HC Deb 12 May 1814 vol 27 cc820-4
Sir J. Newport

, seeing a right hon. gentle man connected with the home department in his place, wished to ask from him some explanation with respect to the non-execution of an Order made by the House of Commons, above six weeks ago, for certain accounts from the various courts of justice. He understood that the messenger of the House had been referred to the clerk of the crown in the court of King's bench. He wished to know if that was the fact?

Mr. H. Addington

replied, than having heard of the circumstance only that morning he was not prepared fully to satisfy the hon. baronet. He did understand, however, on the best authority, that it did not properly belong to the office of the Secretary of State for the home department to execute the description of order to which the hon baronet alluded. It was only in the case of an address to the crown, that that office was bound to execute such an Order of the House. He had sent to ascertain the actual circumstances of the case, but had not yet received any precise information.

Sir J. Newport

expressed his surprise at what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman; having distinetly understood, from two hon. friends of his who had formerly been in the office of the home department, that although the Orders of the House (not founded on an address) were not enforced by that department, they were transmitted through it. Although, therefore, the home department was not answerable for the execution of the Order in question, it was in that case answerable for its transmission. As to what the right hon. gentleman had said of addresses, every one must feel the delay and inconvenience that would results from proceeding by way of address in all cases in which information was required by the House, such as that for which he had had the honour to move six weeks ago. As, however, a doubt had been started upon the subject, it appeared to him to be indispensable that the pleasure of the House should be known as to the mode in which their Orders should be executed.

Mr. Wynn

said, that daring the short time that he had had the honour to hold a situation in the office of the home department, that office was the regular channel for the transmission of all Orders of the House of Commons relative to the internal administration of the country. He also recollected a particular instance that had subsequently occurred, in which the home department had circulated an Order of the House not founded on an address. He had simply moved for a return to be made by the clerks of the peace of the different counties of England, of the number of pauper and criminal lunatics in the jails of their respective counties. This Order was served at the home secretary's office—from that office it was transmitted to the clerks of the peace—the returns were made to the office—and by the office sent to the House of Commons. This was really not a light matter. It involved in its decision the due discharge of all the functions of that House.

The Speaker observed, that he had thought it his duty to enquire, as well as the short compass of time would allow him, into the course of the execution of the Orders of the House. The subject was of great importance, and certainly of some difficulty. It had been the uniform practice, for Orders of the House which related to finance to be carried by the serjeant at arms to the Treasury; and the Treasury, in aid and assistance of those Orders, had undertaken to circulate them, and to transmit them to the different offices, to the particular departments of which they referred. It was supposed, therefore, that other Orders relating to civil, although not to financial matters, if carried to the office of the Secretary of State for the home department, would be circulated and distributed in a similar way. In that persuasion, the messenger of the House had six weeks ago carried to the office of the home department, the Order of the House obtained by the hon. baronet; and as it now turned out (for he, the Speaker, had but recently been acquainted with the fact), that messenger had been told by a clerk of the office to carry the Order to the clerk of the crown in the court of King's-bench He (the Speaker) confessed that this appeared to him very astonishing; but he supposed that the clerk in the office of the home department did unadvisedly think that an Order to all the courts of justice in the United Kingdom was properly served, if served on the clerk of the crown in the court of King's-bench! When the hon. baronet renewed his motion, the order was carried to the same office, and the same directions were again given. At last, the clerk of the crown, probably alarmed at the circumstance, began to enquire how he was to circulate this Order. Such were the plain facts of the case. It was, unquestionably, of the greatest importance to put the execution of the Orders of the House Commons on a good footing. He had before observed, that it was the uniform practice of the Treasury, in all Orders of the House relative to finance, materially to aid and facilitate their execution. If the same aid and facility were afforded by the office of the Secretary of State for the home department, it would be highly advantageous to the public service. The House were well aware, that their authority did not in the slightest degree rest on such aids and facilities. The Orders which they made, they could, if they thought fit, execute by their own servants. But then came this practical question—should the House provide a sufficient number of messengers to carry their Orders all over the kingdom, or would the office of the Secretary of State for the home department, and the other offices, by affording the aids and facilities afforded by the Treasury in financial orders, abridge the difficulties, shorten the time, and lessen the expence, of the execution? It was material that the question should not remain undecided. With a view, however, to ascertain whether some mode could not be devised of obviating the existing inconvenience, it might not be inexpedient to delay for a few days any further proceeding on the subject, leaving at the same time untouched the final authority of the House to enforce their own Orders.

The Attorney General

had the satisfaction to inform the hon. baronet, that whatever mistake might have taken place on the subject, no practical inconvenience was likely to result, as the Order was in the course of execution in the various courts.

Mr. H. Addington

repeated what he had said, of the sole duty of the home department being to execute those Orders of the House which were founded on address, and expressed his suspicion that the Order adverted to by an hon. gentleman (Mr. Wynn) was of that description.

Mr. Ponsonby

said, that the authority of the House to enforce a return to its Orders was not liable to contradiction or doubt; and, presuming that the present difficulty arose out of misconception, he thought it would be better to defer any further agitation of the subject for two or three days; persuaded as be was that the executive government would feel that it was incumbent on them to aid by all the means in their power, the execution of the. Orders of parliament The only effect of their not doing so, would be to increase the expence to the public; for as the Orders must ultimately be executed, the House would have to take the execution into their own hands, and to employ for that purpose an additional number of servants.

Mr. Bathurst

observed, that the Order was a general one; and it did not follow, therefore, that it should be directed to one office more than to another. If the proceeding had been by an address to the crown, there would have been no difficulty.

Sir J. Newport

repeated, that always to proceed by address would be so to multiply the business of the House, that it could never be gone through with. And even if there had been an address, what would have been the mode of communication? With the Secretary of State for the home department. Did not that distinctly mark out the proper channel in all cases? He was not unwilling to consent to the delay of a day or two; hoping, that in that time some arrangement might be made conducive in all respects to the public interest.

Mr. Goulburn

observed, that the hon baronet should be aware, that the Secretary of State could act only by his Majesty's command. The papers procured by that office were procured in consequence of the royal pleasure; and, however anxious that department, no doubt, was to facilitate the public service, he questioned whether it could, with propriety, proceed to the execution of an Order of the House of Commons.

The Speaker

remarked, that there war no doubt that papers in the actual custody of the Secretary of State for the home department could be obtained only by address. Perhaps, after what had passed, the best way would be to let the matter rest.

Mr. Wynn

, to prove that the Order to which he had adverted in the course of his former observation, was not founded on an address (as intimated by Mr. H. Addington), requested the Clerk to read the entry in the Journals; which the Clerk accordingly did; when it appeared to be a simple motion.

After a few words from Mr. H. Addington, sir A. Pigot, and the Speaker, the conversation was dropped.