HC Deb 13 June 1823 vol 9 cc977-85

On the order of the day for going into a committee on the judicial fees received by the chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, Mr. Spring Rice moved, "That the ninth report of the commissioners appointed to inquire into the Duties, Salaries, and Emoluments, of the Officers, Clerks, and Ministers of Justice, in all Temporal and Ecclesiastical courts in Ireland, be now read."

Mr. Scarlett

rose to object to the entertainment of a motion so gravely affectting the character and honour of an officer of high judicial rank, at a period of the session when it was impossible to hope that they could draw the inquiry to a conclusion within the time of their sittings. He would support the motion, if introduced early in the next session; but he could not, under all the circumstances, refrain from opposing it, if pressed at the present moment.

Mr. S. Rice

protested, that his proceeding in this matter had been guided throughout by a sense of justice and a regard for the honour of Parliament. If he were compelled to postpone the discussion after the repeated delays which had occurred, he must be exculpated from any share in the blame. Let it be remembered, that, on the last occasion in which this subject was to have been discussed, an hon. member, who must be supposed to feel more interest in it than any other gentleman in the House, deprecated the delay, even of four or five days, as being in the highest degree prejudicial to the character and feelings of the high personage whose conduct was to be called in question. He would not therefore subject himself to the imputation of injustice by assenting as a matter of course to delay. From that quarter alone it could with propriety be asked of him; and if it were solicited by that hon. gentleman, and the call were backed by that of the House, then he would acquiesce. But in that case he would not take upon himself any future responsibility, nor would he feel himself engaged to renew his notice next session. He would leave it to those whose business it was to watch over the administration of justice to do as they pleased with it.

Mr. Scarlett

repeated his objections to having the character of a judge drawn into question, unless they were prepared to go through the whole of the case. The requisition of his hon. friend did not, he thought, perfectly consist with his visual kind disposition and good feeling. He felt the greatest sympathy for the young gentleman to whom allusion had been made; and after the opinion he had expressed he ought to be the last man in the House from whom any call of delay should be expected. But it was not at his request that he (Mr. S.) made this application for postponement; though he had felt it a duty to inquire if that hon. gentleman had any decided objection to urge to postponement, in case such should be the desire of the House. That hon. gentleman had left the question entirely with the House; and, considering the lateness of the session, the difficulty of the inquiry, and the uncertain nature of the charges, he could not consent to allow this discussion to go forward.

Mr. Secretary Canning

agreed as to the propriety of postponing the discussion. He had examined the question, and he was prepared to vote upon some of the propositions of the hon. gentleman; but there were others, upon which, without further inquiry, he was not prepared to vote, and therefore he thought it had better be postponed till next session.

Mr. S. Rice

said, that if the inquiry were postponed, he would not pledge himself to renew it. If the postponement were forced upon him, he could not resist it: but he would say, that that postponement was he act and deed of his.

Sir J. Newport

thought the postponement unnecessary.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that it appeared to him that the majority of the House would be for delay.

Mr. Hume

enforced the necessity of taking up this long-delayed inquiry. Ministers ought to consent to go on with it, or at any rate to show some regard for the purity of the justice seat, by suspending the chief baron until it should be determined.

Captain O'Grady

said, he would not offer a single opinion on the subject of the inquiry. He certainly had given the learned member for Peterborough to understand, that if the House were decidedly in favour of postponement, he would not stand in the way for a moment; with this understanding—that nothing in his conduct should be drawn into an imputation on the conduct of the learned judge for whom he felt so deeply interested.

Mr. S. Rice

left it with the House, or with ministers, to prosecute the inquiry, should they now determine on a postponement.

Mr. Wetherell

objected to laying a responsibility on ministers which belonged to the House, and advised the postponement of the subject.

Mr. Peel

, though he thought delay ne- cessary, could not assent to the proposition of the hon. member for, Aberdeen, to suspend the chief baron upon charges not yet established.

Mr. Canning

said, that rather than undertake, the responsibility which the hon. gentleman would impose on him, he would go into the discussion at once.

Mr. S. Rice

said, that then he would go on.

Dr. Lushington

admitted that ministers ought not to promote this inquiry, because there was an influence naturally attached to their stations which must act prejudicially to the justice due to any parties against whom they might appear.

Mr. Denman

objected to further delay upon a case made out by two judicial commissions, and confirmed by two reports of that House. It was idle to suppose that there was no ground for suspecting the chief baron of malversation in his court. He strongly objected to the opinion, that ministers were not bound to take up the case officially. If it was not their duty on whom did the duty devolve? Were not the judges places filled by them? Had they really no responsibility in seeing that justice was not polluted by those whom they appointed? He maintained that the responsibility of this and every such inquiry rested with ministers, and would object to the postponement.

Mr. Secretary Canning

disclaimed, for his majesty's ministers, the right as well as the intention of interfering in this business as the promoters of it. The hon. and learned gentleman was quite mistaken if he thought he would be induced to fall into the trap which had been so ingeniously laid for him. He would not consent to swell, upon this occasion, the triumph of those gentlemen, who, upon other occasions, were his adversaries. No conduct of theirs should force the prosecution of the business into his hand, nor, if his advice were listened to, into that of any of the hon. friends with whom he acted. He would, if it should become necessary, attend at every step which should be taken, but he would do no more. The right hon. gentleman referred to the impeachments of Warren Hastings, and of lord Melville, in neither of which the ministers had taken any part, and concluded by expressing his opinion that the postponement of the inquiry was expedient under existing circumstances.

Mr. Wilberforce

was in favour of the postponement, on the ground, that many members were not prepared for the discussion.

Mr. Scarlett

then moved, as an amendment, "That the further consideration of the said report be postponed till the next session."

Mr. Hume

protested against any further delay, and stated that, in his opinion, the inquiry was about to be put off by connivance on both sides of the House.

Mr. Scarlett

repelled, with considerable warmth, the assertion that the proposed postponement was the result of connivance.

Mr. Wynn

thought the better mode would be, to refer the matter again to a committee.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

urged the necessity of going into the inquiry. When a judge was charged with criminality, he ought to be acquitted or condemned, with as little loss of time as possible.

Colonel Barry

said, if his hon. friend would pledge himself to go on with the inquiry next session, he would vote for the postponement; but if he declined doing so, he should call for immediate inquiry.

Sir J. Newport

was desirous that the inquiry should be proceeded in at once.

Mr. S. Rice

stated, that he had repeatedly offered to bring forward his charges, and had constantly been met by an application for delay. He would not, therefore, pledge himself to bring, the subject forward next session. The House should consider that there were two parties in this case. This procrastination must be painful to the learned person against whom the charge was made, and it must also be painful to the individual by whom it was agitated; who might, however unjustly, be accused of not being anxious to press forward this always-postponed accusation.

Mr. Grey Bennet

said, that his majesty's ministers were determined not to meet any case of this kind as they ought to do. They were the shelterers of every thing that looked like criminality. It was a part of their system. But their proceeding on this occasion must open the eyes of the inquiry. Here was an accusation brought against one of the Judges, of the land, and ministers refused either to place him in that situation of honour which his innocence justified, or to consign him to that punishment which his offence deserved.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he would ask the hon. member who assumed so lofty a tone, whether he had been present, at the debate? He should like to know at what period of the night this advocate for justice had come down to give his opinion on the course pursued by ministers? The hon. member, having been absent during the whole discussion, and, of necessity, ignorant of what had taken place, had come down at 11 o'clock at night and accused of a wish for postponement those who had said that they were ready to go on, and did not wish to throw any obstacle whatever in the way of inquiry. All the information that the hon. gentleman could have obtained must have been at second hand, and was evidently erroneous. Having grossly neglected his own duty, the hon. member came down at that late hour and talked of others compromising justice. The question on which the House were about to divide was the motion of the hon. gentleman's learned friend the member for Peterborough for postponement. How did the hon. gentleman know how the members of his majesty's government intended to vote on that proposition? For only one of them, the President of the Board of Control, had expressed any opinion on the subject.

Mr. Brougham

said, he had the misfortune, on this occasion, to be one of those who had been, for the last three or four hours, guilty of a gross (he believed that was the expression) abandonment of his duty towards that House, by absenting himself from it, while this lively discussion was going on; and, therefore, according to that right hon. authority, he had no right to state his opinion. He was, however, in time to vote; and, though a man who had no right to vote on a great personal of political question, had certainly no right to speak on its merits, he believed it would be conceded to him that he who possessed the right of voting was also entitled to the privilege of stating the grounds on which he gave his vote. He was, however, happy to find that a new era was about to commence in that House, and that, henceforth, none were to deliver their sentiments who had not been present all the evening. Heretofore many complaints were made or empty benches, and on many occasions—and those, too, of importance—little else was encountered by the eye, except the brown and green colours which distinguished their seats, because gentlemen were disposed to com- mit "a gross dereliction of their duty," and to stay away during a debate. But, melancholy as the fact was, the seats, some, how or other, became empty every evening about seven o'clock. This was the way business had been carried on in that House. But ministers were about to set a good example; and he, who was a reformer, would be happy if the principle were adopted, that no man should be allowed to vote who had not heard the discussion. He thanked the right hon. gentleman for introducing the principle—although he was somewhat surprised at the high tone he had assume. It was a pitch too high for any man; but it was entirely too high for one who was so remarkable for his suavity on other occasions. The right hon. gentleman, however, thought that he had gained an advantage over his (Mr. B.'S) hon. friend, for the first time in his life, and he had raised his voice accordingly, since it was undoubtedly something rather new to him [Hear, hear! from the ministerial benches]. He knew that was not the opinion of the squadron opposite, but he was sure it was the opinion of the House in general, and of ninety-nine persons in every hundred out of the House. But the right hon. gentleman in making his attack, like other unskilful generals, had gone too far, and got into the adversary's fire. How was the business of the House done? Between six and seven o'clock every evening the benches were deserted. If an angel were speaking, and the subject was one of sufficient importance to interest Heaven itself, symptoms of impatience would appear (unless, indeed, it was a personal question—a question relative to the royal family would do much) about the hour he had mentioned, and gentlemen quitted the House. However important the question to the nation—however serious in itself—how great soever the talents might be of him who urged it forward—still, one by one, the members left their places, more numerously from the opposite side than from that on which he was speaking [Hear, and laughter]. The seats were left to their repose, and those who came, in at 7 o'clock, when the evaluation had taken place, would find nothing but bare benches [a laugh]. Then let them look to the custom of pairing off—

Sir F. Ommanney

said, "You paired off with me this evening." [a laugh].

Mr. Brougham

proceeded. He con- tended that his hon. friend had not been guilty of any indecorum in arguing the point when he arrived at the House. The question was, whether he was right or wrong in his observations. His hon. friend knew the course the hon. gentlemen opposite intended to take [No, no]. Why, surely he might depend on the word of his hon. friend the member for Montrose, who was present from first to last. Were not ministers disposed to support the motion? [No, no]. Would they oppose it? [No, no]. Then they were like Mahomet's coffin, suspended between the two points. It appeared that no one knew the course they meant to take. See, then, the little bad effect which absence had created. If his hon. friend and himself had been present, they would not have been a bit the wiser. His friends near him had witnessed every indication given by ministers, both by word and sign, and yet they could form no idea whether those gentlemen intended to support the question or not. His hon. friend was in a state of ignorance, being absent, and he would not have been less so had he been present. He rose principally to protest against the tone assumed by the right hon. member. With respect to the new principle laid down by the right hon. gentleman, he had no objection to it. He was happy to hear from ministers that the practice of deserting the House was now to cease. It was a salutary change, and would affect none except those whose only business it was to give a silent vote.

Mr. Secretary Peel

thought it impossible that the hon. and learned gentleman, who seemed to have been occupied in a much pleasanter way than in doing his duty in that House, could have heard the remarks of the hon. member for Shrewsbury. He (Mr. Peel) had not objected to the hon. member for Shrewsbury's giving his opinion on the motion. What he had said was, and he still maintained it, that it was extremely unfair, on the part of the hon. gentleman, to prefer an accusation against his majesty's government without having any ground whatever for the charge. As to the tone of which the hon. and learned gentleman complained, it was the natural tone of a man who felt himself and his friends unjustly accused.

Mr. Bennet

observed, that having read the whole of the evidence taken before the committee, and endeavoured to make himself master of the subject, he felt himself quite competent to speak to the question. Having been informed of the speech which had been made by the right hon. the Secretary of state for Foreign Affairs, he certainly had conceived, and he still did conceive, that there was some compromise or connivance on the part of his majesty's government.

The amendment was negatived without a division, and the House agreed to go into the committee on Tuesday.