HC Deb 08 July 1807 vol 9 cc744-7
Mr. Rose

brought up the report of the Committee of Privileges, to Whom the letter addressed by George Galway Mills, esq. to the Speaker of the house of commons, and the petitions presented against the said G. G. Mills, esq. had been referred. The report stated, that the committee had examined and found that the said G. G. Mills, esq. was a member of the house of commons, and that he was then in the custody of the marshal of the King's Bench. The committee had consulted precedents, and had abstained from examining the allegations contained in the petitions which had been referred to them, conceiving that even had these allegations been proved, that would not have influenced their judgment, or prevented them from coming to the resolution which they had adopted, namely, that the said G. G. Mills, esq. was entitled to the privileges of parliament. He then moved that the house do agree with the committee in that resolution.

Mr. P. Moore ,

as a member of the committee, and as having himself presented a petition to the house against Mr. Mills, stated a few points, which in his opinion, the house, duly regarding its own honour and dignity, circumstances much more important than the privileges of an individual, ought deliberately to consider. The petition to which he alluded had been presented by him with the concurrence of the person against whom it was directed, and for whose interests he and others had exerted their utmost efforts; those efforts had been fruitless; because that hon. gent. did not chuse to abide by his own propositions. Mr. Mills's debts, of various descriptions, exceeded £30,000. Not one of his creditors wished to interfere with the privileges of parliament; but they thought, and certainly they were justified in thinking, that while the house of commons attended to the preservation of their privileges, they should also attend to the demands of justice, and to the preservation of their credit with the public. As far as time would allow, the committee had examined all the precedents which appeared to bear upon the present subject, but in his opinion, not one was found that met the case stated in the petitions. The petitions contained this allega- tion, that the petitioner had obtained his seat in parliament as a temporary protection, in order to evade the demands of his creditors, and ultimately, he was compelled to say so, to defraud them. He was sorry to be obliged to use such language when speaking of one with whom he had been in the habits of intimacy; but in a case so glaring, which so strongly excited the public attention, in times like these, it would be well for the house to pause before they granted to any man under such circumstances, the benefit of the privilege by which the ends of public justice would be defeated.

Mr. C. Wynne

agreed most cordially to the report of the committee. The house was bound to support their privileges, which were given to them, not for their advantage, but for that of the country at large. The privileges which members of parliament enjoyed of freedom from arrest, was as good for the electors as for the elected; were it not so, many of the former might be unrepresented. There was not a single instance on the Journals of the house, refusing the privilege when clearly defined.

Mr. Cochrane Johnstone

thought that a special report ought to have been made by the committee on an inspection of the petitions which contained so strong a charge on the character of one of the members of that house: they stated that he had procured a seat in that house for the express purpose of enabling him to evade the payment of his debts and to escape to the West Indies. He understood that four or five persons now in the King's Bench were anxiously waiting the decision of the house, in order that if that decision were favourable to Mr. Mills, they might avail themselves of his example, and take similar steps in order to relieve themselves from similar embarrassments. He entreated the house, for their credit's sake, before they ordered liberation of this gentleman, either to refer the petitions back to the committee, or to take the subject into their grave and serious consideration.

Mr. Ellison

declared, that the committee had entered upon this subject with feelings as allied to the foulness of the case, as could possibly be entertained. If the allegations of the petitions were proved against Mr. Mills, he thought that no hon. member ought to sit in the house with him; but he also thought, that, circumstanced as they were, the committee could do no more than they had done. Although he was of opinion that it would be better to consider this subject generally, yet if it was deemed adviseable to take it up particularly, he would go as far as any man to rescue the house from the imputations that might otherwise be cast upon it.

Mr. Barham

deprecated any interference with the privileges of the house on this single case. If it could be proved that Mr. Mills had procured his election for fraudulent purposes, that would be a fit subject for the consideration of an election committee. He thought that Mr. Mills had been rather hardly treated, in having such grave accusations urged against him in his absence, when he was unable to reply to them.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

declared, that it was impossible not to approve the conduct of the committee, in refraining from entering into the allegations of the petitions. Mr. Mills's letter had been referred to them to ascertain the facts which it contained, and not to consider the law dependant on those facts which had never been questioned. Even had such a special report been made, as was wished for by an hon. gent.., and had the allegations been found proved, still the house must have granted the privilege. What the law was, and what it ought to be on revision, were too very different considerations. On this subject he would at present say, that it would require some very strong arguments to induce him to believe that the public convenience and advantage would be promoted by the abandonment of this privilege of parliament, although he was aware that in some cases it was productive of private injury. Neither could he agree with the hon. gent. (Mr. Barham) that, if it could be proved that an election was procured for fraudulent purposes, such election must become void. If the charge against Mr. Mills, with the aggravating circumstances attending, could be substantiated (which, in justice to that gentleman, he must remark had not hitherto been done), it might amount to a question of expulsion; but even in that case, it would be proper that the accused should be within the walls to defend himself and his seat.

Mr. Herbert

spoke on the same side. He said the privileges of the house were the privileges of the people. Some of the most illustrious members of that house had been known to be in very poor circumstances; and if it were not for this privilege of freedom from arrest in civil suits, it would be in the power of any administration, by buying up the debts of a person who was so unfortunate as to be in that predicament, to immure any man of the first rate talents, and deprive the country of his abilities in that house.

Mr. W. Smith

observed that this was not a law, but a privilege of parliament, which it might dispense with or not, as it thought proper. Therefore, though the house should give it up in this case, it by no means followed that it must do so in other cases. If fraud was proved, the guilty person ought not to be allowed to take advantage of his own wrong. The committee were perfectly right in their report, but it was for the house to consider allegations. These, indeed, were not proved, but there was a prayer in the petitions for permission to prove them. The privileges of the house existed only for the benefit of the public, and rested on no other foundation. The only question, therefore, was, whether a greater general mischief would result from giving up this privilege in particular instances, than from maintaining it in its full extent.—The motion for agreeing with the committee in their resolution was then carried, as was also a motion by Mr. Rose, that the said G. G. Mills, esq. be discharged out of the custody of the Marshal of the King's Bench.