§ The Duke of Richmond
said, he rose to move the second reading of the Bill for authorising the re-election of a mayor and other municipal officers in the borough of Poole. The noble Duke briefly adverted to the circumstances which had given rise to the Bill. It had been proved before a Committee of the House of Commons, that the election of mayor and aldermen which had taken place under the Municipal Reform Act was marked by fraud; and they reported, that the grievance of which the inhabitants complained, in consequence, could not be remedied unless by a legislative enactment. A case, connected with the election, had been tried at Dorchester, when a verdict was found for the Crown, thereby establishing the fact that fraud had been resorted to. The voting papers had been falsified and mutilated. Papers had been put into the box, purporting that those by whom they were signed were in favour of one set of councillors, whereas the parties were, in fact, favourable to another. Those who came into power by these means began their career by removing certain officers whose political principles were different from their own. The object of this Bill was, not to establish fresh councillors, but to allow the election of councillors to begin de novo, so that a fair and just election might take place. He thought that no objection could justly be made to this proposition, when it was considered that the complaining parties had no remedy in the courts of law. When it was admitted that a great abuse had taken place, and that a great grievance had been suffered, the injured parties had a right to come forward and ask for an Act of Parliament to replace them in the situation in which they would have stood but for the fraudulent conduct of which they complained.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, that he, and he believed many other noble Lords, most strongly objected to this Bill. There was not to be found in the records of Parliament a precedent for such a measure as that which was now proposed, and which appeared to him to be of a most dangerous character. It was introduced for party purposes, it was founded on party spite, and sought nothing else but party triumph. The question at issue was properly a question, not for Parliament, but for the courts of law, and to them it ought to be left for decision. He knew that one trial had taken place; but it should not be forgotten that the learned judge had on that occasion reserved several points; so that, in point of fact, the case was not decided. It was not his intention to move (as had been prayed by Messrs. Ledgard and Major, whose petition he presented yesterday) that those who opposed the Bill should be heard by counsel at the bar of the House. He would not put their Lordships to the trouble, or the parties to the expense, which would follow, if he adopted such a course. With respect to the late election, he must contend that the conduct of the mayor on that occasion was perfectly correct. With respect to the voting papers, which had been alluded to by the noble Duke, there was no clause in the Act of Parliament to direct the mayor how to act under such peculiar circumstances. It was left entirely to his own discretion as to which of the papers he should select, and which he should reject. Yet it was asserted that the mayor had acted fraudulently. If that were the case, the parties ought to have proceeded against him by action. Their Lordships ought to be very cautious in countenancing a measure which asked for a great deal more than was necessary. Two councillors only in one ward were objected to, and none were objected to in the other, yet this measure went to annul the whole election. Was that just? He was certain that no noble Lord could assert that it was. With respect to the trial connected with the election, no less than six points of law were reserved for further consideration; so that ultimately the verdict might be reversed altogether. The noble Lord concluded by moving as an amendment, "That the Bill be read a third time this day three months."
§ Lord Strafford
did not take up this 753 question as a party man, but as a Member of the Legislature, anxious to do justice. He declared, then, on his own personal knowledge, that the election was not a fair one. He believed that gross fraud had been committed, and therefore, in order to correct the evil, it appeared to him that it would be proper to pass this Bill. Such was his opinion, without any reference to party feeling, Conservative or Liberal. He begged leave, in support of his view, to refer to the evidence given before the Select Committee of the House of Commons.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
said, they could not receive evidence which was not regularly before their Lordships, and of which, in fact, they knew nothing. There was no evidence to support the preamble of the Bill; and it was always usual, when a Bill of such a nature was introduced, for their Lordships to hear evidence in support of it. How, then, was it possible they could proceed in the manner now pursued by the noble Lord?
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
said, it was perfectly open to his noble Friend to take the course which he had adopted.
§ Lord Strafford
assured the noble and learned Lord that he had no intention to proceed irregularly. The noble Lord then argued, that spite was not manifested by those who called for this Bill, but was abundantly shown by the majority who had arrived at office, and who wished to remove from their situations persons who were obnoxious to them.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
said, that as the provisions of this Bill would sensibly affect certain parties, a strong case should be made out before their Lordships passed it. He contended that it was not possible for them to proceed in the summary way that was now proposed. The Bill was a measure of disfranchisement; and whenever such a measure was proposed, it was the established rule that a case should be made out by evidence—yes, made out by evidence at their Lordships' Bar. Their Lordships never proceeded, and never would proceed, on the evidence given before a Committee of the House of Commons And why? Because such evidence was not given on oath. He knew it would be said, that part of this evidence was on oath—that it consisted of 754 affidavits. But, though such evidence, resting on affidavits, was on oath, still that was not sufficient. The evidence ought to be given in their Lordships' presence, in order that a cross-examination of the witnesses might take place. But the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Commons in this case had not been communicated to their Lordships. Then what was the foundation on which they were called on to legislate for the disfranchisement of those people? He understood that a case connected with the election had been tried. Of that, however, he knew nothing, except from newspaper report; and, he would ask, was newspaper report the ground on which they would legislate? A verdict, it seemed, had been obtained, but there was no judgment. Now, what course did their Lordships pursue, when a motion was made relative to a verdict that had been obtained against a Member of their Lordships' House, but which had not been followed up by judgment? Why they did not entertain it for a moment. The noble and learned Lord who then occupied the woolsack immediately said, "A verdict is nothing, if not followed by judgment. There may be a new trial, and the verdict may be reversed." And what turned out to be the result in that case? Why, there was a motion for a new trial —that motion was granted—but no further proceedings took place. Now, had they in that instance taken any steps, they must afterwards have annulled their proceedings, in consequence of that verdict having been set aside. In the present instance it appeared that the learned Judge who tried the cause had reserved several points for future consideration, one of which gave to the defendant a right to move that the verdict should be entered for him. Then, if the point thus reserved were decided in the defendant's favour, in what situation would their Lordships be placed after having passed this Bill, as founded on the preceding verdict? He knew the learned Judge who tried the case, and he was perfectly convinced that that learned individual would not reserve an idle point, or one that was undeserving of serious consideration. He knew nothing of the facts which had been alleged—not sufficient, at least, to induce him to agree to the measure which was founded on them. There was, in truth, nothing before their Lordships which could justify them in passing this Bill. A question of quo warranto had been raised; but that question 755 was not yet decided. He therefore felt himself called on, under all the circumstances, to oppose the Bill. It might so happen, if they passed this measure, that the judgment of a court of law might, at a future period, be directly at variance with their decision. He would not run such a risk, and therefore he should oppose the second reading.
§ The Duke of Richmond
observed, in reply, that if the only reason for resisting this Bill was that the evidence did not come fairly before their Lordships, why did not some noble Lord on that (the Opposition) side of the House move that the parties be heard by counsel against the measure at the Bar? It might, however, be said, that he (the Duke of Richmond) should have done so. Why, a petition was presented last night from certain inhabitants of Poole, praying to be heard by counsel, and from the question asked by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) on the presentation of that petition, he took it for granted that the motion for hearing counsel would be made either by that noble and learned Lord, or by some of those near him. And, indeed, he must be allowed to say, that if the parties were innocent, and if the tricks with which they had been charged were not too commonly practised by the party to which they belonged to have effect in damaging their characters, they ought to have challenged inquiry into their conduct. He was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) give in his adherence to the principle, that a measure of disfranchisement ought not to be sanctioned by that House without hearing evidence at their Bar. But he begged just to remind the noble and learned Lord, that such a course was not always adopted, by referring him to the case of the Prisoners' Counsel Bill, in which not a title of the evidence on which it was founded was heard by their Lordships. Again, the noble and learned Lord consented, without hesitation, to the disfranchisement of the forty shilling freeholders in the year 1828, by a bill of pains and penalties, though not a particle of evidence was received in support of it. They heard much in that House of vested rights, but he should like to know whether those who were displeased by the manner in which the election in Poole had been conducted were not justified in complaining of having their rights infringed? He thought that this measure might be read a second time that evening, and then referred to a 756 Committee up stairs. It would be unwarrantable on his part, seeing that there was hardly a single individual on that (the Opposition) side of the House who was favourable to the Bill, to put their Lordships to the trouble of dividing, but he must protest against the course which the majority of their Lordships were pursuing.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
must protest against the language which the noble Duke had used. He must remind him of the fact, that it was no novelty with that House to require, when a bill of pains and penalties was brought before them, that a case should be made out to sustain it before they assented to the Bill.
The Marquess of Salisbury
said, that there was another ground on which his mind was most strongly made up against this Bill, to which the noble Duke had not adverted in his reply, namely—that their Lordships' House which formed a superior court of appeal, would, if they agreed to this Bill, be interfering with the proceedings of the inferior courts.
§ The Duke of Richmond
observed, that he should protest against the hint, which by throwing out this Bill their Lordships would be giving to all the corporations of England, that however illegally they might act, that House would not punish them for their misconduct, or prevent their repeating their offence.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
contended, that the noble Duke had not put himself in a situation to call for evidence, as he assumed the guilt of the parties.
§ Lord Wynford
expressed his determination to vote against the Bill, because, as this matter was now under the consideration of the courts of law, there would be an end to all justice if their Lordships were at this stage to interfere.
§ Bill to be read a second time that day three months.