HC Deb 21 June 1831 vol 4 cc165-8
Lord Althorp

moved the usual Sessional Orders. When he came to the Resolution which declares it to be a high Breach of Privilege for Peers to interfere in the election of Members to sit in the Commons' House of Parliament,

Mr. Hunt

rose and gave notice, that he would to-morrow move that this Resolution be rescinded. He did not wish to take the House by surprise, and therefore he would not make his Motion now, but certainly it was his intention to do so tomorrow.

Lord J. Russell

wished to know from the hon. Member what the specific nature of his proposed Motion would be?

Mr. Hunt

hoped, as this question was asked, that he might be allowed to make a few observations. He thought, as he was called upon to state the nature of his intended Resolution, that he ought to be heard for a few minutes. In his opinion, the Resolution which had just been read by the Speaker was perfectly nugatory. That Resolution declared that no Peer of Parliament should interfere with the election of Members to sit in the House of Commons. The present was a new Parliament, and they were about coming to an unanimous resolution that it was a gross Breach of Privilege for a Peer of Parliament to interfere with the election of Members of the House of Commons. Now he would appeal to any hon. Gentleman in that House to stand up and conscientiously say, that they knew nothing of the absolute interference of Peers. The thing, he believed, was notorious, and therefore he meant to move—"Resolved, that it is a high infringement of the liberties of the United Kingdom, and a gross invasion of the rights of the people, for any Peer or Prelate to interfere, directly or indirectly, in any election of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament. "This, he was aware, did not differ essentially from the existing Resolution; but he begged leave to state that he meant to follow it up, and proceed a step further, if the House agreed to his Amendment. As the case now-stood, he did not see how they could punish any individual for a breach of the Resolution. They could not, as it appeared to him, punish the guilty party without an Act of Parliament; and there was no Act that he knew of, to enable them to carry into force and effect the threat which was implied in the Resolution. He wished to rectify this defect; and if the House were willing to do honour to itself and justice to the country, it would not negative the proposition he meant to make. He now gave notice, that when the Reform Bill was introduced he meant to move that the following clause be added:—"And be it further enacted, that from and after the 31st day of December, 1831, if any Peer of Parliament or Prelate shall directly or indirectly interfere in electing any Member to serve in the Commons' House of Parliament, he shall, on conviction, be subjected to a fine of 10,000l. and one year's imprisonment in his Majesty's gaol of Newgate." [laughter] This might be to some Gentlemen a very laughable subject, but he was determined to put it to the test whether that House was in earnest in excluding Peers from taking a part in the election of Members. His proposed clause would next declare, that any Peer being found guilty of the said offence a second time, should be fined 20,000l. and imprisoned in Newgate for the space of two years; and if found guilty of the offence a third time, that he should be degraded from the Peerage, that the Peerage should be declared extinct, and that the culprit should be transported beyond the seas for the term of his natural life.

On the Sessional Order respecting the Exclusion of Strangers being read by the Speaker,

Mr. Hunt

said, he wished to impress upon the House the impropriety of passing this Resolution. By it the servants of the House were directed to take into custody all persons, being strangers, that might be found in the Gallery, yet the Gallery was constantly filled with strangers. Now he did think, that this Parliament, which had been chosen by the people, if not quite freely, at least more freely than any Parliament that had sat for the last half century, would best consult its own character by not passing a Resolution which they must know to be quite nugatory. He did, therefore, respectfully call upon the House to rescind this Resolution, which, if they passed, they knew would be daily violated. He called upon them in the name of common sense to do this; and if no Gentleman could show that some great practical inconvenience would result from parting with this Resolution, he should give notice of a motion for rescinding it. Indeed he begged to be understood as giving that notice now.

Lord Althorp

said, it was undoubtedly true that this order was not strictly enforced, and that it was intended merely to show that the persons who attended there to hear the Debates were there by sufferance. He thought that, with a great quantity of business before they House, it would be scarcely worth while now to enter upon the discussion of this order with the view of rescinding it, especially as the hon. Gentleman had not shown that any practical inconvenience had ever resulted from it.

Mr. Attwood

thought the order necessary for the protection of the House, and was sorry that the hon. member for Preston should be so forward in proposing alterations in the laws of Parliament—laws with which the hon. Member must be very slightly acquainted. He regretted, too, that the business before the House should have been interrupted by a discussion of this sort; and in order to prevent the recurrence of the same inconvenience, he did hope that the House would meet all similar motions by proceeding at once to the vote, and not waste time in discussing them.

Mr. O'Connell

perfectly concurred with the noble Lord (Althorp) that the House had much more important business than this order to discuss and settle without delay. He thought, however, that the order might be so modified as to relieve it from its absurdity, while the protection which it afforded the House would be unimpaired. The order, as it now stood, directed the Serjeant at Arms to take all strangers into custody, which, of course, was not done, nor meant to be done. If the order were altered thus—"That the Serjeant-at-arms do take any stranger into custody at the instance of any Member of the House," then the order would direct that which was the ordinary course of proceeding in practice. He must, however, protest against the mode recommended by the hon. Member (Mr. Attwood) near him, of proceeding to decide every question by vote without hearing any discussion upon it—a strange recommendation indeed, come from whom it might, but peculiarly strange when coming from an hon. Member who had himself taken part in the discussion.

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