HC Deb 29 January 1812 vol 21 cc401-5
Mr. Secretary, Ryder

observed, that it would be recollected that in the last week, on the motion of an hon. baronet (Sir Francis Burdett, see p. 239) a return was ordered of the number of Police Magistrates, in which it was required also that they should state where their qualifications are, and what they "are." By an act of parliament passed for the most wholesome purposes, all magistrates were required, before their appointment, to deliver in a statement of their qualifications, under severe penalties, and the House would observe, that if this order were complied with, it would be demanding of the magistrates that they should furnish evidence against themselves, which, he apprehended, even the hon. baronet himself would not wish to enforce. This objection had been suggested by the Attorney General, without any communication from any person interested, and he begged therefore to move, that that part of the order be expunged. He had written a note to sir F. Burdett, informing him of his intention the day before yesterday, and was sorry not now to see him in his place.

Mr. Whitbread

thought that it would be much more advisable to delay the motion until it was ascertained that the hon. baronet had received the communication just referred to, that he might at least have an opportunity of stating his objections. He thought that it could be no very severe hardship upon the magistrates, even if the order retained its original form: it might be the object of the hon. baronet to point out to the House certain magistrates who had not complied with the provisions of the statute.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

said, he had no doubt that his note had been received, for it was left at the house of the hon. baronet, who might afterwards, if he pleased, revive the order by taking the sense of the House.

Sir John Newport

strongly objected to this last proposal. It would lead to this absurdity, that the House would be employed one day in making an order, next day in rescinding it, and afterwards in reviving it. For himself, he could see no harm in making the magistrates give in an account of their qualifications. What would be the result? merely that the legislature should interfere to take cognizance of their conduct, instead of the quitam informers. At all events, the debate ought to be deferred till the hon. baronet came down to the House.

Sir T. Turton

could by no means agree with the last speaker, that it was the duty of this House to compel magistrates to render accounts which might criminate themselves.

Mr. Tierney

said, that it did not follow because the hon. baronet had not answered the communication, that he therefore assented to it. What was the meaning of the present motion? An order was made for magistrates to state their qualifications; and the right hon. secretary moved to alter it, because he found that some magistrates will be criminated by it. (No! no! from the ministerial benches.) Why, really, that was the result of his reasoning, when he stated, that it might produce great inconvenience to some magistrates. He himself thought the order very useful. If any magistrates had evaded the act, it was fit they should be animadverted upon; if any should be found to have acted un- intentionally, it would be in the power of the House to relieve them: He could not approve of the suggested method of reviving the order.

Mr. Kenrick

thought that the House would exercise its inquisitorial power very improperly, if it forced magistrates to criminate themselves: nor would the order produce the desired effect. The present qualifications of magistrates might be very different from those which they possessed at first; they might have sold or changed their original qualifications; and it would be too inquisitorial for the House to demand an account of changes which it might be inconvenient to state.

Mr. Horner

asked, was it to be endured, that the House should be required to give up its inquisitorial power, because the parties examined before it would perhaps be found to have broken the law? Was it not rather the object of their inquisitions to detect such criminals? But he denied, that in this case the magistrates would be called on to criminate themselves. The proper officers appointed in every county would present the desired information to the House. At any rate, the present proposition was not to be endured. It was, indeed, a principle of law, that a man should not be called on to criminate himself, because his confession might be used to his conviction. But the evidence received in that House could not be admitted as evidence to criminate a man out of it. No court of justice would allow it. He insisted, therefore, that the House should not, by admitting the proposition just suggested, destroy at one blow their whole inquisitorial power. Admit it now, and it would be used hereafter as a precedent to check all inquiries into criminal abuses.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that a magistrate might possibly be qualified at the taking of his office, and a list of such qualification might easily be furnished by the regular officer appointed for such purposes; but if he had changed his original qualification, the nature of that which he at present held could be obtained only from himself: and such inquiry, according to the present order, might lead him to criminate himself. As to the point of evidence insisted on by the last speaker, he conceived that the House might very possibly be disposed to allow an extract of its proceedings to be taken; and such extract would, undoubtedly, be received as evidence against a person in any court of law in the kingdom.

Lord Folkestone

said he could not comprehend how the House could come at the qualification, unless the order stood as it was originally made. It appeared that a measure of great importance, namely, the qualification of magistrates, had been passed into a law; and now when it came to be inquired into, it was alleged, that if application was made to the clerks, they could not give the necessary information as to the exact situation of these qualifications. It was, therefore, incumbent on the House to ascertain this point according to the enactment of the law; and it appeared to him that that could only be done by suffering the order to stand as originally made.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the order as it stood must be productive of great inconvenience, without a possibility of coming at the truth. Police magistrates might have been duly qualified, and have given in a particular place, where that qualification lay at the time they became magistrates; and yet having parted with that property, there was no way of coming at the fact where their qualification now lay, but by compelling them to ascertain it. This did not apply to police magistrates alone, but to every justice of peace in the kingdom.

Mr. Bankes

thought it would be easy to modify the matter effectually by an amendment of the present motion, in only adding a few words so as to reach that qualification under which the magistrate began to act. He was sure the House would ever be slow to exercise its inquisitorial power; but so far as this went he thought it might very fairly be done.

Lord A. Hamilton moved, that the debate be adjourned to Friday.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

objected to the adjournment, as he had given two days notice, and had also sent a private intimation of his intention, and of the purport of his motion to the hon. baronet who had originally brought forward the subject.

Lord Folkestone

said, the right hon. gentleman gave his notice only on Monday evening, when almost all the members had left the House. For his own part, he knew nothing of it till he saw the notice yesterday afternoon, just before he came into the House. He should therefore vote for the adjournment of the debate to Friday.

The House then divided, when the numbers were, for the adjournment 21; against it, 53.