HC Deb 29 June 1807 vol 9 cc670-4
The Speaker

acquainted the house, that, pursuant to the direction of the house, an account had been prepared of all Private Bills pending at the time of the late dissolution, with the several stages in which they were on the 27th of April, and those that were passed, with the exception of receiving the royal assent.— The account was ordered to lie on the table, and ordered to be printed.

Mr. Perceval

rose to submit to the house a motion, which he hoped would remove all the inconveniences affecting private bills, arising from the late dissolution of parliament. If, however, the house should estimate more highly than he did those inconveniences, those who had such a superior feeling of them, would, he trusted, be but more strongly compelled to adopt the resolution which went to remedy them. He was sure that those who regarded the dissolution as a crime not to be forgiven, would be disposed to visit the punishment of it wholly upon the advisers, without involving those who were but innocent sufferers. He never had said that the dissolution was not attended with inconvenience: it was merely on a comparison of that inconvenience with the superior importance of the reasons that rendered the dissolution necessary at that precise time, that he defended it. The principal inconveniences complained of were the delay and the additional expense. The delay of two months, he hoped, could not be attended with any material inconvenience; and as to the expense, it would be obviated in one of its branches by the liberality of the officers, who, according to the precedent established by their former liberality in 1784, agreed to advance the bills so pending at the dissolution, to their former stages, without any additional fees. It remained only to obviate the expense of agency, and the attendance of witnesses in town. This was the principal object of the resolution he meant to propose, which was to give an instruction to the committee, to which every petition for a private bill should be re- ferred, to inquire whether any petition had already been presented in this late session, from the same parries, on the same subject; and if so, that the minutes of the evidence, taken before the committee on the former petition, should be evidence before the said committee; and so, in like manner, with respect to private bills, founded on such petitions, allowing the committees to call for further evidence, if necessary. He hoped that the inconveniences arising from the late dissolution to private business, would be in a great measure done away, by adopting this arrangement. Those who looked upon the dissolution as an evil which nothing could remedy, would not, of course, think this remedy satisfactory. But those who, On the contrary, looked upon it as a necessary appeal to the sense of the country, under the circumstances existing at the time, would be gratified to think that the inconveniences which the appeal occasioned, could be made so light. He concluded with moving a resolution accordingly.

Lord H. Petty

was ready to concur in every proper measure to lighten the inconveniences caused by the late dissolution. He, however, wished the house to consider, that to the serjeant at Arms, and others of the officers, the deficiencies of their fees beneath a certain amount was to be made good from the public purse, and this deficiency would of course be increased by remitting the fees.

Mr. Curwen

could not reconcile himself to so dangerous a precedent as this, which by presenting a mode for relieving the private inconveniences incident to such a stretch of power, would always render it a matter of facility to a minister to dissolve parliament, in every case in which its temper and disposition might be adverse to his views. It was true, there had been a strong opposition to the late ministers on the two questions that had been tried touching the manner in which they had come into power. He had been one of those who had opposed them upon these questions, and he lamented that the decision upon them had not been different; for as it was, it tended to endanger the security of the crown, and of the country itself. He was sure, however, that no vexatious opposition had been intended; and if there had been, he would not have been a party to it. He lamented the inconveniences to private persons resulting from the dissolution; but though he wished to alleviate those inconveniences, he could not consent to relieve them by opening door for public mischief.

Lord Howick

coincided in what had fallen from his hon. friend near him. However desirous of remedying the inconveniences occasioned by the dissolution (and every day shewed those inconveniences to be so great, that the period seemed to have been purposely chosen at which they must have been the greatest), he could not easily bring himself to consent to the measure now proposed to remedy those inconveniences. The magnitude of the inconveniences might indeed be well estimated, from the extraordinary nature of the remedy proposed. That remedy went to suspend and repeal for the time, the forms by which the privileges of the house of commons, and the rights and the property of the people, were secured and protected. However highly he might be disposed to commend the liberality of the clerks, it was not a very pleasant situation in which to place the house or the country, to make them dependent on that liberality. However it might answer in cases in which there was no opposition to allow the bills to proceed, without the necessity of bringing up witnesses, in cases of contest and opposition, the vast expence attending such cases must be again incurred. The necessary notices were not to be insisted upon, and individuals might find their property invaded, without any intimation to put them on their guard. It was impossible for him, in these circumstances, to consent to the arrangement proposed. If the right hon. gent. would but allow himself a pause of 24 hours, he would not think of pressing a measure, not only differing widely from all precedent, but violatory of every parliamentary principle. He recommended at least the appointment of a Committee to search into precedents. In 1784, though the expedient of forwarding the bills without fees had been adopted, no standing order had been violated. He again expatiated on the mischiefs attending the dissolution. He disclaimed all idea of vexatious opposition. Though there had necessarily been a decided opposition on the questions immediately touching the change of administration, and involving great constitutional principles, the decision that had been formed upon which he feared there would be cause to regret, there would not have been another division in the course of the session, unless something new had been brought forward. The Inclosure bills could not possibly be carried into effect, when passed at so late a period of the session. The precedent was totally novel, and dangerous in its principle, and therefore he could not assent to it.

Mr. Perceval

said, he could not hope to alter the noble lord's opinion, nor that of those who acted with him, as to the merits of the late dissolution. He was happy to think, however, that there was a great majority of the house, who were of opinion with him, that the prerogative was properly exercised in that instance. The importance of the circumstances that led to the dissolution were more than sufficient to counterbalance the private inconveniences. It was the great public interest that was to be consulted, and not private convenience. The noble lord was mistaken in supposing that any standing order was violated, or that the usual notice to parties was infringed upon. The standing order relative to notices required that they should be given at the Michaelmas, or in the August and September preceding the session in which the bill was to be brought in. The Michaelmas, the August, and the September that preceded the last session, were also the Michaelmas, August, and September preceding this, and therefore the same notice answered for the bills to be now brought in, The same construction had been put on the law of notices in the year 1784, and in the year 1800, in the first session of the United Parliament following the short session of the British parliament. He thought it rather a strange way of strengthening the argument derived from the inconveniences attending the dissolution, to refuse to alleviate those inconveniences.

Lord Howick ,

in explanation, vindicated himself from the imputation of being disposed to add to the inconveniences arising from the dissolution, which he had every wish to remedy, so far as that could be done without creating public mischief. He denied the application of the precedents of 1784 and ,1800, in the most material circumstances. No resolution, like the present, had been then adopted.

Sir John Newport

objected to the resolution, as going to substitute written evidence for paroie evidence, with the power of personal examination.


said, the committees were to be at liberty to call for parole evidence whenever they might think it necessary. He thought the house could by its own power obviate the difficulties touching the fees in every instance: for though the fees were, in some instances, appropriated by act of parliament, they were levied only by a resolution of the house, which the house could dispose of according to its pleasure.

Lord H. Petty

allowed that the power of the house might extend as far as the hon. gent. stated; but it would not, perhaps, be right, after the house had passed an act of approbation, to withdraw, the sums to be appropriated.— After a few words from Mr. Bastard and sir J. Anstruther against the motion, Mr. Shaw Lefevre moved, that the debate be adjourned till to-morrow. This produced a short discussion between the chancellor of the exchequer, lord Howick, Mr. W. Smith, Mr. C. Wynne, and Mr. C. Dundas, in which it was contended, on the one hand, that there were no grounds, and on the other, that there were ample grounds for such a postponement. Upon which the house then divided: For the adjournment 76. Against it 164. The resolution was then put and carried.