HC Deb 26 July 1832 vol 14 cc816-21
Mr. Boldero

moved for a Copy of the Appointment of Clerk of the Patents and Registrar of Affidavits in the Court of Chancery.

Sir Edward Sugden

would take that opportunity of saying a word upon what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney General, late last night, in reference to what he (Sir Edward Sugden) had said in the early part of the evening, on the subject of the recent appointment in the Court of Chancery. His hon. and learned friend seemed surprised that he should have mentioned anything relating to the Lord Chancellor in his (the Attorney General's) absence. He was sure that at whatever time the subject of the Lord Chancellor, or any thing relating to him, was mentioned in that House, he could not be without friends present to attend to his interests. For his own part he had not felt it necessary to wait for the presence of the Attorney General, on the subject to which he had called the attention of the House; and the less so, as he had given notice to his hon. and learned friend, the Solicitor General, for the purpose of having it communicated to the Lord Chancellor, that it was his intention to mention the subject in the House, and this, let it be understood, was before he had any knowledge whatever that the offices in question had been filled up. Indeed, he did not know of any appointment having taken place, until he was within a few yards of the House, when he was informed of it by an hon. Member whom he met. He was anxious to set himself right with the House as to the facts of the case, as he understood that the matter had been made the subject of some remarks by the noble and learned Lord that evening in another place, some of which were directed against himself. However, he would not take any further notice of those remarks until he had them from a more authentic source. He would wait until he saw them, and would take the opportunity when the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) should bring forward his Motion respecting the Lord Chancellor's salary, when he would defend himself against the sarcasms of the noble and learned Lord, or against those of any other individual who might have attacked him.

The Attorney General

said, he had not expressed any surprise at his hon. friend having brought forward the subject in his absence. His surprise was, that it should be brought on at all that evening, as he had understood from his hon. and learned friend, the Solicitor General, that the Lord Chancellor was to be asked respecting the office, and whether it was to be filled up. All he had done was, to express his regret that he was not present when his hon. friend had introduced the subject, and that regret he still felt; for on looking at the usual vehicles of information, as to what passed in the House, he found that the remarks which had been made were calculated to produce rather an unfavourable impression in the public mind against the noble and learned Lord. If he had been present, two minutes would not have elapsed after the statement, till he should have given such an explanation as would have at once removed from the mind of every hon. Member any unfavourable impression which the previous remarks might have made.

The Solicitor General

said, that the impression upon his mind had been, that the places in question had not been filled up at all, nor was he aware that the inquiry intended by his hon. and learned friend the member for St. Mawes, was directed to the appointment in question. Indeed, he had been prevented, under peculiar circumstances, from seeing the Lord Chancellor upon the subject.

Sir Edward Sugden

considered he was perfectly justified in pursuing the course which he had felt it his duty to adopt, a course which did not want precedent, it was a mere matter of inquiry or question to the Government, such as it was quite regular to make, as he would contend, without notice. He denied that he had been guilty of any thing that was inconsistent with the usual practice of the House. Similar inquiries had been made on former occasions with reference to the appointments held by many individuals without notice, and been answered without any charge of irregularity. But in fact he told the Solicitor General that he had intended to put a question in the House as to what had been done with the sinecure places held by Mr. Scott, but he had afterwards heard of Mr. James Brougham's vacating his seat, and he had then asked why this had been done, and he was not bound in courtesy to wait for the presence of the Attorney General. He should treat the Lord Chancellor in that House as the Lord Chancellor had treated him in the House of Lords, and he should bring the subject regularly forward.

Mr. William Brougham

maintained, that if ever a question had been put that meant or was intended to convey a censure, it was the question put by the hon. and learned Gentleman, on a former occasion, without any notice. He, however, could say, with reference to the offices in question, that they had been pronounced to be absolutely necessary after a consultation upon the subject, by the Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls, and the Vice Chancellor. He must again complain of the want of notice when the subject had been before introduced, for if such notice had been given, he should have excused himself from the duties which he had to discharge elsewhere, and have been in his place to have met the question with the fullest information upon the subject. He was also certain, that such information would have sufficed to satisfy the House, that nothing had been done with regard to these appointments of which even the most captious could complain. Such questions, conveying as they did, more or less censure upon the parties to whom they referred, should not be made without notice; for though he was sure that the characters of the parties referred to in the present inquiry were above all suspicion; yet an injury might arise even if a delay of twenty-four hours should occur in answering such an inquiry, tending as it did to censure. He should hope that, on all occasions of attacks being thus personally made against individuals, whoever they might be, that notice would be given, and if such a course had in this case been pursued, he should have been ready in the first instance to meet it.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that some imputations had been thrown out against his learned friend (Sir E. Sugden) of having, with reference to the question, violated the usual courtesy of debate. He (Sir C. (Wetherell) saw not the slightest ground for that imputation. On the contrary, he thought that the conduct of the learned Gentleman had been perfectly open, gentlemanlike, and honourable. Many reflections had been cast on the conduct of the Lord Chancellor; but the most censorious of all who had spoken was the hon. member for Westminster (Sir F. Burdett) who said, in the course of his observations, that he could not believe it possible the Chancellor had made any permanent appointment to the offices in question.

Lord Althorp

was not ignorant that the appointments had been made; though, from the nature of the offices, it was not incumbent on him to be acquainted with the period of their being filled up. It was undoubtedly in the power of any Member to ask a question, whether it implied a censure or not; but from his experience of parliamentary usage, he would say, in reference to that point, that he did not think the question which had been put, was one that should have been put without such a notice as was usually given.

Sir Francis Burdett

said, the observation alluded to by the member for Borough-bridge (Sir C. Wetherell) was founded on his belief, from a knowledge of the character and understanding of the Lord Chancellor, that he could not have done that which was attributed to him.

Sir Frederick Trench

thought, that the course pursued by the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes (Sir E. SugdenJ, had been perfectly courteous and decorous. What had the hon. Member done? He had merely asked a question as to the filling of certain offices, after telling the Solicitor General that he meant to ask it, and that question was one of a kind that were frequently asked without any notice whatever. It was impossible to act more honourably. The Lord Chancellor could not have wanted defenders, even in the absence of the Attorney General, when his Lordship's brother, and so many of his friends, were in the House.

Mr. Spence

stated, that he had been instructed some time since, by the Lord Chancellor, to prepare two bills for the Reform of the Court of Chancery. One of these bills was already on the Table; the delay in bringing forward the other was attributable only to himself. It happened that the very first paragraph of that second bill (which was actually prepared) was—Whereas it is expedient that the office of Registar of Affidavits in the Court of Chancery be abolished.' Under these circumstances, on learning the death of Mr. Scott, he thought it his duty to wait immediately on the Lord Chancellor, to ascertain whether that noble Lord had altered his intention with respect to the office in question. The instant he mentioned the subject, the Lord Chancellor assured him most distinctly that it was his intention to bring in the Bill as it was, without the least variation as respected the abolition of that office. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor hardly allowed him to finish his sentence before he stopped him with this assurance. He must further say, that it was on Tuesday, the 10th of July, when he moved for leave to bring in his bill, that he had an interview with the Lord Chancellor, when he stated, as appears in the reports of the debate, that it was his intention as soon as possible to bring in the Bill he had drawn, for regulating the officers, &c. but the Chancellor wished that a clause should be added, for constituting an appellate Court, and desired him to add such a clause, and when that was done he would immediately bring in the Bill. He (Mr. Spence) then added, that he had found so much difficulty in framing that clause, particularly as regards the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, that he had not yet prepared it, so that the delay in bringing in the Bill between the time of the office of Registrar of Affidavits becoming vacant, and the period of the depending discussion, was attributable to him, and not to the Chancellor, which he the more regretted, as probably, in case he had been able to have prepared the clause before that time, the Bill might have been brought in, and then all question as to the Lord Chancellor's intentions would have been put at rest, and the present unpleasant discussion entirely prevented. He thought it right to give that explanation, and to add, that the Master of the Rolls, and others who were consulted on the subject, gave it as their opinion that the offices should for the present be filled up, because there were important duties to be performed by the deputies, and it was necessary those deputies should have a principal.

Mr. Boldero said

, a plain question had been asked last night, and it had received no answer. He knew nothing of the Lord Chancellor, or his affairs, or connexions, but finding that a plain question was not answered, he felt it his duty to move for a return of the appointments. There was nothing in that either singular or unbecoming, and perhaps its best defence was to be found in the fact, that the Lord Chancellor's friends admitted the offices to be useless ones, and that they ought to be abolished.

Sir Edward Sugden

observed, that the learned Gentleman (the Solicitor General) had been the organ through which he had hitherto communicated any of his motions with respect to the Lord Chancellor or his Court; but if that was not the regular one, he must choose another for the future.

Motion agreed to.