power to make such alterations in its principle and details as might correct its errors, then to throw it out on the third reading. That being the case, he thought their Lordships had judged well to read this Bill a second time, with the view of allowing it to go into Committee. But in taking this course, their Lordships, he conceived, had been influenced—at all events he had been influenced by a consideration of the circumstances in which they were then placed. He would shortly describe what those circumstances were. When the Reform Bill was passed some of the supporters of that measure supposed, and others avowed that it would be necessary, as an unavoidable consequence, to reform the system of Municipal Corporations. There was, he believed, an address upon the subject from the House of Commons to the Throne. There was a Committee appointed upon the subject, of which the right hon, Baronet, lately the First Lord of the Treasury, was a member, which shewed that he was not indisposed to an inquiry into the matter. Subsequently the Commission, upon whose Report the present Bill was founded, was issued, and when the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) became First Minister of the Crown, he did not interrupt the labours of that Commission; but in the speech which he advised his Majesty to deliver from the throne, he held out the hope—a hope afterwards realized—that the Report of the Commissioners would shortly be laid before both Houses of Parliament—a Report which, in the right hon. Baronet's opinion, at least, was to have some influence over any future legislation upon the subject. Under these circumstances, therefore, he thought it was in- 346 cumbent on their Lordships to give the Bill a full and deliberate consideration; and it was from these circumstances also, that he had been induced to control, he might say, the disgust which a measure so violent in its aggression upon chartered rights and property had naturally inspired in his mind. Allusion had been made on more than one occasion to a supposed discrepancy between the line which had been taken by some noble Lords in that House, and the opposition which had been given to the Bill in the House of Commons. When this Bill was first brought before the other House of Parliament, the right hon. Baronet to whom he had already alluded, did not oppose its introduction; but reserved to himself as he (Lord Mansfield) apprehended, the liberty of advancing on after occasions any objections which might recur to him. Whether the House of Commons proceeded to a division on any of the questions in debate as connected with the provisions of the Bill, was not a matter of inquiry in that House. If, as could not be questioned, there was a considerable majority in the House of Commons in favour of the Bill as it stood, that might be a reason for its opponents abstaining from repeated divisions; but whatever the circumstances under which the Bill passed through the Lower House, he himself conceived that the fact of its having passed, rendered it incumbent upon their Lordships to entertain the measure, and to give it the best consideration in their power, with the view of rendering it as perfect as possible when it should come out of their hands. He therefore did not want to reconcile the discrepancy which was said to exist between the conduct of the Opposition in that House, and that of the Opposition in the Commons; it was enough for him to remember, that nothing that occurred elsewhere should be allowed to influence their line of conduct, or to fetter their judgment. But he could not help observing that upon this, as upon other occasions, even where there was a coincidence of general political opinions between the two Houses, there was a great difference in the manner in which the same subjects were viewed by the Members of either House. With respect to the present question, it was his firm belief, from the discussions which had already taken place in that House upon the subject—from the speeches of counsel, and from the evidence of witnesses which had been heard 347 at the Bar—that objections to the measure had occurred to some noble Lords, which had never been anticipated by their friends on either side of the House of Commons, As for the Bill itself, he conceived that though it bore the title of "An Act to provide for the Regulation of Municipal Corporations in England and Wales," it was and had very properly been termed a Bill of pains and penalties. In the preamble of the Bill it was stated that neglect and abuse, among other things, had prevented the said bodies corporate from being, and that they were not now useful for purposes of local government. That was the charge set forth in the preamble, and the Clauses of the Bill provided the penal consequences of the charge. It was against the charge in the first place that he begged leave to remonstrate. How was the charge proved? It was said to be proved by the Report of the Commissioners, who themselves declared that they had never laid the real evidence on which their Report was founded before the House. Yet it was upon the Report which the Commissioners had furnished, that the charges contained in the preamble of the Bill were founded. As he had taken no part in the previous discussions which had taken place upon the subject, he could not help availing himself of that opportunity of adverting to the Commission itself. If his noble Friend the noble Duke (Newcastle) were to repeat what he had said upon a former occasion, that the illegality of the Commission was generally acknowledged, he must take leave to say that his noble Friend laboured under a misapprehension; but if his noble Friend were to say that the legality of the Commission had not been questioned, he thought his noble Friend would also be mistaken; for he certainly had heard from a noble and venerable Earl whoso long presided in the Court of Chancery a distinct opinion, that the Commission was decidedly illegal; and though he (Lord Mansfield) would be the last man on his own unassisted judgment to assert either that the Commission was legal or illegal, he confessed he felt disposed to adopt the opinion of one whose legal learning no one in that House, he supposed would be disposed to dispute. He confessed, therefore, that upon a comparison of the opinions which had been delivered upon the subject, he was disposed to consider that the Commission was illegal. But taking the assertion of the noble and 348 learned Lord (Brougham) opposite, that the Commission could not be enforced, together with the admission from the same learned source, that if any body refused to answer its interrogatories, it had no power to compel him to do so, he must say it appeared to him to be a most extraordinary Commission for the legal advisers of the Crown to recommend the Crown to issue. He could imagine that if an order were issued by a military commander to change or to extend the service of an individual who had enlisted only for particular service, and for a particular period, observations would not be wanting on the other side of the House that no lawyer would have advised the issuing of such orders. He confessed it appeared to him that the issuing of a Commission, with pretended powers which it could not enforce, could not have a tendency to increase respect for the Crown. It appeared as if the object of issuing such a Commission was to entrap the unwary into admissions, and into the production of papers and documents which might afterwards be used to their disadvantage; and when other Corporations, not more pure, but perhaps more wise, refused to answer questions, or to produce documents, inferences were at once drawn from their refusal which were received as proofs of their guilt or corruption. With respect to the Commissioners themselves, he was reluctant to make any observations. But if the evidence heard at the Bar of that House were credible—if the allegations contained in it were capable of being supported—he thought the impression left on their Lordships' mind, with respect to the conduct of the Commissioners, must be most unsatisfactory. He lamented that an opportunity had not been afforded to them of rebutting that evidence. It was what injustice they were entitled to, and sorry should he be to be under the necessity of refusing it. For the impression on his mind, and he thought he should not be mis-stating the fact when he said the impression on their Lordships' mind also was, that the Commissioners were willing partial instruments of a Government, which had determined upon a sentence before it instituted an inquiry. Returning to the preamble of the Bill, the noble Lord contended that no such abuse or neglect had been proved against the existing corporations, as could warrant the subsequent penal enactments of the measure. But even supposing that neglect or 349 abuse did exist, it was by no means necessary that such a measure should be brought forward to correct them. Wherever neglect or abuse was proved, the existing law had power to correct it. At all events, if malversation were alleged, it ought to be proved by legal evidence legally obtained. Of the evidence obtained under this commission, he would not speak with so much disrespect as one of the Commissioners themselves had spoken; but this he would say, that to condemn a person upon illegal evidence, or to abstract his cause from that tribunal to which he was naturally and legally amenable, was to violate one of the most sacred principles of our great charter. The effect of the evidence given at the Bar of the House, had been to disprove, in a great many instances, the charge of abuse and negligence. If this Bill were to pass, then it would, at all events, be necessary that its general consequences should be annexed only to those places whose guilt had been fully and completely substantiated. When the Bill came into Committee, therefore, he should protest, in the first instance, against the deprivation of rights, or the infraction of Charters, by the unlimited extension of the Bill, in cases where guilt was not clearly proved; and, in the second place, against the application of property, left in trust, to any other uses, or to the transference of it to any other trustees than those to whom the creator of the property had been pleased to bequeath it. There was another point to which he could only refer with very great humility; but he confessed it appeared to him that the interests of the Crown were involved in this question. It appeared to him that there were cases in which the interests of the Crown might be very materially affected by the Bill; and in consequence the doubt arose in his mind as to whether, before the introduction of such a measure, the consent of the Crown might not be necessary. It was the duty of the Ministers of the Crown to have ascertained that fact. The consent of the Crown was thought necessary in the case of the measure for the abolition of heritable jurisdictions, in the case of the Sinecures Offices' Bill, and, he thought also, in the case of the Sinecures Reversion Bill. The Noble Viscount had said that the Bill was not founded on the Report of the Commissioners. However that might be, he (Lord Mansfield) begged their Lordships, in considering the Bill, 350 to efface from their minds whatever the Report contained against the Municipal Corporations. The Commissioners, in their Report, declared that the system of self-election, of local taxation, of the application of charitable funds, &c. had given not only general but just discontent. This was their assumption, and they had made no distinction with respect to the charitable funds, whether or not any latitude had been left to the Trustees in their application. In his opinion, however, even where there was no such latitude, the Trustees were justified in reserving the property, and applying it to other purposes than to those which they knew were hostile to the intentions of the testator. All, however, were equally involved in the condemnation of the Report; than which certainly nothing could be more unjust. Although in some corporations there was a government almost as popular as the strongest advocates for popular government could wish for; in short, whether the management of the affairs of the corporation was good or bad, it was declared that one general plan of what was called reform was applicable to them all. It had been supposed that before the Commissioners entered upon their inquiry, they had been told of the plan which it was intended to propose—a supposition that explained the course which they had pursued. One argument which had been urged in favour of the Bill was, that the necessity of an extensive reform in the Corporations had been generally admitted. That admission had not received his concurrence. It was really, however, difficult for any noble Lord to guard himself from misrepresentation on the subject. If he was silent, that silence was said to give consent to the measure. If, in the usual way, he called out "Hear, hear!" it was said that that was an expression of assent. If he uttered the monosyllable "No," he was held to give an unreasonable interruption. This was his apology for thus trespassing on their Lordships' attention. He repeated that he for one had never made the admission, that extensive reform was necessary in the corporations of this country. It was said to those who had made such an admission, "you allow that there are extensive defects in the Corporations, here is a Bill to correct those defects—adopt it." Now, although that was not the best of reasoning, it would have the effect of the best of reasoning if supported by a majority. To those who contended 351 that the Corporations were full of imperfections he would answer, "Explain to me the precise nature of those imperfections and show me the precise manner in which your proposed remedy will correct them." He was far from being one of those who thought that a zeal to destroy indicated an ability to reconstruct. He was far from being one of those who thought that the machinery of this Bill would be efficiently applicable to all the various Corporations. With the reservation of the protection of all existing rights—a reservation which he trusted their Lordships would in such circumstances never fail to make—it was impossible that any one measure could be rendered applicable to all the corporations. It was in the power of the Crown to grant charters not only to those towns which now had them, but those which had not; and if there were any deficiency in that power, it could be increased by Parliament. But in all such cases the proceeding ought to be by concession, and not by force. What he remonstrated against was a principle of violence as great as was intended by King James. His opinion upon this part of the subject was confirmed by Sir Francis Palgrave, one of the Commissioners, and one who was by no means indisposed to measures of Corporate Reform. Sir Francis Palgrave said,—"Whatever plans may be adopted for altering the constitution of Municipal Corporations, the diversity of the local and particular circumstances of the towns, as well as the necessity of obtaining the deliberate opinions of the inhabitants, will probably render it expedient, that the change should be effected, not by a general enactment, but by a special adaptation of general principles to each Corporation which may require the same; such adaptation to be effected through some competent tribunal." In his opinion, their Lordships ought to take the measure into their most calm and deliberate consideration. It was in their power to amend any Clause in the Bill; to amend any error either in the principle or in the detail of the Bill. All he wished to impress upon them was the absolute necessity of effacing from their minds any impression which might have been made upon them by the report of the Commissioners. Nothing could be more temperate than the address of the noble Viscount, and he would not even insinuate an opinion that the noble Viscount would not wish their Lordships to be 352 left to the free and deliberate exercise of their own judgment; but that had not always been the case. A noble Friend, near him, had alluded to his conduct respecting the Catholic question—a question, certainly not connected with Corporation Reform, but to which an allusion had also been made by the noble and learned Lord (Brougham). That noble Lord had supposed that a great part of the majority on this side of the House opposed to this Bill, were the most prominent in their objections to that measure; and the noble Lord was right in his supposition, the noble Lord had consequently addressed a warning to their Lordships to recollect the consequences of that opposition. He was willing to believe the advantages of supporting that measure were greater to some than the advantages of opposing it were to others,—but as to the political consequences of that measure, they had proved to be none other than those who opposed that Bill ventured to say were inevitable, but which the noble Lord, who had reminded the House of the consequences of it, said, at the time, were impossible; and, he must own, that, in this instance, experience had not altered his opinion. He remained obstinate in his error, if error it was. The warning, however, was really intended to affect their Lordships' deliberations on this Bill, though it was, to be sure, introduced with reference to what had fallen from the learned Counsel at the Bar, whose arguments, though they had great weight with their Lordships, had scarcely been replied to by any noble Lord One of the Counsel spoke of the Reform Bill, of which he said he did not know the date; but, all their Lordships knew it, knew the date of it, the tenor of it, its authors, and the manner in which it was passed. Their Lordships knew, that although it was invested with the appearance of a constitutional reform, it was carried by violence; in proof of that fact he might appeal to their Lordships who were present, and he referred to the protest in which their Lordships had indelibly recorded their objection to the violence with which it was carried. And by whom was this measure now before their Lordships recommended?—by one of the advisers of that violence; a violence by which any other change night have been introduced affecting those boroughs, or even their Lordships them- 353 selves. But their Lordships were now free from the danger, the pressure was removed, and by its own moral elasticity, the House of Lords had risen to its proper level; and from this independence the people would profit. It was to that House the people possessed of any property, however low might be their station, would look for the preservation of their rights, and for that protection which the House of Lords, in its independent condition, never denied them. He did not state this with any exultation, for the effects of the violence he had deplored were permanent; they were not to be cured. It was his wish to impress upon their Lordships the necessity of proceeding calmly, with the discussion of this matter in all its bearings; so that, whatever their resolution might be, which he would not anticipate, it should be seen that it was the effect, not of prejudice, but of deliberate judgment and conviction. He would attend the progress of this measure in Committee, not however, so much with the intention of offering any suggestions of Amendments, as of profiting by the suggestions and experience of those other noble Lords upon whose patience he had unwarrantably trespassed.
The Earl of Falmouth
felt it to be his duty to support the Amendment which had been moved by his noble Friend. Whatever might be the course which had been pursued by an hon. Baronet in another place, he (Lord Falmouth) was not bound by it, but was free to pursue the dictates of his own conscience. When he looked back at the events of the last few years, it did not appear to him that they were at all calculated to induce him to believe that he was erroneous in the view which he took of the present Bill. Had the measures which Parliament had adopted tended to allay the discontents or improve the interests and prosperity of the country. No; nor was any such result to be hoped for, while the existing system of violence and agitation continued. In his opinion therefore, their Lordships ought to make a stand where they were; and to maintain the principles which they know to be the only basis of all good government. He had heard with admiration the three hours' speech, the other night, of the noble and learned Lord opposite; and all that he regretted was, that that noble and learned Lord's talents had not been better em- 354 ployed. Did that noble and learned Lord show that any existing evils had been put an end to by the Reform Bill? No, his declamation had been that of a partisan rather than that of a patriot. The noble and learned Lord had adduced no single fact to show that the Reform Bill was the panacea which he called it. Now was not the present Bill calculated to increase the discontent and agitation which at present existed? The aim of all good government was the contentment of the people. Every line of the present measure, however, was calculated to excite discontent and to give a power to certain classes of the people which they did not know how, wisely, to use. As to the Commission, he denied that it was a legal one. Its illegality had been declared by some of the highest authorities on the subject. Their Lordships had heard evidence at the Bar. Were they not perfectly convinced by that evidence that the Report was the production of partisans, of persons biassed beforehand, and determined to fashion their report in conformity to that bias. He was persuaded that if the whole assembled English nation could have heard that evidence, their verdict would have been that it was a prejudiced and an untrue Report. It had been sworn at their Lordships' Bar that a great deal of the matter contained in the Report had never come out in the public examination and must therefore have been obtained from private sources. The noble Viscount had said that the people were in favour of the Bill. He had been told that two letters had been sent to Weymouth, franked by Lord John Russell, and addressed to a notorious Radical there, in consequence of which a public meeting had been called, and of course a petition in favour of the Bill agreed to. It was curious that no petitions had been addressed to the House of Commons; but they had been addressed to the House of Lords, just in the nick of time, before the commitment of the Bill. When the noble Viscount spoke of the people, did he mean to say that the great body of educated persons in the country held that the Corporations were a great mass of corruption? He (Lord Falmouth) firmly believed that if the opinions of the middle and educated classes of the people had ever been hostile to the continued existence of the Corporations, those opinions had been completely altered by their Lordships' 355 proceedings; and that they were now convinced that a case had been made out at their Lordships' Bar which, until contradicted, was conclusive in favour of the Corporations. The witnesses were all respectable men; they had given their testimony on oath, they had been subjected to a severe cross-examination; and not a single disproof of their original evidence had been elicited from them. The noble Viscount said that the people entertained jealousy and distrust of the Corporations. Was that jealousy and distrust natural and spontaneous? Only three or four years ago, the people in the district in which he lived were quite contented with the Corporation system; until certain gentlemen came among them, and persuaded them that their best friends were their worst enemies. But did it follow that such was the case? It was the same with written pamphlets. Did it follow that because a Mr. Isaac Tomkins (who was not known to anybody), or a Mr. Peter Jenkins (who was equally unknown) chose to be not only jealous of the hereditary peerage, but to abuse it, and to advise its destruction, that their Lordships should pass a Bill, if it were to be brought before them from the House of Commons, providing that in future the peerage should be elective—not hereditary? The Bill now before them, and such a Bill as he had alluded to, appeared to him to be strictly parallel cases. He saw no reason why, if their Lordships passed the present Bill, some Member of the House of Commons might not get up and propose a measure to abolish the House of Lords. What were their Lordships' patents more than the charters of the Corporations? The latter were the more ancient. In his opinion there was not a tittle of value belonging to the one which did not belong to the other. If the present Bill were agreed to, it would be a precedent for a proposition next Session in the other House, a "final measure" for putting an end to the hereditary peerage. An Illustrious Duke had just told him that such a proposition had actually been announced; and now he (Lord Falmouth) recollected that it had been so. The noble Viscount had refused to produce the instructions to the Commissioners, their Minute-book, and in short, all the information which he could withhold. The Corporations, on the contrary, had brought all their books and other documents to 356 the Bar; and what had been the result? To disprove all the charges which had been brought against them. All human institutions must necessarily be imperfect; but it was evident that the existing Corporations were as efficient instruments for the well-governing of the towns to which they belonged as could be imagined. The question was, whether those towns were peaceable and prosperous? If so, why were their Lordships to adopt the violent changes proposed to them, because certain persons who had objects of their own recommended those changes? Nothing but a sense of duty could have induced him to address their Lordships on the occasion. He thanked them for the attention with which they had listened to him; and he thanked them the more, because he had reason to believe that the course which he intended to take would be negatived by a large majority. It was his intention to oppose the commitment of the Bill. He had prepared certain Resolutions, specifying the reasons why the House ought not to agree to the Bill. But as a noble Duke had moved an Amendment to the Motion for going into the Committee, he should content himself, for the present, with supporting that Amendment, and would defer moving his Resolutions until another opportunity, if any such should present itself.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said,—I am opposed to the course of my noble Friends who intend to vote against the commitment of the Bill, yet I respect the course they pursue and the reasons they offer. I object to the principle and I object to many parts of the Bill. I think that the Bill should have had the consent of his Majesty at an early stage of its progress. The King was the founder of these Corporations, and he was visitor, competent to investigate the administration of their funds. I consider his Majesty should have given his consent to the measure before the enactment of the first clause. My Lords, I besides object to this measure, because it does not adequately, in my opinion, secure existing rights and privileges—because it does not secure the rights of property—because it does not secure the rights of individuals appointed for the term of their lives to situations under the existing charters—and lastly, because it does not secure the privileges granted to freemen under existing Acts of Parliament. For all these 357 reasons I object to the Bill, although I certainly shall vote for going into Committee upon it, with the intention of amending, as far as possible, those parts of the measure which I think are defective. Besides, my Lords, I object strongly to those portions of the Bill which go to the establishment of a system by which persons may be elected to high and important situations in Corporations—I mean to such situations as those of Magistrates and administrators of borough affairs—who have no adequate qualification for such a trust. I object to persons having the management of parish affairs who are irresponsible for their proper direction; and I object to individuals being allowed to administer to Church patronage who are utterly without qualification for such a duty. These are points, my Lords, which require your attention—your gravest consideration—and should we decide upon going into committee I pledge myself that, as far as an individual Member of this House is concered, they shall meet with both. I do not, I repeat, approve of the principle of this measure, but I am one of those who admit that it is necessary the House should enter upon its consideration with a view to the final and effectual removal of the evils complained of, and in some instances justly complained of, in the existing corporate system. That no Reform is requisite I am not prepared to maintain. In the first place, though I confess there appears to roe little in this Report against the Corporations—indeed, I must say that, considering the great antiquity of many of these establishments, and considering all the purposes to which they have been from time to time required to apply their attention, I am truly astonished to find in this Report so little against them as there is. I cannot avoid seeing that many of these institutions have become utterly useless and inoperative, that many others require material amendment, while there are only some few which, with any advantage to the public, might be let alone altogether. To properly discriminate between these several classes, and to see that alteration is not made where alteration will not improve, or change attempted where change will not amend, will be my earnest object when the Bill is in the Committee; and I entertain no doubt that it is perfectly competent for us, holding in sight such an object, to send forth to 358 he public a measure of real benefit and advantage. My Lords, the noble Viscount who opened the debate this evening was pleased to advert to the evidence which was produced at the Bar, in respect to the proceedings of the Corporation Commissioners, and to express his opinion that that evidence might as well have been omitted altogether. Now, I do not intend to follow the noble Viscount into a discussion upon that evidence, nor to detain your Lordships with any opinions regarding its utility or inutility. I have nothing whatever to do with it, for in no way does it interfere with my opinion regarding the Commission itself. My Lords, I object to that Commission. I believe that Commission to be an illegal one. Indeed, my Lords, I think the noble and learned Lord who issued it, is himself of my opinion, for on the last night of the discussion upon this subject he, unless I am much mistaken, admitted that the introduction of the word "deeds" into its body rendered it an illegal Commission.
I never did. What I said upon the subject of "deeds" applied to the former, and not to the present Commission.
§ The Duke of Wellington
—But the word "deeds" does certainly apply to this Commission, and therefore I think I am justified in applying what the noble and learned Lord said respecting it to the present as well as to the former document. But, my Lords, I must go farther—I must say that not only was the Commission in my opinion an illegal one, but that it was evidently and undeniably a party and partial Commission. Persons constituting a Commission were employed upon a great public service, and it was of the deepest and most paramount importance that in their selection care was taken that they were impartial and unbiassed in their opinions, and men likely to make a Report upon the evidence brought before them, and not upon preconceived notions either of their own, or those who, as Ministers of the Crown for the time being, gave them employment. Now, my Lords, when we come to inquire whether, in the selection of the Commissioners under our notice, attention was had to these points, I ask you, without hesitation, what is the result? Can there be a doubt, even for a moment, that they were not both party and partial Commissioners, or that the Report which they framed was not both a 359 party and partial Report? In proof of this assertion there is one point on which I would entreat your Lordships to reflect for a moment. Did these Commissioners report the evidence upon which they alleged their Report was founded. Not one word of it. That which they reported was their own opinions, supposed to be originated in the evidence they adduced; but whether they were so or not their Lordships were not in a situation to judge. The Commissioners, it is admitted, took down evidence; and I should much like to know why, if taken, it is not reported, and not recorded. My Lords, I will take upon myself to say why it was not reported. It was because, if reported, it would not have borne out the Report which it was desired should be concocted. Would it have been more troublesome to the Commissioners to have reported the evidence as taken down, and instead of giving their opinions allowed your Lordships to form a judgment upon it? No; but to have done that would not have suited their purpose. If the evidence had been reported, the state of the case would not have appeared as it now did in the face of the Report; and therefore and on that account alone, was it determined to suppress it. But, my Lords, there is another circumstance connected with this Report which is very remarkable, and that is the opinion and protest of Sir Francis Palgrave. Sir Francis Palgrave not only transmitted his protest to Government, but in a separate Report stated his objections to the general Report of the Commissioners. Why then, let me ask, was it that the Commissioners, knowing as they did that the opinions of Sir Francis Palgrave were at variance with those they had expressed, did not set forth even so much of the evidence as was calculated to bear out their opinions as against his? Have they done so in any one case? Not in any one instance did they state the evidence which, in their opinion, justified their Report. For all these reasons, I confess I consider the five folio volumes before me as worth just so much waste paper,—and I shall be much surprised if the majority of your Lordships were to treat them in any other light. I have already said I am prepared to go into the Committee; but if I do so it must be under the painful conviction that we are proceeding upon partial party reports, and that before so doing we ought to have read the evidence on which these 360 reports are alleged to be founded. My Lords, I say, then, I am going into this Committee with a sincere desire so to amend the Bill that, while making it a generally beneficial and useful measure, we shall so revise and reform it as to meet those peculiar circumstances which appear to me to require amendment and attention. My noble Friend who preceded me appears to think that there is no evidence of dissatisfaction on the part of the people of England to the existing system of corporation management. Why, I cannot say that I have myself any evidence of the existence of such a dissatisfaction; but, at the same time, I cannot possibly close my eyes to the great change which within the fast few years has taken place in the general aspect of society. I cannot conceal from myself that in the course of a very few years the people of this realm have advanced greatly in riches, in knowledge, and in luxury, and that in proportion to that advance it is natural they should wish to have participation in the administration of Government. Such being the case I am not prepared to agree with my noble Friend in saying that there is no desire entertained by the people of England that their Corporations should be thrown open to them, and I am consequently, disposed to consider whether the establishment of a municipal system in this country, founded, in the first place, on the free election of those to whom the administration of corporate matters shall be confided—founded, likewise on a very liberal basis of qualification, and with every view to render it such a system as will really carry into execution the object of this measure, namely that of giving to the people who inhabit our large towns a fair participation in their Government, might not be a measure as well of sound policy as of expediency. I confess, likewise, that there is another circumstance which induces me to consider a Reform in the Administration of the large towns at this moment as most essential to the interests of the country. There is scarcely one of these towns in which some trust does not exist for the performance of some duties which regularly belong to the administration of a town. In some places there is a trust for the administration of police, in others for paving, lighting, and watering, and in all these trusts are to be found real evasions of the original rights of the Corporations. In some of the ori- 361 ginal Charters it was not thought expepedient to give to the Corporations a power of rating the inhabitants for the improvement of the town, and when, as in the case of Bath, Liverpool, and other large towns, the necessity of such a rate was felt, a trust was created which was not originally contemplated in the Charter. Seeing this to be the case, it appears to me expedient to proceed a step further, and to establish a municipal system upon a principle which will be satisfactory to all. Under all these circumstances, it is my wish to go into Committee upon this Bill, sincerely desiring to amend it, so as to establish a system of government in the corporate towns which will be satisfactory to the inhabitants, and at the same time secure all those great objects which I mentioned at the commencement of my address to your Lordships,—namely, the rights of the Crown, the privileges of the people, of the officers of the Corporations, and of all who are entitled to any participation in the Corporation Funds.
The Duke of Cumberland
said, that he did not mean to detain the House more than a few minutes, in explaining the line of conduct which he meant to take. If the declaration of his noble Friend (the Duke of Newcastle,) to whom he entertained feelings of sincere friendship, and who never acted but on honourable and conscientious views, should be followed up by pressing the House to a division, he for one could not give him his vote. But there was much in the principle of the Bill to which he was as much opposed as either of the noble Lords who supported the amendment, because he felt that it was an encroachment on the rights and privileges of the people and on chartered rights, for which he for one would constantly stand up. After what had fallen from another noble Friend of his (the Duke of Wellington,) who had expressed all his opinions and views respecting the measure, it only remained for him to say that he should certainly give the measure his most serious attention, and he hoped and trusted that when the Bill was read a third time, he should be in a situation to give it his hearty consent. He was only anxious to say this much that he might not be charged with holding one description of language at one time, and a different language at another. His excuse for trespassing on their Lordships' time, was that his character might Stand clearly and fairly before the House.
I do not mean on this occasion to enter at length into the general subject now before your Lordships. I have already had an opportunity of expressing my opinion upon the principles of the measure as well as upon several of the main features of the Bill, and the motion for going into Committee appears not likely to meet with any very formidable opposition on the part of the House: I should not, therefore, feel myself at liberty to trespass upon your Lordships' patience, however much it may gratify the noble Earl (Falmouth,) who says he is delighted to hear me speak, and who nevertheless imagined that I had spoken about an hour longer than I really did—which looked as if he had been less pleased than he was willing to own; but I won't quarrel with him for that, I will only express my feelings in my turn, and assure the noble Earl, that although he has this night, by the clock, talked an hour and a half or somewhere thereabouts, to me it seems as if he had not spoken for five minutes. But, my Lords, the matter to which I wish to call your attention is neither the principle of the Bill, nor its details, nor its general features, on all of which, as I said, I have before addressed you at large; but I must express some little surprise, and I hope I may be allowed to say, without any great impropriety of expression, some apprehension which weighs upon my mind, and which I in vain endeavour to stifle, in consequence of the course which is about to be taken by one or two noble Lords, and by one illustrious Prince upon this occasion; for although I am delighted to find that I shall have an opportunity of giving my vote with them to-night, though I feel that theirs must be a valuable acquisition of strength to the promoters of this measure, and though the result of it will be the sending the Bill into Committee, yet I cannot help just pausing for a moment to consider the grounds upon which that accession of force is given to us, and the ample declaration of hostility to the measure with which the promised aid is accompanied. The support of the noble Duke (Wellington) at this or at any stage of the Bill, I should deem admirably calculated to meet the wishes of the advocates of the Bill, if I could only see any reason to expect that it would extend*From a corrected Report published by Ridgway.363 beyond this stage of the process; that it would attend us through the Committee, and would remain with us to the third reading; but instead of that, we are told that these our supporters are against the whole principle of the measure, and therefore one naturally asks, for what do they go into the Committee? Is it to examine and discuss the details? [Several noble Lords: "Hear, hear!"] I have heard, but hearing, I do not understand. I can easily comprehend how any noble Lord who agrees with me upon the principle of the Bill should differ with me upon its details, holding either that some of them go too far or that there are others which do not come up to the principle in which he concurs. This is intelligible, and consistent with the ordinary course of proceeding in parliamentary discussions; but the noble Earl (Mansfield) says that he totally dissents from the principle; he abhors it in all its views; he considers the Commission to have been illegal, and the whole inquiry void; he thinks that in the execution of their task the Commissioners were unjust, partial, and oppressive, and that their Reports are of no more value than so much waste paper—an opinion in which the noble Duke concurs. Then, say they, the Bill is founded upon these Reports; this my noble Friend (Lord Melbourne) denies as a general proposition; but, as it must be admitted that in some part such is the case, in the opinions of those noble Lords opposite the whole Bill must be equal in value to waste paper, and the groundwork of the fabric, in whole or in part, being unsound, the measure itself must be rotten. Then we are told that no one of the charges brought forward against the Corporations has been borne out in proof; that all the Report and the preamble said about neglect and abuse is groundless. This is a measure of spoliation, says one noble Lord; it is utterly iniquitous, says another; it is fraught with injustice in every part, exclaims a third; and all of them, after thus quavering their separate notes against the Bill, join in the chorus of injustice, iniquity, falsehood, and rottenness, both in the measure, and in the whole proceedings connected with it; and then instantly they come as it were per saltem o the determination of not throwing out so execrable a measure at once, but of voting for going into Committee, that the details of what they so heartily disapprove may be minutely dis- 364 cussed. But, my Lords, it may be said I ought to be thankful for this mercy, small though it be, and not to quarrel with those who thus far are friendly to the progress of the measure. Then I will not conceal from you, that I cannot help regarding the conduct of the noble Duke (Newcastle) and the noble Earl (Falmouth) at the Table, in point of consistency, by much the more praiseworthy. Theirs is, at all events, a perfectly plain and intelligible course. They disapprove the whole measure, like the noble Duke and noble Earl (Wellington and Mansfield,) and therefore they vote against the second reading. But I may be told I ought not to be so nice, and that I should accept the hostile Committee as a boon in preference to the worse calamity—the throwing out of the Bill at once; and this makes me for one moment pause to compare the two evils. The one is the infliction of instant death—the other of slow lingering death, by continued pain and gradual exhaustion, by wearing down this great measure till it shall be reduced to the shadow of what it once was—till hardly a skeleton of its pristine form shall be left—till its own parents shall hardly know it, altered and mutilated in every part by the formidable force here, and here alone, arrayed against it. That is the alternative offered us, for rejecting which I am called nice—for not bursting forth in strains of rapture, and not gratefully acknowledging it as a boon! Than the illustrious Duke (Cumberland) I must say I never knew, generally speaking, a more fair, open, above-board antagonist; and knowing therefore his strong opinions on this and all similar questions, I certainly expected to have found him supporting the proposition of the noble Duke (Newcastle) and the noble Earl at the Table (Falmouth). "But no," he says, "I dislike the principle as much as you; I think nothing can justify it; I hold you ought not to proceed in this course; this is not the way to go; here is a Bill for reforming 185 Corporations by one general sweeping measure, instead of which we should take them piece-meal, and proceed by 185 different bills, regularly, separately, slowly—so slowly that perhaps 185 Sessions of Parliament shall be required to get through them:"—a consistent and intelligible course enough, no doubt; but then how can you go into Committee upon such a sweeping Bill, if that is your opinion?
The Duke of Cumberland
My Lords, I wish to say a few words in explanation. I merely said, if we came to a division, I should not vote with the noble Duke (Newcastle) and the noble Earl (Falmouth), but I never said, and for the reason I then gave, that I would vote for the Committee. I should not vote for the Committee, if your Lordships came to a division on that Question. I should retire altogether; but at the same time, when the Committee does meet, every part of the Bill which I can honestly and conscientiously support shall receive my best and most attentive consideration. This, my Lords, is what I shall do, and it is the course which I have always pursued in your Lordships' House.
I understood the illustrious Duke (Cumberland) to say, that he would not give his vote to the noble Duke (Newcastle), but vote for the Committee. [The Duke of Cumberland: I shall vote neither the one way nor the other.] God forbid that anything I have said should prevent the illustrious Prince from voting against the noble Duke (Newcastle); certainly I was not prepared for such a course—so very unlike the usual determined line of the illustrious Duke. I certainly expected that he would at once have voted one way or the other. Really it is a most extraordinary conclusion to arrive at from such premises—"I disapprove of this Bill, and therefore I will vote for the Committee"—and then, when I was staggered, bewildered, by such a proposition, I receive, by way of comfort, and as a help towards getting me out of the difficulty, an assurance—"Oh, I don't mean to vote for the Committee—I only mean to say, that I will not vote against it, because I disapprove of the whole matter." My Lords, I cannot help thinking that all this holds out a most melancholy prospect to the friends of the Bill, and to the country—a cruel disappointment to those who feel so anxiously, so deeply, and, I will say, so universally, all over the kingdom, in favour of this great measure. For what have we to expect from this announcement, but that those who are against the whole measure in its principle and groundwork will exert themselves to alter its whole frame and all its vital parts in the detail? How much of those parts and of that frame-work can we reasonably expect the labours of such a Committee will leave standing, when those same 366 persons, who say, "let us go thither in order to discuss it," tell you that they abhor the whole of it as a scheme of iniquity and spoliation? Can we expect one stone of its goodly fabric to remain standing on another, under the hands of those who hate it, and, like the noble Duke, would batter it down, or, like the illustrious Duke (Cumberland), would retire from it, lest its falling ruins should overwhelm them—of those who, detesting, abhorring, distrusting, its authors—still more distrusting the Commissioners whom its authors appointed—hating the whole and every part of it, seeing no one fragment of it that ought to remain, are nevertheless prepared to go into Committee, in order to deal with it? How, in God's name! to deal with it, but to blast it to pieces, and leave not even the semblance of what it now is? I may be disappointed—I have been most agreeably disappointed on one point—the hearing of evidence. I firmly believed, as did a large portion of your Lordships, that when Counsel were called in to be heard at the Bar, and still more when it was resolved to have evidence, the necessary effect would have been to protract the inquiry beyond all bounds; instead of that, however, I think the evidence only lasted somewhere about five days. That I am bound, in justice, to admit, contrary to my expectations, and contrary to the record of my apprehensions which I placed at the time on your Lordships' Journals; and I am also bound to admit, which I do in fairness to those with whom I communicated in the early part of the evidence, that no change could have been effected by anything said, either here or elsewhere, respecting our proceedings; for, before a word was said on the subject, the day and almost the hour when evidence was to be closed, were calculated as early as Tuesday morning, by my noble and learned Friend (Lyndhursi). ["Hear, hear," from Lord Lyndhurst.] In that respect, therefore, I was agreeably disappointed—but I am much mistaken indeed if the Bill, on leaving the Committee, be not so damaged, so mutilated, with so much that is important and beneficial struck out—so much that is noxious and alien to its principles introduced, and on so ample a scale of alteration—that its authors and those abettors who have sent it up to this House will be unable to recognize their own handywork. My 367 Lords, I could not, in justice to my own feelings, which are naturally very strong upon this subject, after what has just taken place, have refrained from making these few observations. And now, exhausted as I am with the fatigues of last night, and our long sittings of late (for though we generally have five months with nothing to do, so that the idlest of human beings could not have been burthened with our labour, yet the last five weeks of the Session we have had so much on our hands, that the best workman, the most laborious of mankind, might well sink under the burthen—some change must really be made in this system, or it is a mere joke to suppose that we can fully discuss the important measures which, at the end of the Session, are all in a heap, for the first time, submitted to us; but the difficulty is not so much to perceive the mischief as to find out the remedy—perhaps if some mitigation of the strict forms of the other House permitted certain Bills to be originated in this place, our labour might be more equally and satisfactorily distributed over the period of our sitting)—exhausted, I say, as I am with the fatigues incident to this period of our protracted sittings, I am anxious only for a moment to make one or two general observations upon the subject matter under your Lordships' consideration. I don't mean to argue the case on its principle, being perfectly satisfied to leave it on the grounds on which I formerly rested it. I wish, however, for a moment to take notice of the opinion expressed by a noble Earl (Mansfield), with respect to the legality of the Commission. He totally mistakes in fancying that the Commission is illegal, because a power was inserted in it which the law would not bear out the Commissioners in executing, if it had been resisted. "You admit," he said, "that your Commission, if resisted, had no power of compelling parties to come forward and give evidence." And this he seems to think decisive against the Commission. Now, your Lordships will permit me to say, that if on this ground we fall under the reprobation of the noble Earl, we bear that weight, which I admit to be heavy, only rateably, share and share alike with about twenty or thirty other Governments, in all the reigns of this country since the Revolution of 1688. Since 1820 there have been fifty such Commissions. But to go back only five years, 368 what, on that principle, becomes of the Irish Church Commission of 1830? If a Commissioner in that case had called on the holder of any benefice, and demanded, "How much do you allow your Curate? Do you give him what the Act requires? Do you violate the Stipendiary Curate's Act, or do you not? Had he the power of compelling the party to answer any such questions? Nobody even dreamt of such a thing. If the parson said, "I will not come to you—you have no right to send for me—I do not recognise your authority"—what would have been the result? The Commissioners had no power to enforce their authority; and if the parson came, and hearing the question, turned his back, snapped his fingers in their face, and walked away—the Commissioners were remedyless and helpless. What then is the difference between that Commission and the present? In fact those Commissions were resisted in nine or ten cases. Lord Guildford and some half-dozen more refused to answer under the English Commission; the Irish parsons, to the same amount, refused to answer under the Irish—and an appeal was published by one clergyman, calling on his reverend brethren to resist the authority of the Commissioners. A controversy continually existed in both cases; the Commissions were in both resisted. But, although those who refused to give evidence were blameless, and the power of the Crown was with absolute impunity set at nought, the legality of the Commissions was never for a moment questioned. Then Mr. Pitt's celebrated Commission of Naval Revision, was also without authority. [A Noble Lord: There was an Act.] I speak not of Lord St. Vincent's inquiry, a much more drastic measure, and one under parliamentary authority. Mr. Pitt's being less vigorous, and therefore less opposed by those who fattened upon abuse, had no such sanction. It was couched in exactly the same words with the present Commission. As to the introduction of the word "deed," the argument drawn from it is one of the greatest hallucinations I ever heard of; because without it the words "all papers, writings, and documents," surely included "deed," which is a "paper," "writing," or "document." But I formerly demonstrated the legality of the Commission, and now the Question rather is as to the conduct of the inquiry. Upon that subject I wish to make a few 369 observations. They shall be of a general and compendious kind, chiefly that I may avoid going into the details of the evidence; and they shall be as short as the justice due to the accused parties, the Commissioners, will allow me to make them.
I will just suppose the case of a defendant, who, having lost his action with his neighbour, comes to your Lordships and says, "Never was there such a Judge—Heaven save me from twelve such Jurors! let me only come before you, and I will explain it all away—the prosecutor had no case—my attorney was bribed by the other party—my witnesses were corrupted or swayed by personal motives of spleen and spite—and my Counsel did not do his duty; the Judge was partial—the Jury was ignorant—the whole trial was an iniquity—a farce—a mockery of justice." Such representations are heard every day in Westminster Hall; the whole air of all the Courts is filled with them, and they pass perfectly innocuous over our heads, who are used to them, or if they descend lower, if they penetrate at all, it is to go in at one ear and out at the other, making no impression at all on any man of ordinary understanding. But suppose they were to make an impression on your Lordships, and you were to say—"Oh, this is a poor injured man—an excellent Conservative—he has been extremely ill-used—let him be brought to the Bar, it will be a comfort to so worthy an Alderman, a man of such sound principles, to be allowed to tell his own story, and produce witnesses and have Counsel to bawl against the Judge and Jury for about twelve hours and a half, applying to them every term of abuse which our language can furnish, together with a good number of terms which neither our own language nor any other does afford, and all the metaphors which can be provided by the kind of motley imagination that gives existence to patchwork." Suppose this proposal is acceded to, for hearing his own story after the witnesses had sworn against him, and the Judge and Jury decided against him; and you, accordingly, proceed to hear his story, told by himself, and supported by the witnesses whom he had called at the trial, and whom the Judge and Jury had disbelieved. You hear all the evidence on one side, and on one side only, not even taking the precaution which I heard to-night that a 370 Lord-lieutenant of Ireland is bound to take before exercising the mercy of the Crown, that of sending to the Judge who tried the cause, and hearing what he has to say, and what the reasons were which produced the conviction—without any such precaution—without making any communication at all to the Judge—and with nothing received from him by way of explanation—for I regard a short and general letter written by two Commissioners out of twenty as nothing—
§ Lord Lyndhurst
We have not the evidence taken before the Commissioners, we applied for it, but it was not produced. It is no fault of ours.
We have allowed the Commissioners to be attacked, but not to vindicate themselves. Unwarned, un-summoned, unheard, undefended, not even furnished with a statement of the charge against them, they are to be pronounced guilty of unfairness, partiality, faction, and almost of corruption, and we are to set at nought the verdict and judgment pronounced by those who heard the evidence. So much, my Lords, to warn you against being led away by that most dangerous of all modes of inquiry, an ex parte statement directed against individuals in their absence—an appeal against a decision by one of the parties in the absence of the other, and of the Judge who gave it. I say these Commissioners did not proceed ex parte—there is not a tittle of evidence to charge them with it. They come to a town; they advertise their sittings; their sittings are public; they never hold one meeting in a private room; all mankind has access to their tribunal, and they never refuse to hear one witness, or one score of witnesses, brought forward by the Corporations; though they are now accused by speeches made against them, sometimes by honest, fair, legitimate speeches at the Bar, and at other times by speeches in the form of questions, of which I cannot express too strongly my reprobation, let it offend whom it may. These Commissioners, thus attacked in every way, and always in their absence, come to your Lordships and complain of what is done—they tender explanations—they offer you evidence—they call upon you to hear them—they only say, strike, but hear first—decide, but not before our defence is made—and your Lordships, pursuing a conduct far different from that which they pursued, who threw their doors 371 open to all parties, and courted all sides to come forward, will not even hear those Commissioners whom yet you are prepared to condemn, I am not making this a subject of complaint against your Lordships. I was the first to say, do not hear them; but I pray you attend to the argument; do not behave in this childish, and I was going to say womanish manner of running away with a word, and not hearing the reason, or stopping to understand the thing. The argument is strict and correct. I am ready now for argument's sake to tender myself as the only person who advised that the Commissioners should not be heard. Your Lordships, I have no doubt, would have given me a very ready support if I had said "hear them;" and if their case had occupied six weeks and the reply consumed six weeks more, I should have expected from the enemies of the Bill a still more ready concurrence. I must needs give noble Lords opposite some credit for sincerity and consistency; and if this measure be so objectionable as they describe it, they would think themselves justified in using any means, even of delay, in order to stay the evil, or finally arrest it, by waiting till the country came to its senses, and awoke from the delusion which they now ascribe to it, as resulting from the excitement used to lead men's minds astray. But I want this Bill to pass; I was determined not to play into the hands of its enemies; and therefore I was reduced to this most painful of all alternatives, either to sacrifice the measure or work grievous injustice upon these honourable men. That is my argument. I hope that you understand it now. Granting that the refusal to hear the Commissioners was the act of the whole House, and not of a party, and that I myself, placed under the pressure of a hard, harsh, cruel necessity, was forced to take my choice between either losing the Bill and doing justice to these men, or carrying the Bill and doing them the greatest injustice—still the choice is made—and the injustice perpetrated—and the Commissioners are accused and they are unheard. Then I defy any man living to dispute either the truth of the statement, or to resist the justice of the conclusion. Whatever the necessity may have been that extorted this half measure of injustice to those Commissioners, you have done it—you have not heard them—you have heard their enemies behind their backs— 372 and therefore I say you are bound as honourable men—you are bound as honest men—you are bound as Christian men—as men of ordinary charity and justice you are bound, to give the fairest, the most candid, and most liberal construction to the whole conduct of those whom you have felt yourselves forced to place in such unhappy, aye, such unheard of circumstances. Let me now only remind you of the manner in which some of those charges were brought against the Commissioners. There was one constant course pursued, which must have misled many of your Lordships. It was this:—The Counsel took up the Report and said, "I find the following passage in such a page." Now that he safely might do, because, perhaps there were only two or three of your Lordships furnished with the book in the House at the time. "I find the following passage, in such a page," said the Counsel to the witness; "Is that true, or is it false? Is it a fair or an unfair representation? Sometimes it was asked, "Is that an honest statement?" Sometimes, "Is it scandalously false?" One recoils with amazement and indignation from such an examination. I have known, to be sure, at trials for felony, when Counsel were not allowed to address the jury, a speech thrown into the form of a question; but when advocates had addressed the Court for twelve hours and a half—when they had exhausted all their powers of speech, and poured out more than the vocabulary of our language affords in attacking these Commissioners and their Report, such a course was altogether without justification or excuse.
"Is this a fair and an honest account of what passed?" says one learned Counsel; and at first the witness's answer, though it did not adopt the invidious expression, was quite consistent with the witness's meaning to affirm it. But when I asked him if he meant to charge the Commissioners with dishonesty, he said, "Very far from it." "Did not the Commissioners tell this scandalous falsehood?" cries another learned Counsel. Again an equivocal answer from the witness, who, when pressed by my noble Friend (Lord Radnor) or myself, said, "God forbid I should impute any such thing!" And strange to tell, both the learned Counsel, upon their witnesses thus refusing to adopt those odious charges, one after another denied that they meant the offensive im- 373 putation,—denied that the contrary of honest meant dishonest—denied that falsehood meant wilful breach of truth,—nay, even that the addition of "scandalous," which one should have thought was made for no other purpose than to distinguish moral from logical falsehood, gave to the phrase an invidious sense! Yet these Counsel I know to be as honourable men as any in the profession. But to such shifts, such desperate expedients, does the zeal of advocates and the instigations of interested clients, drive men in a case like this.
But how was the inquiry further carried on? A charge of extravagant expenditure was to be met by a Corporation (that of Sutton Colefield), and, said the learned Counsel, with an air of triumph, "Was the management of the Corporation funds regulated by a decree of the Court of Chancery? "To be sure it was." "When was it passed?" "In such a year." "Then it was not voluntary to spend the money so?" "Not at all." "You mean to say" (for one answer, or even two or three never satisfied them) "it was under a decree of the High Court of Chancery, and you are obliged, whether you will or no, to spend the money so?" said the complacent Counsel.—"Yes," said the willing witness. Now what was the conclusion intended to be drawn from this? To what did all this triumphant colloquy of the gentleman with his only witness lead? Neither more nor less than this, that the Commissioners had charged the Corporation with a lavish expenditure, with extravagance, if not with embezzlement, and had suppressed the fact that it was all carried on under a decree of the Court of Chancery; and I venture to assert, your Lordships, who heard the examination, believe firmly, up to this hour, that the Commissioners had suppressed all mention of the decree. But no such thing. Look at the Report of the Commissioners, and you will find that this decree of the Court of Chancery stands in the front of it, stated as distinctly by the Commissioners as by the learned Counsel, or by his witness in the examination. My Lords, I do not wish to occupy your time with these things; I have half-a-dozen cases before me of the tame kind. We were at last obliged to stop the witnesses who bore their part in scenes thus got up, and ask whether the Report did not state the very thing they 374 were triumphantly detailing, when, in that awkward manner, and with the sheepishness of visage which even experienced and zealous Town-Clerks can sometimes put on, they acknowledged that it did. Such is a specimen of the sort of manœuvre to which the learned Counsel resorted. But not the only manœuvre. Another was far more notable, Witnesses were prevailed upon to swear that the Report was incorrect and false, by Counsel affecting to read, as part of the Report, that which is not part of it at all, and by stating that to be omitted from the Report which lay before them staring them in the face. There are no fewer than three cases of this description with respect to Coventry alone.
The witness was addressed in the following words by the learned Counsel at the Bar:—"I see it is stated in a paper I have before me (the Report of the Commissioners), that 'neither the parish of St. Michael nor the other parish mentioned as forming part of the county of the city, are at all connected with the town; they are inhabited by an exclusively rural population;' is that true?" To which the answer was, that "A very large proportion of the parish of St. Michael is within the city, a large proportion of the parish of the Holy Trinity is also within the city, and there is a smaller parish of St. John the Baptist also within." Well, to be sure, this seems a very positive contradiction, and doubtless your Lordships must have been of opinion that a Report filled with such gross inaccuracies as that just read from it by the learned Counsel, was totally unworthy your consideration. You see the contradiction is direct. The Report (as read by the learned Counsel) says, that the parish of St. Michael is not in the city, and that it is inhabited by an exclusively rural population, and the witness says. "that it not true," for a large proportion of St. Michael is in the city. Nothing can be plainer, and the Report is not to be trusted, if this evidence is to be believed. Probably it did not occur to any of your Lordships just to turn to the page of the Report cited, and to follow the Counsel while he read, or pretended to read from it, for the purpose of administering the contradiction. Of course you would take for granted that the passage which he made as if he read from the Report, really is to be found there, and consequently 375 that there is no further room for doubt upon the subject. But what is the fact? I have here the Report before me, and surely your Lordships will share my astonishment on finding not only that the Report does not contain the passage which the Counsel pretended to read from it, for the purpose of asking the witness whether or not it was true, but that it contains the direct contrary; in short, that the statements of the Commissioner and the witness absolutely agree, and that if the Counsel had read the Report correctly, the witness must necessarily have confirmed instead of impeaching it. Your Lordships will remember the passage as quoted by the Counsel, which I have just repeated from the printed evidence. Now here is the passage in the Report itself, page 1795, "The limits of the city and suburbs comprehend the parishes of the Holy Trinity and St. Michael in Coventry," with certain exceptions. Then a little lower down the page, "The limits of the county of the city comprehend, in addition to the city and suburbs, the parishes of Foleshill, Exhall, Anstey, Stoke, Stivichall, the greater part of Sowe, and a small part of Shilton. The limits of the city, as above described, comprehend the whole of the town. They comprehend also some land which belongs to the parish of St. Michael, but is detached from the main portion of it. Neither this outlying part of the city, nor the other parishes mentioned as forming part of the county of the city, are at all connected with the town."
Now compare that with what the witness says. He says a very large proportion of "St. Michael and the Holy Trinity is in the city. What does the Report say? Trinity and St. Michael are within the city, with some exceptions which are afterwards particularized. Then it is not the parish of St. Michael, but the detached part of St. Michael, which the Report says is not in the city, and the other parishes referred to are clearly Foleshill, Exhall, and the rest of them. Now what do your Lordships think of this sample of the bale? It may, perhaps, be said that after all this is a matter of secondary importance, and whether the Report is proved to be right or wrong is of little consequence. But your Lordships will remember that Counsel thought it worth while to show, in the best manner he could, that it was wrong, and it is quite 376 certain that the matter is one of serious moment in the controversy. This is one of the most direct instances brought forward among the very few attempted to sustain the very strong and very sweeping allegations of falsehood and inaccuracy made at the Bar. Your Lordships cannot, doubt that the Counsel brought forward the most striking cases they had to prove—this is one of them, and you see now, that in order to impugn the Report it was necessary first to falsify it, and fabricate a new one.
Now I will take another instance. In the one which I have just quoted, the falsification of the Report is obvious to any one who will take the trouble of turning to it: in the next which I shall quote, the same expedient was resorted to, although it requires a little more attention to discover it. The Report states, that the magistrates of Coventry are charged with having neglected the public interests from a desire to promote the advantage of certain of their own servants; and adds, that to such a cause is attributed the collision which has taken place between them and the directors of the poor. The witness was asked what could be the meaning of this passage; and he was examined at some length as to the particulars of the appointment of a chief constable, one Prosser, who, as it appeared, was recommended by the Home Secretary of State, and appointed accordingly. It seems that the directors of the poor had desired to have another person appointed; and the witness was very pointedly asked more than once, whether he did not believe that this appointment of Prosser was the instance on which the Commissioner proceeded, in stating that the magistrates neglected the public interests to promote the benefit of their own servants. "According to the best of your belief, this alleged charge proceeds upon this, that the Corporation appointed to this office of chief constable, at 140l. a-year, not one of their own servants, but a person recommended by the Home-office, rather than take a person recommended to them by the directors of the poor?" "Yes." "The passage next following that I have quoted from the Report is this:—'To such a cause is attributed the collision which has taken place between them and the directors of the poor,' namely, this appointment of Prosser?—Yes."
Your Lordships must observe, that 377 those words, "namely, this appointment of Prosser," are not in the Report, but are a gratuitous addition by the Counsel, who had been gradually leading on the witness, step by step, to swear positively that this was the instance to which the Commissioners referred.
Now I have no sort of doubt, that by this course of examination a double object was effected. First of all, your Lordships, or such of your Lordships at least as did not take the trouble to consult the Report, would be led to believe that you were hearing for the first time the particulars of Prosser's appointment; and, secondly, you could not fail to be convinced that this was a most frivolous and unfounded charge, which the Commissioner had ventured to make on such grounds alone, while he studiously excluded from his Report all those particulars by which alone you could judge of its real character. I know at least that this would have been the effect on my mind, if I had not by this time seen reason enough to suspect the fairness of the examination which the learned Counsel were instructed to make by the Town Clerks; and if I had not been consequently led to take nothing for granted which was said either to be in the Report, or not to be in the Report, until I had examined it myself. Nor was my labour thrown away; for in the first place, on turning to page 1800, under the head Chief Constable, I found all the particulars relative to Prosser's appointment set out, and much more fully set out than by the witness at the Bar; the desire of the Corporation to make the police more efficient, their application to the Secretary of State, and all the circumstances connected with his appointment. Then I turned to page 1836 of the Report, which contains the statement quoted by the Counsel, of the collision between the Magistrates and directors of the poor, and I found that the Report distinctly states the real cause of the collision, leaving nothing for the imagination or belief of the witness as to the meaning of the Commissioner, but plainly stating that the cause of the collision, of the loud dissatisfaction and angry feeling excited among the inhabitants, was not the appointment of Prosser as chief constable, as your Lordships were led to think, and as the witness swore he believed the Commissioner implied, but the refusal of the Magistrates to entrust the service of summonses and warrants of execution for 378 non-payment of Poor's-rates to the directors of the poor, and also their refusal to insert more than one name into a summons. This was the cause of the collision, because the costs of execution, are stated by the Report to be grievous and often ruinous to poor families, when the sum distrained for is comparatively trifling. And it was charged against the Magistrates, that they persevered in this system, in opposition to the representations of the directors of the poor, and many of the most respectable and wealthy inhabitants of the city, because their clerk was allowed to charge 2s. for every warrant, and because Prosser profited by the executions, whose salary, your Lordships are to observe, although the Counsel and witness studiously concealed that fact, the Corporation had guaranteed to the extent of 140l.; and therefore in that sense there was no inaccuracy in calling him their officer, because they were bound to pay his salary out of the Corporate funds, if his other sources of emolument should fall short.
Now this was the charge broadly and distinctly made by the Commissioner. It may be true, or it may be false; that is not the question now. What I wish your Lordships to observe is, that the Counsel passed over the whole of these transactions in silence, and painfully brought the witness to swear that the collision alluded to arose out of the appointment of Prosser to be chief constable of police, although Prosser's appointment as police constable is not at all in question here; and in page 1800, where it is mentioned, all the particulars detailed at the Bar, and many more are set out; and it is stated, that the Corporation had made this application to the Secretary of State, wishing to render the police of the city more efficient. So that your Lordships are made to believe, that the Commissioner suppressed the facts connected with Prosser's appointment, when in truth he gives them all, and assigns a praiseworthy motive to the Corporation in the application which led to it; and you are also made to believe, that this appointment was alluded to as the cause of the collision spoken of, when another most different cause is distinctly stated on the face of the Report, in the very page from which the Counsel was reading, and to which he was adding false insinuations of his own, and where Prosser's appointment is not at all in question, 379 but is only incidentally mentioned, so as to furnish the ground-work for this most gross misrepresentation. I leave it to you, my Lords, to say who are the parties guilty of suppression.
I will give only one more instance. The whole evidence is full of this sort of case; but I will content myself with citing a single instance. The Report of the Charity Commissioners was mentioned; and it was brought as a charge against the Corporation Commissioner, that he had cited the Charity Report very largely, but had stopped short in the middle of a paragraph, in order to avoid quoting the praise given to the Corporation (as it was said) for the management of its charitable estates. And surely if this were true, no better proof of the malignity imputed to the Commissioners could be given, than that they should quote everything which seemed to blame, and stop short abruptly as soon as the Charity Report began to praise the Corporation; and accordingly I observed that when this statement was first made at the Bar, it produced that effect upon your Lordships which might be expected. But it happens that it is not true; and even as the evidence has been given at the Bar, your Lordships may see that it is not true, although the questions on this point were asked in a singularly involved manner, and well calculated to produce the impression that the witness's answers were in accordance with the Counsel's statement, whereas in fact they contradicted it.
And, first, it may be as well to observe, that the Counsel assumed a little too hastily that there was much praise in the Charity Report; for, on the contrary, that Report exposes and condemns, in the strongest language, the various abuses which were detected in this administration; but after pointing out all the neglect and abuse, the Charity Report states, that in the last few years, exertions have been made to remedy the misconduct of half a century. It states, that "since the year 1828, several new corporators have been admitted, who have applied themselves earnestly to the reformation of the abuses of the Corporation, and to the introduction of a clear system of management," and then it states the particulars of that improvement. Now the whole of this praise is copied into the Corporation Report, page 1812; every word, in short, that related to the Corporation is verbatim 380 inserted, and the only passage omitted is one relating to an individual, Mr. George Eld, the gentleman who was examined at your Bar. It appears that Mr. Eld had been very active in these improvements; so much so that the Charity Commissioners considered him to deserve a paragraph to himself, and accordingly they devote one especially to him, with a sort of apology to the rest of the Corporation, hoping that they will not be offended because Mr. Eld's merits are thus prominently brought forward. Now this passage the Corporation Commissioner has omitted, and without any impropriety, as it seems to me; for he might not feel so acutely as the Charity Commissioners, and Mr. Eld, the necessity of particularly lauding an individual when he was describing a general system. Your Lordships are to remember, that he quotes every word of the praise given to the Corporation, notwithstanding Counsel's allegation to the contrary. But then comes Mr. George Eld; and says, "Heyday! where are the vouchers in favour of my character?" and then he very naturally thinks, that if he does not get a repetition of the praise which is his due, the Corporation is defrauded; for he is not content with his share of the common praise freely given to all, and he instructs Counsel to charge the Commissioners boldly with having omitted all the praise of the Corporation. Well; the charge is made, and so it must be supported; and then comes the awkward circumstance that the actual paragraph which praises the Corporation is found in the Commissioners' Report. But this is got over with some ingenuity; for by first reading the paragraph in praise of Mr. Eld from the Charity Report, and then reading the paragraph in praise of the Corporation, and, lastly, by asking Mr. Eld whether the passage which Counsel had last read is omitted from the Corporation Commissioners' Report; the witness either becomes confused himself, or is enabled to confuse your Lordships, and swears that the passage last read is omitted, when in fact he knew, and came to swear, not that the passage last read, but the last but one read, was omitted, namely the praise of Mr. George Eld, and not the praise of the Corporation, every word of which, as I have already said, was faithfully and conscientiously inserted.
My Lords, is it necessary to go one 381 step further, in order to destroy the whole effect of the evidence, brought to impeach the Report and attack the Commissioners? Your Lordships by a large majority cheered on these charges, many looked most complacently upon the case, as if it were proved; and some were so satisfied, that they avowed their readiness to condemn both the workmen and their work without the ceremony of asking an explanation or hearing the defence. You now see on what kind of foundation the charges were built, and how far the sentence would have been just which you were so very ready to pronounce.
These instructions to Counsel were given by the Corporate Officers, and chiefly by the Town Clerks. If, my Lords, there had but been a single little clause, inserted in some snug and convenient corner of the Bill, to provide that all who are now the incumbents of any municipal office should continue in the same, I doubt if we should have had half so many petitions presented. I am sure we should have heard but little of the evidence which has been delivered at your Bar; and I believe that the learned Counsel who addressed your Lordships in behalf of the existing rights, with all the zeal of their anxious clients, the score or two of Town Clerks now in London assembled, would have been at liberty to exercise their talents and display their animation elsewhere—for the behoof of other parties, and to the edification of other Courts.
My Lords, another circumstance to which I cannot help adverting, is the attack which has been made upon certain individuals whom the Commissioners had examined, an attack made for the apparent purpose of damaging the Report and of vindicating the Corporations, but which not being followed up by any impeachment of the testimony given by those individuals, vanished into smoke. Thus, in the case of Mr. Marryatt of Coventry, after a spell of an hour's length, after harassing the witnesses by putting the same questions to them again and again, I certainly expected that something would be elicited to alter the nature of his evidence before the Commissioners, and that Mr. Visger of Bristol would have fared no better. I naturally reckoned upon Mr. Marryatt being contradicted as to what he said he saw, and what he told of his own knowledge, even if it be ad- 382 mitted that the knowledge was acquired while he was serving his time with the Town Clerk of Coventry. But although the learned Counsel left no means untried of impeaching his credit, although he examined minutely into the fact of Mr. Marryatt having learnt what he swore from his situation in the Town Clerk's office, not one word was said to show that what he told was untrue,—in not one tittle of his evidence was he contradicted, nor was one fraction of his statement denied. What then can it signify to the accuracy of the Report how those who told the truth came by the knowledge of it? Here is a sample of the kind of answers given to the Commissioners, a sample by which you may judge of the whole cargo, without further breaking bulk. Take another of the same kind. Mr. Merryman the Town Clerk of Marlborough, is called,—a sharp, clever young man, who was appointed at the age of twenty-two, being the son of the Mayor, and who, if he had been the son of any other man might, I suppose, have waited until he was forty-two before he was honoured with the appointment, although from his appearance I nowise doubt of his fitness for the office. A question was put to him about the parties who had taken upon them to swear before the Commissioners, that if Lord Aylesbury objected to a man there would be no great chance of his being elected a burgess; and he answered by vituperating those who made such attacks, speaking of their spite and want of courtesy, and what not, and launching out into much praise, but of a vague and unprofitable kind, which he lavished upon Lord Aylesbury, and upon the Corporation. But, after all, did he deny the fact? No such thing. He was asked by us—"Do you, Mr. Merryman, who are the friend of the Corporation, the son of the Mayor, and the eulogist of the Borough patron Lord Aylesbury,—do you assert, that if a man happen to give offence to his Lordship, or is not acceptable to him, he has any chance of being elected a Burgess? Do not tell us what so and so said from spite, but give us a plain answer to that plain question?"—"Then," said he, "the fact cannot be denied—I think such a person would have little or no chance of being elected." So that the only conclusion to which all the evidence on this head brings us, is, that a certain spiteful man told the 383 Commissioners the truth, that they believed what he told them, and that this unspiteful man, the friend of Lord Aylesbury, now admits that the evidence given by the spiteful witness was as true as the Gospel. The Oxford evidence affords another instance of the same course pursued by the petitioners carefully avoiding the real question whether the Report is true or not. There is much general praise sworn to of the Corporation and much blame of its adversaries. But not one word is said about the. statement in the Report that of the 1,500 corporators, not 500 take any part in managing the charity trusts, and that of these 65 are paupers receiving parish relief.
This, my Lords, is another sample of the manner in which the examination was conducted, and of the impression which was sought to be made by dwelling upon fringes of the argument, pulling down things which nobody was interested in supporting, and suppressing those parts of the evidence which tended to establish the accuracy of the Reports. I must say, that taking in the mass the evidence which was adduced by the learned Counsel at the Bar, I never saw any of a more futile nature brought forward in support of a charge against any public functionaries whatever. But I wish to give particular instances; and the one I now allude to is that of my excellent Friend Mr. Drinkwater, than whom a more honourable and conscientious man (I might add, a more accomplished and able man) I believe exists not upon the face of the earth. It suited the humour of my noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) to designate him as a Whig;—I wish he were. But if he be, he has acquired his Whiggism since I left the Court of King's-Bench and the Northern Circuit: which in one sense is somewhat mortifying, because all the time I had him under my tuition I never saw any appearance of Whiggism in him; and assuredly he comes of as good a Tory family as any of your Lordships. However, he is now discovered to be a Whig; I can only say, it is at least as new to me as it is agreeable.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
I rise to set myself right, as to what has been said by the noble Viscount opposite.
The noble and learned Lord must see how inconvenient the license is which he is about to take. Why should he wish, in the middle of my speech, 384 to answer something which has been said, not by me, which would be irregular, but by another, which is absolutely unheard of? In the time of the Greek orators, it was customary to speak for an hour, examine some half-a-dozen witnesses to gain breathing time, and then go at it again; but who ever heard, even then, of Æschines interjecting an answer to Demosthenes, as my noble and learned Friend would now do to the noble Viscount, in the middle of the speech of some orator, whom I cannot tell the name of; for he must have been obscure indeed if I could liken myself to him, and his name has not reached our days. I really can allow my noble Friend only to set me right by this interposition, if I have mis-stated anything; but as to his getting up, and replying to the speech of another man, I can hardly be expected to suffer that, unless I were much more exhausted than I at present, ill as I am, happen to feel. But I return to Mr. Drinkwater. If he did his duty as a Commissioner, with perfect impartiality, it does not signify one straw whether he is a Whig or a Tory. If he has become a Whig, I suppose it is from experiencing the deficiencies of the Tories, and witnessing the excellent achievements of the Whigs, that he has got on the right side of the question; but I believe that he is no more a Whig than my noble and learned Friend himself. Or, to take a safer comparison, than the noble Earl at the Table (Falmouth.) [The Earl of Falmouth: I never was, nor ever will be one.] That is dangerous to say. How can you tell that your conversion too may not come? However, a more flimsy charge never was made against mortal man than that which is insinuated, rather than brought forward, against this gentleman. It was said, why did he take Mr. Visger's evidence out of Court? But he never did so—never thought of doing so. He received, as was his bounden duty, in private, information upon which he might in public proceed; and not only can no blame be imputed to this, provided he examined all the evidence publicly, and did not decide upon what he had privately learnt; but he could proceed in no other course, unless he designed the whole inquiry to stand still, and to prove a mere mockery. Why, I should like to know how any men are to carry on an investigation of this sort? Are they to shut their ears against all who come to suggest topics of examination, and put 385 them upon the track? Most clearly they are bound to hear all the information which is offered to them, although not to decide until they have taken evidence in open Court; and that is precisely what Mr. Drinkwater did. He took the suggestion; he examined the evidence; he was put on the track; he pursued it; he made up his mind, but only to act upon the suggestion; he did not decide; he did not make his Report until after a public examination of the evidence;—and then I come to that which is the gravamen of the whole charge. It appears that after he had inquired, some information came from the Corporation party, who begged that he would put it also upon the Minutes; and for refusing to do so, he is charged at one long step with having suppressed it; and by a jump from that step, he is accused of having made underhand a Report, founded upon information derived from one party, while he rejected that which was tendered by the other, who now complain of this notable suppression! But what was the fact? The evidence tendered by the Corporation related to an alleged improvement made after the Commissioner had closed the inquiry, and left Bristol, and returned to London! Was he at that time to alter his Report? Was he to change and to garble his statement, finished and founded upon what he had seen on the spot, and framed upon the evidence taken openly, in a legal, regular manner, in the face of the people? And this was he to do on the private communication of one of the parties, behind the other's back? If he had done so, then indeed I think he would have been liable to that charge which I hesitate not now to declare has been the most absurdly and unjustly brought against him of all the imputations made against all the Commissioners.
I know not whether it will be proper now to trouble your Lordships by going again into the case of East Retford, or the evidence upon which an attempt was made to impugn the testimony of Mr. Bigsby, who swore that he had seen a magistrate and a prisoner rolling together on the floor of the justice-room. I asked the witness whether Mr. Bigsby was a respectable man; his answer was, that "he was most highly respectable," and that he had been in partnership with the Town-Clerk. But then he endeavoured to show (as he could not impute want of veracity) that Mr. 386 Bigsby must have been mistaken, and must have thought it was the magistrate when it was the constable who rolled on the floor. A more marvellous failure I never yet did see in any such attempt at reconciling testimony, which it is found impossible to displace! The witness referred to another case, clearly not the one Mr. Bigsby spoke of, but one in which a police officer was rolling on the floor of a room in an alehouse with a felon of the name of Grimes; and then he admitted—an admission which was sufficient to put the whole explanation out of Court—that Mr. Bigsby was never in the room of the ale-house at all. Does not this demonstrate that he could not have seen the policeman rolling with the felon on the floor? and that his statement could not have referred to what passed in the ale-house? Mr. Bigsby is not discredited; no one pretends to say he told an untruth. The only attempt made is to show he was mistaken, when he said he had seen a magistrate on the floor in the justice-room; and that attempt is prosecuted, by showing that in an alehouse where Mr. Bigsby never was, a policeman was on the floor. Can anything be more signal than the failure of this attempt? Then, as to the report about Alderman Parker: that part was drawn by Mr. Cockburn from his own notes of the evidence. The notes taken by the other Commissioner, Mr. Rushton, which I have seen, tally exactly with Mr. Cockburn's statement. To contradict them, the Corporation might have called the shorthand writer who was in the room at the examination, who is here at hand, and who could have attended. But he is not called: they only examine a man who had taken no notes at all; and why are we to believe him rather than the two Commissioners? Any one of your Lordships must know that in a court of justice, where there is conflicting testimony—where there is word against word, or oath against oath—such an omission as that of calling the shorthand writer would put the case out of Court, and establish the accuracy of the Report as certainly as that two and two make four.
My Lords, I think I have done enough to throw as much light upon this subject as suffices to vindicate the Commissioners from any charge. If I did not in my conscience believe that I had sufficiently vindicated them in the mind of every intelligent, patient, and candid inquirer— 387 every one who is seeking after the truth and not after vengeance and injustice—no tedium to myself, no lassitude under which I may labour from the fatigue of last night, and, above all, no impatience on the part of the House, would induce me to shorten my statement by a single minute of time. I am performing an act of justice—I am doing a necessary deed—I am defending those who are accused behind their backs, and are about to be condemned without even being told what they are charged with—I am seeking to stay judgment, and, for aught I know, execution against those absent and undefended men; execution about to be passed upon the most valuable thing in this life, their character. The precious fame of eighteen or nineteen men, as honest as any upon whom the sun ever shone, is sought to be tarnished for party purposes, to gratify the malice of some and serve the sordid ends of others. Charged with their protection whom you have not suffered to defend themselves, I am justified in engrossing the attention of your Lordships, even though it should be to the exhaustion of your patience, while I make the statements which I feel that it would be as unjust for me to abstain from making as it would be for your Lordships to refuse to hear, until I deemed, as I now do, that I have made a thoroughly good, sound, and perfect defence of those traduced and absent men. Having done this, I feel that I have only discharged a duty which rested upon me. I was never absent an instant during the examination of the evidence. I have made up my mind from no predilection in favour of the inquiry or of the Commissioners who conducted it. I felt that this duty rested upon me as the author of the Commission, and the author, or at least the person to whom had fallen the largest share in framing, this great measure—this necessary scheme of ample and general improvement. I have watched over its fate from its embryo state—from thence I have attended it through all its successive stages, and I am only persevering in discharging the duty I owe it in this which should be the moment of its maturity, but which I fear only precedes its dissolution. I feel, above all men, anxious that no adventitious source of blame shall be attached to it, either from the defenders of it or from the foundation on which it is supposed to rest—that no extraneous weakness shall be ingrafted upon it—that no exotic rotten- 388 ness shall be implanted in it—that no needless scathe shall befal it through the misconduct of any man connected with it, even of the men whose appointment I was aware of, and was, legally at least, amenable for—many of them being utterly unknown to me, but all recommended by those in whom reposed my entire confidence: so that I shrink not from the full responsibility. I am answerable for their appointment in the face of the people, whose hopes are centred in the passing of this Bill. But I am yet more deeply responsible for the Measure itself and its success; and if any one of these men, contrary to my reasonable expectations, contrary to all I had a right to reckon upon from men so recommended to me, had failed in his duty—if the result of the present inquiry had proved that the choice of the Commissioners was a wrong one—if the Commissioners had proved to be unjust and partial men—if their conduct had turned out careless, and ignorant, and unfair—had been found dishonest or neglectful—and if, through ill-judging friendship to the Measure, they had made themselves the worst of enemies by corruptly executing the functions committed to them—in a word, if, by their deficiency or by their fault, they had cast any discredit upon the inquiry in which they were engaged, or upon the Measure to which that inquiry gave birth, I should have been the first to shake off the contamination which would have attached to the Measure and to myself from such a fellowship, and recoiled with disdain from a contact so impure. I should have given them a fair trial—I should have lent patient hearing to their defence before I gave them up; but, being once convinced, I should have been the first to abandon them, as they had abandoned their duty. I claim the credit, my Lords, of having watched attentively, sedulously, and anxiously all the evidence given upon the conduct of these men; but I claim more—I assert that no one sifted the conduct of the accused with more jealousy—none scrutinized it more narrowly, more inexorably—I was a judge altogether impartial—I had no interest in protecting them if guilty, none in stifling the charge against them—my sole object was, to discover the truth. And now, after hearing all that could be offered against them—after sifting, as far as I could without them, the charges brought—after examining the 389 whole case, as well as I could in the absence of the accused—after hearing the evidence in support of the charge alone, and hearing only the ex parte statement made at your Bar—I feel myself prepared, most clearly and most conscientiously, to pronounce their acquittal. I consider, indeed, that the Bill does not stand upon this ground alone: If the Commissioners had been proved to have exercised their authority improperly, and even if they had practised all the malversation imputed to them, it could well survive their condemnation; in pronouncing which, had they been guilty, I should have joined: but I see not the shadow of a shade of ground for the charges which have been fabricated against them.
One word now as to the feelings of the people, expressed in the language of their petitions. The noble Earl (Falmouth) says, that the sentiments delivered are not their own, but such as have been put into their mouths by excitement and agitation. My Lords, the proofs of this are about as solid as those brought against the Commissioners. He has spoken of two letters franked by Lord John Russell, and sent to what he calls a radical gentleman at Weymouth, in consequence of which meetings were held there, and petitions sent up to this House. "Now how do I know," argued the noble Earl, if argument it could be called, "but that the same practice is carried on in other quarters." Somebody, it seems, had seen two letters; but even if he saw the address, with the radical superscription upon it, franked by Lord John Russell, had the informant opened the letter? Did he know what was in it? The noble Earl does not pretend that anybody told him that; and is he to assume, that because Lord John Russell franked a letter, without ever inquiring whether it was destined for a Radical or a Conservative, therefore his Lordship was engaged in agitating the people of Weymouth? We are told that the feelings of the people are not spontaneous; that they are worked upon by agitation; and that their acts are those of a deluded mob. I grieve to hear it—I feel some alarm. I think a deluded mob of 23,000 persons would be a very awkward thing to deal with; and that number of persons signed the petition at Manchester in ten hours. There was no time to call a public meeting, but in three or four days it would have been signed by 30,000 390 persons. This is the majority of the population of Manchester, when the women and the children—the persons who are not of the signing age and those who are not of the signing sex—are put out of the question. The petition at Leeds was signed by 16,000 persons after a public meeting holden there; signatures to the amount of 20,000 might easily have been obtained, for many went away from the meeting without signing, thinking it would be superfluous to do so; but this number answers to a population of about 50,000, which is greatly more than a majority of all the people of Leeds. At Leicester, the petition was signed, in a few hours, by 9,500 persons—that very Leicester which sent up their Town-Clerk to tell us that every thing went on well in the administration of their affairs—that their justice was perfect—their magistrates paragons of excellence—that everything was satisfactory—that nothing within the whole compass of mortal fancy could be better than the state of their municipal affairs—that there were only a few persons of no mark who showed any discontent, and imagining they had found a better system, were out of conceit with the old one; and yet it turns out, after all these panegyrics, that this petition in favour of the Bill is signed by a number of no less than 9,500 of these pleased, contented, and highly gratified inhabitants of the town of Leicester—a number amounting to four-fifths of the population—a petition, too, containing expressions so strong, that your Lordships in your indignation refused to allow it to be presented. If, therefore, four-fifths of the people there are so ill pleased with your Lordships from the mere suspicion that you do not mean to pass this Bill, but that you mean to maintain this popular, excellent, and altogether perfect regimen, that of the present corporation, at least such a circumstance may be regarded as an indication that the public mind in Leicester is not quite so contented as the Town-Clerk of that place would complacently represent. My Lords, I draw one conclusion from the whole of the arguments at the Bar—from the fierce opposition to the Bill—from the violence of the witnesses examined. It is, that the people of this country are utterly discontented with their present municipal government, and that the municipalities know it. Do I ask a proof that the people all deeply desire an alteration—that this wish is 391 universal, strong, deep-rooted—that, if there are any exceptions, it is among those interested, ltke the Town-Clerks whom we have heard at the Bar, and the other witnesses almost all directly connected with the present Corporations—such proof is furnished by the conduct of the Corporations themselves. If the friends of the present system really believe what they often say, that its constitution and administration are such as to command the respect and to win the hearts of all men—if they and their works are the delight of the human race—if their present magistrates are perfectly acceptable to the people—if there is no hostility between the corporate bodies and the inhabitants, but every thing is contentment and sunshine all around them—then why so much afraid of this Bill, and of new elections by the general body of their fellow citizens?—Why so much afraid of the householders—of those to whom their past conduct has given such satisfaction?—Why insist upon electing one another, and not trust their dearly-beloved selves to the voices of their much-loving fellow-citizens? I once or twice tried that argument with the town-clerks whom we examined, and when they did not perceive the drift of the questions, they got into the net of this reasoning. At first they answered very glibly. "Are the public officers," I demanded, "very unpopular?—"No, not in the least." "Are they all acceptable to the people?"—"Yes." "They are popular, then, in the place where they live?"—"Certainly." "Do others think so beside yourself?"—"Yes, others think so too." "The great majority of the rate payers are for them of course?"—"Yes." "Then I suppose, if they had to choose a new Corporation, the present men would be re-elected?" The witnesses did not quite so much approve of that question. One of them from Rochester fell into the snare, and said, "Yes; O yes, they would all be re-elected." But this seemed to raise the indignation of the learned Counsel, who began to think what kind of a case he would have if it were admitted that the only difference provided by the Bill would be, that the same individual aldermen, wearing the same gowns, would have their names changed to that of members of the Council, and that all the argument of spoliation, and injustice, and oppression would be swept away. But I judge from every one of these cases produced against 392 the Bill and the Report—from the firm dislike towards the measure shown by the whole of the Corporations—from their hatred to open election, and their determination to cling by close election and selfelection—from all this I judge that the feeling universally pervading the present rulers of boroughs is that they will not be re-elected by the people, because their administration has not been satisfactory, and because the whole system, both in theory and in practice, has secured for itself the distrust, the aversion, the hatred of the community at large. This was the case in Scotland two years ago, on the passing of the Bill which I had the honour of carrying through this House, vigorously opposed by my noble Friend (Haddington) opposite, and my noble Friend on the floor (Rosslyn). That great reform was followed by a total change of the magistracy throughout Scotland, which showed that the Scotch people were not enamoured of their municipal system; and I look, as do the English Corporations themselves, to the like results here. My Lords, I really hope that your Lordships will go on with this Bill in a friendly spirit. I hope at least that my gloomy expectations have a chance of being deceived, and that the sharp alarm which penetrated my mind upon the announcement of the noble Duke, this night, for the future fate of the Bill, will prove to have been needless and groundless. I have no words to express my sense of the importance of those interests which are involved in the fortunes of this measure; but I leave it to your Lordships, with the hope and the prayer that you will suffer it to become the law.
The Duke of Newcastle intimated his intention not to press his Amendment. Their Lordships then went into a Committee on the Bill, and immediately resumed.
§ Committee to sit again.