§ Lord Althorp
moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill.
Mr. Hughes Hughes
said, that he was sure he should be pardoned for availing himself of that opportunity of intimating to his Majesty's Ministers, and to the House, that it was not his intention to follow up the notice he had given of re-urging, on the bringing up of the report, his motion for the erasure from the Bill of all words affecting, or referring to the division of counties. He thought it due to himself to state, that he was not influenced in that decision by taunts or threats on the one hand, or importunities on the other—motives by which he hoped he should never suffer himself to be influenced in the discharge of his parliamentary duty. The only representations to which he should have thought it right to pay any attention, would have been those of his constituency, but he begged to mention it, as greatly to their honour, that, unlike his brother liverymen of the city of London with reference to their Representatives, no one of his constituents had, on this Bill or any other subject, attempted to instruct him, or to interfere with him, in the honest and independent discharge of his duty. The House would remember that, when he first lifted up his voice against the clause for the division of counties, that division was to have been effected by a Committee of the Privy Council, to which he never could have consented. A new print of the Bill, however, 1068 appeared, which provided that the division was to be intrusted to certain Commissioners, to be appointed by Parliament; but as their report was made final and conclusive, and they were irresponsible to Parliament, he still retained the strongest constitutional objections to the clause. A further revised edition of the Bill came out, which made it necessary that the report should have the sanction of both Houses of Parliament. Still his objections, though materially lessened, were not removed; inasmuch as Parliament was only allowed to refer back to the report of the Commissioners for one revision and amendment. Last night, however, the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) proposed a further alteration, which would enable either House to send back the report for revision as often as it should see fit. After these most important improvements, it appeared to him that he should not be warranted in re-agitating the question; but that he ought to take this the earliest opportunity he had had of expressing his sincere hope, that the public would endeavour to be satisfied with the clause as amended; at any rate, he thought it his duty to withdraw the notice which he gave.
§ Sir Charles Forbes
said, that Petitions which had been presented from Scotland, complaining of the delay of the Reform Bill, he had reason to believe emanated from Members of that House who had written to their constituents to prepare them.
§ Mr. Gillon
must deny, in the most unqualified terms, that the petitions which he had presented had emanated from him: they were the result of the feelings of his constituents.
§ Sir Charles Forbes
said, he had never meant to attribute to the hon. Gentleman the dictation of the petitions, because some of them were expressed in such language that he could not venture to present them.
The Marquis of Chandos
was desirous of asking the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) whether intelligence had been received by the Government of any proceedings in the West-India Islands upon the subject of the Reform Bill. He had been informed that great excitement had been created by the Bill, as being calculated to deprive them of all Representation. He understood that a delegate had been sent from the island of Grenada to represent its feelings on the subject to the 1069 Government, and that the excitement was so great as to create considerable apprehension for the consequences.
§ Lord Althorp
stated in reply, that Ministers had not received any official communications on the subject.
§ Mr. Croker
said, it would be much for the convenience of the House to know the course contemplated by the Government with regard to proceeding with the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord would have no objection to fix (on the agreeable supposition that they should get through the Committee before the Coronation) the day upon which the Report should be taken. To shew that he had no desire for unnecessary delay he would suggest the Tuesday following for taking the Report. If that were generally understood, it might greatly tend to the convenience of Members, as well as to the more regular disposal of that question.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he had certainly great pleasure in answering a question upon such a supposition. He should propose, that immediately upon the Committee coming to a close, to have the Bill reported pro forma. With regard to the discussion on the Report, he had intended to name Monday, but as the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned Tuesday as more convenient, he had no objection to take Tuesday.
§ Mr. Croker
suggested, that it would be a great relief, after the unprecedented fatigues which Members had undergone, if the adjournment included Friday as well as the day of the Coronation.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that under the state of public business he should not feel justified in proposing an adjournment over Friday.
§ The House went into Committee.
§ The Chairman put the 31st clause, empowering the Judges of Assize to name Barristers to revise the lists of county voters. After the words, "And be it enacted that the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench" it was proposed to insert the following words "for the time being."
§ On the question being put,
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
rose to make the objections which he entertained to this clause. He trusted they should no longer be charged with vexatious delay by the Attorney General when numerous Amendments were daily proposed by the authors of the Bill. He thought it right that the public should be disabused as to the real causes of that delay; indeed, the public were begin- 1070 ning to be aware that the delay was not chargeable, in the words of the Grenville Act, as "vexatious and obstinate" on the part of the Opposition side of the House, but was wholly owing to Ministers themselves, who, ignorant of their own measures, were incapable of affording the necessary information of its principle and details. It was now a frequent subject of complaint in those public journals which were loudest in the cry for the Bill, that Ministers did not meet the objections of its opponents with fair arguments and seemed incapable of affording satisfactory explanation of the motive or end of their own clauses. The fact was, they did not know themselves what they would precisely be at, and therefore were never two minutes together of the same mind as to the construction of any single clause in the whole measure. Hence the thousand and one changes and metamorphoses which the Bill had undergone since its first promulgation; rendering it impossible that the public and the House at large, or even the Ministers themselves should be thoroughly acquainted with its actual provisions. He should like to know how hon. Members pledged to "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill" of last April, could reconcile it to their constituents that they had voted for another Bill which was as different from the "whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," as it was possible any two measures relating to the same topic could differ. The present clause, for example, had undergone, like the Bill itself, some five changes, and was very different from that originally issued from the Ministerial press. This last edition was yet wet from the press, so that time was hardly afforded for hon. Members to make themselves acquainted with its new form of transmigration. And so it was with the Bill in its other details; change after change was introduced, requiring a new edition after a new edition to be issued from the printer's. With all his exertions he was unable to keep up with this race of reprints: he had not time to expose them to au evaporating process of drying, and was frequently, as with respect to the last reprint of the present clause, obliged to take up the sheets in a state of dampness which might alarm a practitioner apprehensive of Cholera Morbus. It reminded him of a certain city club, which in the time of the war was known by the title of the "Wet-Paper Club," from its receiv- 1071 ing newspapers and loose sheets wringing wet from the press, and reading them without drying, so great was their anxiety to obtain early intelligence. He had come down to the House that morning at eleven o'clock, in order to see the clause which they were now called upon to pass, and it was put into his hands in a damp, disease-giving, pestilential state. But as there were some rooms in the House with fires, he had shunned the example of the "Wet-Paper Club," and had aired and dried the production, and made himself ready to enter into the merits of the question. The Bill was so completely altered—it was so much darned, so mended and remended—that, like Sir John Cutler's stockings, not a thread of the original workmanship remained. Having thus set himself rectus in curia—having shewn that not one stone was left upon another in the parliamentary edifice—he should proceed to the clause now under consideration. The object of this thirty-first clause was, to establish a certain species of Court to try causes under the Bill, but it was a sort of Court of Oyer and Terminer. No name was given to it in this Bill. They were not told what it was to be called—perhaps a Court of Parliamentary Assize. In the first Reform Bill he did not know how many there were of them, four or five at least. However, in the first Bill the principle was confined to counties: here it was extended to towns also. Now, what sort of a Court was this to be? Who were to be the Judges? What was to be their authority? In what ermine were they to be clothed? There was a most extraordinary provision at the end of this clause, which appeared as if placed there accidentally, and by this clause no Barrister who officiated in this new Court was eligible to sit as a Member in that House within less than eighteen months after an election. Would that House consent to a power like this which disabled Barristers from being returned, while the thirty-one Commissioners were left untouched? All or any of the Commissioners might be returned as Members to sit in that House, with the exception of the Lord Chief Baron of Scotland, whose name should never have been placed on the list; but he supposed the object was, to make the thing less difficult of digestion, by placing the name of that eminent person among many insignificant names. What reason was there for thus throwing suspicion upon the Barristers? He objected to this Court 1072 in the first place, because it was a dangerous novelty. The House of Commons had from time immemorial endeavoured to keep within itself, and not to impart to any other authority whatever, the control and protection of the constituent body. This was the policy observed from the earliest time down to the Grenville Act, and in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and of James 1st, Committees of Privilege were appointed. Let it be observed, that the Judges of this new Court were not to be appointed by the House itself, but by the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, subject to the revision of the Lord Chancellor. It had been always one of the great boasts of this country, that the judgment-seat was altogether disconnected with politics, that no ground should be left even to suspect the intrusion of party opinions or party considerations into the administration of justice; and the wisdom of this was a theme of praise with Montesquieu, and with all the great men who had written upon the legal institutions of England, and upon the English Constitution. This clause appeared to him one of the very worst and most objectionable parts of the Bill. It was true that an appeal lay from these new Judges to the House of Commons, but that was very far from removing the objection, for the great objection was the unconstitutional manner in which they were to be named by the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, subject to the revision of the Lord Chancellor. Had any thing of this kind been proposed in the time of the Stuarts, had an attempt been made in their days to vest a Chief Justice or a Lord Chancellor with such authority, what a clamour would have been raised? It would have produced, and most properly produced, a flame of dissatisfaction throughout the country. It was all nonsense and mummery to say, that the appointment would not be really and effectually in the Lord Chancellor, though nominally in the Chief Justice. Were he a Judge he would not accept of such an office; he would say to those who offered it, do not mix up, even in appearance, the administration of justice with politics—do not desecrate the character of the Judges of the land by so impure a mixture as this. The Barristers thus appointed might, through inadvertence, or ignorance, or from design, act improperly; and if they did so, must not a shade from their misconduct be cast on the Judge who ap- 1073 pointed them, even though he merely nominated them? A reaction must take place, greatly to the prejudice of his judicial character. However the matter might be disguised, the appointment must be effectually in the Lord Chancellor; and, be it remembered, that he was not only a Judge, but a member of the Cabinet, a political character. He did not argue this case ad hominem—he did not consider the individual, Lord Brougham and Vaux, his noble and learned friend, who at present filled the office. No such thing. His objection applied equally to all times and all places. It was a constitutional objection. The next consideration was, how these Barrister Judges were to be treated—how they were to be dealt with—and certainly they were dealt with most scurvily, for they were supposed to do wrong by anticipation. Were he a Barrister of only a year's standing, he would not condescend to accept of such an office. It was proposed to treat them with the suspicious, degrading, watchfulness, with which Excise officers were treated. A Committee of that House was empowered to make them pay costs for what that Committee might think corrupt practices or wilful misconduct. Thus were these unhappy Judges, predestinated not only to contempt, but also to expense. These Judges were met with in other parts of the Bill as well as in this. They were shewn up, also, in clause 25th. Ecce iterum Crispinus, and how were these unhappy men, these judicial malefactors, treated here? Why it was provided, that even for an accidental departure from the provisions of this Bill, a departure, perhaps, occasioned by ignorance or inadvertence, or any of the numerous causes of innocent mistake, they might be proceeded against by action. "That, if any Sheriff, Returning Officer, Barrister, or any person whatsoever, shall wilfully contravene and disobey the provisions of this Act, or any of them, with respect to any matter or thing which such Sheriff, Returning Officer, Barrister, or other person, is hereby required to do, he shall, for such his offence, be liable to be sued in an action of debt in any of his Majesty's Courts of Record, &c." Thus it appeared, that any accidental error might entail upon them expense and costs. He should like to know, for it was not mentioned in the Bill, what was the price to be put on the 1074 heads of these eminent individuals, these dignified and independent Judges—to what amount they might be punished in fine or costs? Was it 5l. or 6l. or 10l.? They were punishable for the most trifling dereliction of duty, whether voluntary or not, like a common Excise officer, who should go into a soap-boiler's at the hour of ten, in place of nine. Was this the sort of tribunal before which the Constitution of this country, the whole constituency of England, and their elective rights, were to be pleaded and unpleaded? Now for the salary of these high judicial officers. And what was that to be? Five pounds a-day while in the discharge of their functions. Surely, if they possessed the necessary learning, the proper attributes and qualifications for the office, the pay ought to be more than this. As the counties were to be divided, and each division, he supposed, would have a separate Judge, there could not be less than sixty-five of them altogether. This was rather strong, particularly for a Ministry like the present, for Gentlemen whom it was thought the very name of patronage threw into a fever. One of their pledges was economy, but certainly this new judicial establishment did not shew much disposition to redeem their pledge. Were the Barrister Judges to be paid out of the county rates or by the towns? There was no other pocket to dip into but the Treasury, and the Treasury must pay all, because Ministers knew very well that the clause must fall to the ground, that the country Gentlemen would throw it out, if an attempt was made to throw the burthen on the county rates. This was not all. These Judges could not do the whole business themselves. They must, like other Judges, have a Secretary or a Clerk to assist them, and various other officers must be paid. Where was the money to come from? Did the noble Lord (Lord Althorp), in his plethora of generosity, propose to throw the whole into the Miscellaneous Estimates? He did not know what the charge might be? The member for Middlesex, if he were present, could tot it up in a moment, but he might safely say, it would cost something very close upon the heels of 20,000l. a-year. This clause was unconstitutional, unjust, and would prove to be very expensive; it would give trouble and anxiety to the Overseers of different parishes, and would confer such a degree 1075 of power on the Commissioners, that he felt it his imperative duty to oppose it. It was said, that under this clause the attendance of Counsel could be dispensed with at all future elections, while he thought they would, henceforward, be much more necessary than at present. He had before objected to a Registration Bill, without reference to this question, and his objections to it were strengthened upon this occasion. If they were to have a preliminary Court, they must endow it with qualities which were not to be found in this Bill, or else they would increase the injustice which they created; in short, they would expose it to all that contempt which he had not vainly attempted to cast upon it. He objected to the clause altogether, as unconstitutional, and calculated to create expense and promote injustice. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving, that the words of the clause by which the Barristers to be appointed under the Bill were to be approved of by the Lord Chancellor, be omitted.
The Attorney General
thought it was impossible that any one should have listened to his hon. and learned friend, without having been entertained with the wit and good humour of his speech; the only fault he had to find with it was, that it was pretty much made up of observations he had before made. Last night the same arguments were used. He would not deny, that his hon. and learned friend, with great facility and felicity of illustration, had varied the amusement he afforded the House, but still his arguments were the same as those upon the registration clause, and were then satisfactorily disposed of. He would not say whether the opposition to the Bill had been frivolous and vexatious, or whether it was such as to justify complaint; and as he saw a disposition on the other side to argue the question upon its merits, he was perfectly ready to give credit to the Opposition, and to meet them on their own ground. However much he might lament the truth of his hon. and learned friend's observation, that some of the friends of the Bill had thrown obstacles in its way, yet that proved that they did not form a servile majority, bound to vote for all the details of the measure without discussion. Indeed, it seemed, by the number of notices which had been given, that they had been taunted into shewing their independence, 1076 although, in the present state of the Bill, it had been thought more prudent to withdraw those notices. Observations had been made upon the changes made in the Bill, and upon bringing in clauses from time to time; but it could not be considered a fault, that his Majesty's Ministers had been ready to listen to suggestions for improving the Bill, and had actually adopted some proposed by their opponents. They very naturally looked with suspicion on the suggestions made for improving the measure, by those who professed themselves enemies of its principle; but still they were willing to receive suggestions both from friends and enemies, to discuss them, and, if they thought them good, to adopt them. His learned friend had referred to the language of the newspapers, which was frequently alluded to, with a declaration of contempt for what they might say, which, although hardly consistent with that constant appeal to them, tended to give them a weight not belonging to them. He respected public opinion, and the newspapers as its organs; but he denied, that public opinion was to be found from day to day in the columns of any particular paper, which might say, this week "you have not done enough, last week you did too much." He said, that public opinion had vindicated its independence; and, although the surface might have rippled, its great tide had, from the introduction of this Bill to the present moment, been constantly and steadily flowing in the same course of favour to the measure. He saw not the slightest symptom of drawing back from the great principles on which the Government appealed to the people. From the first to the last they had approved of the Bill, which, after it had been so long in Committee, was not materially altered. According to his hon. and learned friend, this clause did not involve a mere question of expense or of inconvenience, but it was a clause subversive of the constitutional privileges of the House, which was to place the country in the dreadful situation of having all the elections influenced by his Majesty's Ministers. His hon. and learned friend had given notice that he would move a resolution, "That the establishment of Courts in which Barristers, to be approved by the Lord Chancellor, or the Keeper of the Great Seal for the time being, are to act as 1077 Judges, and to decide on the right to the exercise of the elective franchise, will introduce a principle unknown in the history of the Constitution, and highly dangerous to the independency of the House of Commons, and the general body of their constituents." This notice led him to expect great things from his hon. and learned friend, but his resolution had dwindled down to this modest motion, "that the words in the Bill, by which Courts were to be established in which Barristers, to be approved by the Lord Chancellor, are to decide on the rights of the constituent body of this House be omitted." What had become, then, of the grandiloquent resolution his hon. and learned friend had threatened, and whoever heard of a great constitutional complaint by a great constitutional lawyer being introduced by such a speech as that of his hon. and learned friend. It was so overlaid with witticisms upon the wet paper clause, the Barrister Judges with only 5l. &c. that it was difficult to discover the constitutional points in the speech. Certainly no one coming into the House accidentally would have imagined that his hon. and learned friend was rescuing the Constitution from a set of spoliators, who by this clause were introducing some unknown and dangerous principle. The mode in which his learned friend had argued this question proved that he could have entertained no such idea. "What," said his learned friend, as if he was stating a great difficulty, "will you call this Court?" They might call it the Court of Registration. The Barristers employed as Judges were declared ineligible to sit in Parliament for the borough or county towards which they acted as Judges. Was that wrong? His hon. and learned friend admitted that it was not; but (said his hon. and learned friend) why were the Commissioners not excluded also? Why did his hon. and learned friend not propose that, if he thought they ought to be excluded? Nothing but the extreme ingenuity of his hon. and learned friend could for a moment have made these appear parallel cases. A Barrister was to decide on the right of voting in a certain county or borough, and it was thought right that he should not, for a period of eighteen months, become a candidate for that county or borough; but what resemblance did his office bear to that of thirty-one Commissioners, who were to divide coun- 1078 ties, and fix the boundaries of boroughs? Why some Members of the present House were on the Commission, and not a single objection had been uttered against it. At least, he had heard none, and certainly they could not have rested upon any good foundation. It was objected that the Lord Chancellor was to have the appointment of the Barristers; but that was a mistake, for he was only to approve of the appointment made by the Judges, that he was to have a negative upon the appointment; but, into that question he need not enter, for, as the House had approved of the whole of the registration part of the Bill, he might take it for granted that it was a judicious and proper plan. His hon. and learned friend seemed to think, there would be a difficulty in finding men of such knowledge as would give weight to their decisions, to fill the character of Judges in the Court of Registration. But, unfortunately, in all the Courts, there were many Barristers without immediate employment in their profession; ay, hundreds of extremely accomplished and enlightened men, perfectly competent to take upon themselves the duties they would have to perform under this Act. Their character and station at the Bar would be securities for the due discharge of their duty; and the circumstance of their being appointed by a particular Judge would not militate against their respectability. His hon. and learned friend said, that their appointment should have nothing to do with politics. Nor would it have, for the Chancellor's veto was not in the nature of an appointment; and, if he did not approve of the choice made by the Judge, it was the Judge who would have to make another; but it could not be supposed that the Chancellor would refuse to sanction the appointment of a party against whom he had not a valid objection. He did not mean to say, that it was impossible; but, looking to the every-day events of life, it was extremely improbable. The vice of every argument urged against the Bill was, that it was founded on extreme cases, which might, by possibility, occur, but which were not likely to occur. The hon. Gentlemen opposite had spoiled the effect of their own arguments, by making every thing out to be so very bad. Every clause, as it had successively come under discussion, had been the most unconstitutional and dangerous in the whole Bill. But, as 1079 every thing could not be most dangerous, the House had come to the conclusion that there was nothing in the Bill so very bad as the hon. Gentlemen opposite would make the House believe. What, said his hon. and learned friend, would a Puritan or Whig of the time of the Stuarts say to a Judge appointing Barristers? But the Puritan or the Whig of those days, would have had an argument which his hon. and learned friend had not, for the Judges were then dependent on the will of the Crown, and could be removed upon any offence being given either to the King or his Ministers. The consequence was, that the names of the Judges of that time stunk in the nostrils, and their acts were looked upon with a degree of horror which was a security against similar conduct in the present Judges. His hon. friend had deprecated the appointment of these Judges being with the Lord Chancellor. In this respect he had mistaken the matter altogether. The Lord Chancellor had only to approve, and not to appoint. True it was, that it finally remained with the decision of the Great Seal, as to whether the appointment should take place or not; but every one must see that the best results would arise from such a regulation. By the appointment of these men, the public had the security and respectability of the Bar, and the veto of the Great Seal as a pledge that these Judges would do their duty. His hon. and learned friend had stated, that these Judges would be liable to actions. Did his hon. friend forget, that the present learned Judges of this country were subject to the same thing? Did not the hon. and learned Member know, that a Judge, who refused to sign a Bill of Exceptions, or a writ of Habeas Corpus, was liable to the penalty of 500l., and more, that Judges were not formerly allowed to try causes in their own county? But, upon the subject of the remuneration to be made to these Barristers, he must own, that he had a word or two to say, because he did not know how the suggestion which had been made was to be followed up, if the allowance per day, to be paid to these gentlemen, was now proposed to be 5l. He wished the remuneration were fixed in guineas instead of pounds, that being the more usual way of requiting the services of professional men; though, perhaps, had such sum been named, the hon. member for Mid- 1080 dlesex might have said—"Roses will not blow in winter; we cannot afford the difference in these times." Certainly, even 5l., he confessed, was very hard to be got, and he was, therefore, the more certain that this office would be one of such respectability and responsibility, that it would be a high temptation to men of talent. He was not disposed to enter into any long discussion as to the propriety of Barristers being called upon to act in the manner suggested by this clause, or to recur to what might have been the duties imposed on the Sheriffs, who formerly were the returning officers. Ministers desired that certain Barristers, to be appointed by the Judges of Assize, and approved of by the Lord Chancellor, should exercise a judicial office; and, if there was any symptom of corruption or partiality proved against persons so appointed to revise the lists of voters, that penalties attach to the individuals, and an appeal be allowed to this House. In case of any party suffering under the influence of such corrupt or partial administration of the office, an action would lie against the individual causing any loss or damage to the voter; these Judges being amenable for their conduct, and for any injury which they might cause. But his hon. and learned friend appeared to forget these circumstances. Supposing the Barristers, without any responsibility, and not amenable to the parties, was it possible to imagine the extent of censure which would justly have been passed upon the Ministers for such an omission? They would have been accused of omitting a very important qualification, without which we could not press the clause at all. The employment of these Barristers could not, by possibility, affect the privileges or proceedings of Committees of that House, because it would be free to upset all that the Barristers did, and it would also have the power of treating them as delinquents, while the superior Courts might compel them to pay costs, if found guilty of corruption or partiality in the discharge of their duty. The people of England were firmly convinced, that an entire Reform in Parliament was necessary; and, therefore, it was not proper, on every occasion, day and night, to fight over and over again the battle of schedule A or schedule B. Hon. Gentlemen forgot, that the principle of the Bill had been admitted by the House, and adopted by the country; 1081 and it was, therefore, highly objectionable to raise discussions on its general principle, or refer back to parts of it which had been already sanctioned by the House. The principle of the Bill having been once determined upon, the course pursued by his Majesty's Government was, he apprehended, the best suited to carry that principle into effect. Looking generally to the course which had been pursued, and to the arguments which had been used by the hon. and learned Member, he could not wonder that his observations did not fall with such weight as might be expected. He would only add to the remarks he had already made, that he was satisfied that men better fitted for the office proposed to be given them than Barristers could not be found, and, therefore, he hoped that the Committee would agree to the clause.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
begged leave to offer one or two observations to the Committee, as the Attorney General had taken the opportunity, when the Committee was about to close its labours, to enter into the general question which the Bill embraced, and, at the same time, condemning such a practice on the part of other hon. Members. He had assured the House, that the public opinion upon the subject of Reform remained unchanged. This must have been said for the purpose of promoting a discussion. Was it the wish of the learned Attorney General, that they were to go over the general question again—that they were again to revert to the elections of Weymouth, Dublin, or any other place? He was not one of those who took up and ran away hastily with any opinion, without good and sufficient evidence; and he would not, therefore, stop to argue whether a decided change had taken place in public opinion or not, with regard to this measure, but he knew what his public duty demanded from him, and he felt, that in his capacity as a Member of that House, he had to consider what course suggested itself to him as the best to pursue, without reference to whether that course was in accordance with the wishes of the people or not; and no man was more to be lauded than one who had the courage, in times like these, to avow his opinions freely; and, for himself, he trusted he might be permitted to declare, that he had never delivered an opinion in which he had any secret motives, nor had 1082 he entertained any other opinions than those which he had expressed openly and fairly, though his hon. and learned friend seemed to think that he had volunteered a systematic opposition to this measure. He must remind his hon. and learned friend, that he had, from time to time, broached propositions which had been considered, and, in some cases, adopted; and he really thought, that the learned Attorney General made a very ill return for the assistance he had given to the measure, when he talked of delay. With respect to the clauses, however, generally, he confessed he was not able to understand them, though he had given the greatest attention to the Bill as printed; but how did that arise? From the repeated alterations made in the Bill itself: after having read it over in the morning, with the view of forming his judgment upon matters to be argued in the Committee, he found, on coming to the House, that there was a new clause to be considered. The Attorney General said, this measure was a great boon which they were about to grant; but could any man tell him what this great boon was? Could any one properly define the clauses by which it was to be conferred? As to the general question or principle which this Bill involved, he did not desire to enter at length into it, not being anxious to follow the example of his hon. and learned friend, though, indeed, he did not find fault with him for discussing the general question, for his observations had been so long locked up, that, like a schoolboy who obtained a holiday, he had not known where to run, and was, therefore, to be excused for playing the truant on this occasion. He, however, intended to confine his observations within a narrow compass, not wishing to add one word to what had been so ably stated by his hon. and learned friend (Sir Charles Wetherell), although he did not agree with him entirely on some points. He wished to know, what was the ground or principle upon which the Lord Chancellor had this veto given to him, in the approval of the Barristers chosen? Here he must say, that nothing in the world was further from his intention, than to mix up the present Lord Chancellor in this discussion, disapproving, as he did, of this clause. He did not go along with his hon. and learned friend, as to the appointment of these Barristers; because, 1083 if the Committee thought proper to adopt the clause, if no other plan was suggested, they must, necessarily, put up with those persons, and he knew of no better arrangement than that the appointment should rest with the Judges, who could best estimate their fitness and abilities to fill the situations; but he thought it would be dangerous to allow Barristers so appointed to go on circuits. (No man could be less inclined than he was to say anything disrespectful of a body of men, than whom any more respectable did not exist). He said this, because, identified as he was, and had been for many years with them, he entertained an affectionate regard for them; but he thought, that when young Barristers got connected with Solicitors (which they, of course, must do), there would be some danger in allowing a Barrister, connected with the leading Attornies in a particular district, to officiate in such district, because a great influence might, by possibility, be exercised over him. He spoke of Barristers in such a case as men open to the same temptations, and equally swayed by the circumstances which generally influenced other men, and, therefore, he said, do not give a power that may be abused. The office proposed to be thus given to Barristers, was one of the utmost importance to the whole constituency of England, and, therefore, every care ought to be taken in delegating such great powers to individuals, who, by making up the lists of voters, had confided to them some of the dearest interests of the country. He apprehended, that the two questions involved in this case, and which remained for the Committee to decide, were, first, whether Barristers, sufficiently qualified, would accept the employment; and, secondly, whether the appointments would be made by the right person. He had already stated, that he thought, as to the appointment of the Barristers, the Judges of Assize were, perhaps, the fittest persons to have this power, and he now had only to deal with the veto of the Lord Chancellor, to which he had a decided objection. He had heard the most eloquent eulogies passed on the character of the Judges of England, and no one could have a higher opinion of them than he had; it formed one of the greatest blessings of the land, that we had in the present day Judges, upon whom not the slightest breath of 1084 suspicion, in any way, had ever rested; but the same could not be said of some previous appointments. If they looked back, some names could be found which were a reproach to the country. But, if the Judges of the present day, were justly entitled to these eulogies, he asked, where was the necessity of the Lord Chancellor's veto, because the Judges were the most competent persons to decide as to the appointment of Barristers, who were, of necessity, known to them professionally; and, if their characters were above suspicion, why should the Lord Chancellor interfere? He said, that by giving this veto to the Lord Chancellor, they cast a stigma upon the Judges which ought not to be tolerated. He desired to live under a system of law that worked for the common benefit of all men, and he confessed he should look with suspicion on any case in which a Lord Chancellor might think fit to contravene the appointment of the Judges, or to displace an individual who had been once put into office. Was it for the purpose of making changes that these Barristers were to be appointed, and the veto given to the Lord Chancellor? He knew the noble Lord, who now filled that office, meant what was right and proper, and he was far from imputing to him any improper motive; for, warm as he was, and really in earnest in what he declared to be his sentiments, he should be sorry to withhold his conviction of the correctness of the noble Lord's intentions. So objectionable, however, did he consider that part of the clause which gave the veto to the Lord Chancellor, that he proposed to strike it out. He spoke of the Lord Chancellor, not as a great judicial officer, but as the head of a political party in the State; and, as a time might arrive when a very unpopular Chancellor was in office, the appointments made, under such circumstances, would be likely to create great dissatisfaction. With respect to the manner of remunerating these Barristers, he also saw great objections. He looked upon it as an arrangement which would go to effect an alteration in the character of the Bar. If Barristers were to be placed in the situations proposed, act towards them as they deserved; but, by this Bill, a blow was directed at the character of the Bar itself. He found, upon reference to the 42nd clause, that it was there provided, that Barristers should be punished by 1085 being compelled to pay costs, in the event of partiality being proved against them, through a petition laid before a Committee of this House. He looked with suspicion at any such clause. If they were guilty of misconduct, let them be degraded at the Bar, that was the best safeguard to ensure honourable conduct among them; but what he complained of was, that this measure was calculated to advance and degrade them at the same time—they were placed on a pedestal, and when there, it was said, "Oh! we have a suspicion of you, you must come down." The only other question which occurred to him at the present moment to remark upon, was, perhaps, a very inferior one; he was sorry to see that 5l. per day was the amount of remuneration proposed. Every one knew that Barristers did not usually receive their fees in this way; they were always paid in guineas. But what he wished to call the attention of the noble Lord to was, that the remuneration proposed, was not adequate to the importance and responsibility of the office; and he could not think the country would call upon any man to act, without affording him a proper remuneration for his services; and, therefore, he said, give these gentlemen a fair and sufficiently liberal reward; particularly if they were to be prevented from going on circuits when they practice. Further, he objected to the stipulation made in a clause of this Bill, that these gentlemen were to submit their accounts to be verified before a Judge. No gentleman could avoid finding fault with a condition which subjected him to be placed under a sort of overseer; that, however, was only a suggestion; but, against the veto of the Lord Chancellor, he did most strenuously complain.
§ Mr. John Williams
had remained silent during these long protracted discussions, not from any indifference towards the subject, nor from having failed, to the extent of his means, to form an opinion upon it, but from a motive, venial, he trusted, in that House—an apprehension lest, in the failure to produce something new, it might be thought, that he ought rather to listen to the observations of others, than to offer any of his own. In one respect, at least, he had reason to be satisfied with the course he had pursued; that was, that he had escaped the censure applied to those friends, real, or pretended, of the Bill, whose cumbrous support had 1086 been confined to the case of their own, perhaps somewhat particular, views being gratified. Nor should he now have obtruded himself upon the attention of the Committee, if he had not felt that the objections to this clause were founded on the same assumption as that which had pervaded the whole discussion upon the measure itself—namely, that it was introduced for the sake of change, and for that purpose only, without the existence of any complaint or mischief to which a remedy ought to be applied; whereas, if no general scheme of Reform had been attempted, he felt satisfied, that the flagrant abuses attending contested elections, would have demanded immediate attention and correction in the opinion of the country. Had his hon. and learned friend, the member for Boroughbridge, forgotten the sensation created, amongst all classes and descriptions of men, by the operation of that admired, and, in his view, faultless, system? Could it have escaped him, that, under that system, the expenses had been found to be so great and ruinous, that, in the kingdom of York itself (for it was hardly doing justice to call it a county), no gentlemen could be found to come forward as candidates, from a well-founded dread of the effect upon their fortunes? Had not the whole kingdom witnessed, with indignation, the profligate expenditure and corruption which prevailed not long ago at Liverpool? So far, therefore, was he, from being critical in marking and exaggerating the defects of this part of the plan, which was to regulate and abridge the expenses at the poll, that he considered it called for by the unanimous voice of the country. But, as to the particular scheme itself. It had been asserted, that the Barristers, with whom the correction of the lists was to rest, might be partial and unjust in the execution of their duty. Did it not occur, however, to those who made that observation, that, under the present system, it was just possible, that the Sheriff or his Assessor, or both, might be vehement partisans of some particular candidate? in favour of whose interest, could it not be conceived, that gross and flagrant partiality might be committed; and did his hon. friends mean to say, that they never heard of instances of such complaints? The different time, also, at which the duty of the Barrister and the Sheriff was to be exercised, was much in favour of impar- 1087 tiality in the conduct of the former. He was to correct the lists years before any contest took place, or, probably, was even thought of, in total ignorance of the candidates and their wishes; whereas, the Sheriff was called upon to act, with all his feelings and prepossessions heated by the pressure and bustle of a contest. So far, therefore, as the objection which he was considering went, he thought the preference might fairly be given to the new, over the old, system. Then it had been said, there was no fund out of which such a demand for Barristers could be supplied, and that no one fit for the employment could be found to accept it? His hon. friend, the member for Boroughbridge, had been very facetious in exaggerating the prodigious "flights" of Barristers who would traverse the country, and the inconsiderable remuneration which they were to receive for their labour. He could not, however, agree with him in this view of the subject. Gentlemen were, probably, not aware of the number of professional men who were more fitted for the performance of business, than in the actual possession of it. Success and merit were not so actually identified as might be supposed, especially at first. Good fortune, friends, and sometimes, perhaps, circumstances less creditable, had a large share in their advancement. Certain it was, that his hon. friend opposite, in whom, fortune and capacity were united, might, indeed, look down with contempt upon the proposed employment; but he had no doubt that the requisite number of Barristers might be supplied from the different Courts of Westminster Hall, without any danger of the plan standing still for want of sufficient persons to perform the duty. Next came the objections to the mode of appointment, in which it was visible, that his hon. friends were not agreed. The hon. member for Boroughbridge objected strongly to the interference of the Judges at all. He seemed to think, that it was plunging them into political transactions, with which they ought to have no concern, and their interference would be attended with loss of character and respect. His hon. friend, the member for St. Mawes, placed little reliance on that objection, and was, upon the whole, rather of opinion, that the selection could not have been placed in better hands than those of the Judges; but he even went further than any 1088 one who preceded him, in his aversion to the veto of the Lord Chancellor, and had thought proper to call upon and defy him (Mr. J. Williams) to give any tolerable reason for that provision; notwithstanding which challenge, he had no difficulty in discovering a sufficient reason, and expressing it in the very language which had fallen from his hon. friend, who had said, "that it is not safe to intrust power to any man, or set of men, upon the presumption that it would not be abused," or words to that effect. With this sentiment he perfectly agreed, for it was precisely because it was possible, that irresponsible power, vested in the Judges (however, generally, they might well employ it), yet in particular cases it might be misapplied—it was necessary to place a corrective somewhere, and, if so, it was impossible to leave it with any one but the Lord Chancellor. But here, again, there was danger, according to the hon. member for St. Mawes; and here, likewise, existed a difference between the hon. and learned Members themselves. If the patronage in the hands of the Chancellor was dangerous, it was upon the supposition that it was of some value; whereas, both his hon. friends, and particularly the hon. member for Boroughbridge, had (not quite consistently) represented the situation as good for nothing at all. The House could not have forgotten with what effect his hon. friend had exerted his imagination in describing the supposed treatment which a messenger from the Chancellor into the Court of Common Pleas, bearing with him a tender of some of these appointments, would receive; and that such would have been the indignation of the Serjeants at hearing such a scurvy offer, that the ill-fated herald would not have escaped without the danger of not having one sound bone left in his skin. Such was the representation of his hon. friend; but, then, when another objection was to be put forward, all this must be forgotten, and danger from patronage held up. But it was obvious that there was no such danger, and that the veto was a mere precaution, to which recourse probably would never be had. He had said, that there was an universal opinion prevalent, that the cost of elections ought to be diminished, and, for that purpose, he thought nothing would be found so effectual as shortening their duration. It 1089 was, he believed, invariably found, that expenses increased rapidly with delay. Bribery, in particular, was notoriously more practised as the severity of the contest increased, and as it approached towards a close. In this respect he must think, that the scheme would be successful. When once the lists were completed, the rest would be short work. He could not conceive it possible, that the most mischievous ingenuity could raise many difficulties, when the questions mainly were, whether A is A, or whether A and B are one and the same. Granting, therefore, that in the formation of the lists there might be some difficulty, expense, and delay, the benefit, to be derived from them was, in his opinion, well worth a considerable sacrifice. When he witnessed the extraordinary exertions of his hon. friend, the member for Boroughbridge, in opposing this clause—exertions which had never been exceeded by him when combating the general principle of the Bill—he could not but admire the soundness of his stamina, and his extraordinary powers of vitality. His hon. and learned friend, who so frequently, and with his peculiar humour, addressed the Committee in the course of these discussions, had, some two months ago, spoken a dying speech—[An Hon. Member said it was six months since.] It might be six months ago;We take no note of time but by its loss.His hon. and learned friend, in an hypochondriacal mood, had prognosticated his supposed dying day, and announced his departure with apparently a death-like sincerity, and almost with religious solemnity, but his end was not then. His hon. friend had only been hypochondriacal as to his state: for he had since survived to fight more general actions and stiff skirmishes than any commander in Europe. His end, however, was, at last, fast approaching. He could not survive much longer; for the materials for a controversial existence were almost exhausted. The clause under consideration involved so intimately almost all that were to succeed it, that the discussion upon it once ended, the House might speedily anticipate that result which had been announced (amidst such general satisfaction) by the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Aldeburgh. Being upon equal conviction, though not with greater sincerity, than his hon. friend, in favour of this clause, and of the general measure, he should give them both his earnest support.
§ Mr. North
said, he had been employed in Ireland in professional duties in some degree similar to those to be created by this clause, and he therefore spoke with the benefit of some experience. He must strongly reprobate the introduction of any registration clauses in a Bill for Parliamentary Reform. The two questions were wholly different in principle, but as they had been joined together he would not attempt to separate them. He must complain of the insufficiency of the means which these Barristers would have for the purpose of deciding on each person's right to vote. A Judge in a Court of law had records, charters, and a number of other things to assist him in his decisions; but the Barrister to be appointed by this clause would be without all these, and these Courts would be inferior in dignity and importance to those of the Assistant Barristers of Ireland, who had much more power, and the means of enforcing order and summoning witnesses. The necessary consequence must be, that, even with the best intentions, the Barristers would frequently decide wrong for want of proper information and assistance. He would suggest the insertion of a clause to create the requisite officers for the support of these Barristers—such as a Registrar and a crier—also a clause enabling them to summon witnesses, if requisite. It might be said, that these officers were the necessary appendages to every Court; but it would be better to create them by this Bill. He was as anxious as any man to give the measure the appearance of every possible simplicity, but he would not carry it to such an extent as to render the powers of the Barristers in the slightest degree doubtful.
§ Lord Althorp
rose to make some observations on the general nature of the clause itself. As to the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he begged to say, in the first place, that his opinion on a subject so intimately connected with a branch of the profession, of which his situation in Ireland had given him experience, ought to have great weight in regulating their decisions; but he trusted to be able to prove, that there would be no necessity to adopt his suggestions. One of these was, that the Barrister ought to have power to summon witnesses in support or defence of the cases brought before him. He, on the contrary, did not think that it was necessary to have witnesses at all on such cases as might 1091 come before these Barristers, inasmuch as the only parties who would appear before them would be the persons who objected to the insertion of a name on the list, and the person who defended the right; and the only documents which would be required, were the title-deeds, &c. of the property. But even if witnesses in some cases were requisite, he conceived it would be the duty of the parties themselves to bring forward the requisite evidence to support their respective cases. For this reason he did not think, that it was necessary to give to Barristers any power of the kind. The next objection of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, that the ordinary powers for keeping order and regularity in the Court were not granted by the Bill. Again he said, that such a power would be unnecessary. Every legal Court was, by its constitution, invested with all the necessary powers to maintain its authority; and there was a statute in force, expressly authorizing the Sheriff to take into his custody any person who should be found disturbing any place where a legal investigation might be pending. With respect to the proposed rate of to procure a sufficient number of Barristers payment he had only to remark, that the Judges would, he had no doubt, be able competent in every respect, who would think the rate of compensation proposed for their trouble sufficient. So much with respect to the objections of the hon. and learned member for Drogheda. But while he was on the subject, he trusted he might be allowed to make one further observation in reply to a remark which fell from another hon. and learned Gentleman, in reference to the clause which treated of the mode in which this compensation fee was to be paid. It was said, that the proper funds to be made applicable to this demand were the county rates. Now, he was perfectly convinced that, if they had so regulated it, every county Member in the House would have raised his voice loudly against the clause, and they would have done so with justice; he himself, as a county Member had given his opinion that it would be an act of great injustice to pursue the course recommended, and to exact from the county rates such a large sum of money as would be required to defray this expense. There might be some plea for doing so if these Barristers were only to be employed to examine into the lists of the county voters; 1092 but when it was recollected, that if these expenses were charged on the general rates of the county, they would be making the counties pay for the correction of the borough lists, as well as their own, he was sure no hon. Member would disagree with him in thinking that they were much better charged on the general revenues of the country; and more particularly, so when it was considered that the measure was intended for the general good. A great deal had been said on the injustice of allowing the Commissioners to sit in Parliament while the Barristers were excluded; he thought the case was very different as between the two. The nature of the duties to be discharged by the Commissioners did not in any way bring them in contact with the voters, and no danger was to be apprehended that, on the occasion of an election, they would be able to exercise undue influence; but was that the case with respect to the Barrister? He would have the opportunity, if an election was expected, so to regulate and influence the lists as to render them subservient to his purpose if he should choose to start as a candidate. He therefore thought the House had exercised sound discretion in prohibiting the Barristers from offering themselves as candidates. Several remarks had been made, to prove that the payment to be given to Barristers, under this Bill, would not be sufficient to induce men of eminence in the profession to take the appointment; but this had been sufficiently answered by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He agreed with him, that Barristers would be glad of such appointments. It would give a Barrister that which was to him a considerable advantage—some notoriety in his profession—which was what all Barristers desired. If the Barrister was to be taken from his circuit and sent to another, where he was less known, or where being known was not so much an object to him—he would then admit that a larger remuneration ought to be given to him; but that would not be the case. Besides, if it was found that the salary was too small, it might be increased hereafter; but if it was made more than necessary to attain the object at first, it would be exceedingly difficult afterwards to reduce it. As to the Chancellor having a veto in the appointment of the Barristers, he saw no objection to it. Such a power as this Bill would give him, would be seldom exercised; but if any attempt was 1093 made to exercise it improperly, public opinion would cry out against it—so that, on that side, there was a very reasonable ground of security, that the power thus vested would not be abused. He did not think that the appointment in the first instance could be better placed than in the hands of the Judges;—yet, to guard against the possibility of abuse, it was necessary that a veto should be placed somewhere—and in what better hands could it be placed than in those of the Lord Chancellor? The veto which he possessed, would be exercised only in cases of gross and glaring impropriety in the nomination. That he felt was a case not at all likely to occur; yet, as it was possible, there ought to be power lodged somewhere to correct it. He had now gone through most of the points to which the hon. Member's remarks had applied. He had only to add, what he felt it was almost unnecessary for him to state, that he had no wish to do any thing to degrade the profession of the law; and he could not think it was any degradation to that profession, for the Bill to make a provision to remove a Barrister for misconduct. He believed a case of corruption in a Barrister, appointed under the Bill, to be extremely improbable—but to say that it was impossible, would be to imitate the ancient lawgiver, who would make no provision against parricide, because he thought such a crime could not occur.
objected to the complicated manner of making the Barristers settle their accounts, and recommended, that instead of the Barristers submitting their accounts to the Justices, and making oath before them, they should submit them to the Treasury at once. If they were to be paid by the County Treasurer, such an arrangement as allowing a Magistrate or Justice to examine the Barrister on oath with respect to his expenses, and auditing his accounts might be proper enough, but when the expenses were to be paid by the Treasury, it seemed a useless piece of machinery.
Mr. Robert Gordon
thought the veto would give the power of the appointment into the hands of the Lord Chancellor. He objected to the clause.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the veto was very different from the power of making an appointment. The Lord Chancellor would not exercise it, except in case of an improper appointment, against which though it was improbable, it was necessary to guard.
Mr. Robert Gordon
said, that such was the effect of the veto as to the appointment of governors in India. The nomination, of those officers, though nominally possessed by the Directors, was actually exercised by the Government.
Mr. Charles Grant
said, the power of appointing governors in India, was vested by law in the Board of Control.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, according to the wording of the clause, this was not simply a veto, but a joint appointment; the words were "With the approbation of the Lord Chancellor."
§ Mr. John Campbell
approved of the veto being placed in the hands of the Lord Chancellor, as necessary to prevent partiality, which was possible. There might be instances of bias in the case of a relative, which might induce a Judge to appoint an improper person; such appointments, therefore, should not be altogether without control. He highly approved of the appointment of these Barristers, and of registration in general. It was objected that it would decide the right of voting, which ought only to be decided by that House, but that was done at present by the returning officer, who was appointed by the Crown. He considered it, therefore, a great improvement in the Constitution.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
contended that this part of the Bill was unconstitutional, and a mass of incongruities and inconsistencies from beginning to end.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
said, the Sheriff was the officer of the county, he was selected by the Judges, and the Crown had only to nominate one of the three presented by them. He was fully able to discharge all the duties now to be performed by the Barristers.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, the clause gave a co-ordinate power of appointment to the Chancellor, and it did not give the veto.
§ The clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ The Chairman then read the 32nd clause, "That the Clerk of the Peace and Overseers shall attend before the Barristers, who shall, on due proof, insert and expunge names from the County Lists, and rectify mistakes therein."
§ Some verbal Amendments were proposed.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, that the Amendment contained the most important part of the clause. It was hastening it 1095 rather too much to say that the clause, so amended, had been already debated. It had not. He conceived the clause, as it was, created an imperfect jurisdiction, and he approved of the Amendment, as making the clause complete.
§ Lord Althorp
said, the Amendments were so trifling, that they did not deserve the character given to them by the learned Gentleman. They were mere verbal Amendments, and made no difference whatever in the sense of the clause.
§ The Chairman read the proviso, "That no name should be inserted or expunged from the lists without due notice to the overseers, as required by the clause."
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that the reason why he opposed the Bill was, that the longer it was delayed the more the people's eyes were opened to its absurdity. It was patched up in such a manner as to make it a different Bill. It was such a measure as a parish clerk would be ashamed of. The most able and convincing arguments had been urged against it, which, by some means or other, had been prevented from going forth to the country.
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
objected to the registration part of the Bill, that it was far less simple than the present mode of determining a right to vote: it would create an annual ferment in the country He should much prefer the Scotch plan, by which, when the right of voting was once determined, the same party had no occasion again to show his title, which could not be impeached at any future time, unles there was a change of circumstances that might have destroyed the right.
wished the noble Lord would be pleased to inform him, what provision there was made for the payment of persons appointed to act under this clause.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he hoped there would be no difficulty on that head; the expense would not be near so great as had been supposed. In reply to his hon. and learned friend (Mr. C. Fergusson), he must tell him, that the analogy between the Scotch and English counties was not complete, and therefore, although a system worked well in one place, it would not do so in another, He did not anticipate any great expense in making out an annual list of freeholders; the great trouble and expense would be at first, after that the Overseer would simple have to make the alterations as they occurred from year to year.
said, much expense had been caused by making out returns required by Parliament: the population returns for the county of Oxford cost nearly 20,0001.
§ Clause agreed to; House resumed, Committee to sit again on the following Monday.