presented a petition from the Warden and Members of the Company of Merchant Tailors, praying the House to rescind the petition of Hugh R. Franks, presented the other evening, as the petition contained gross libels on the said company; and that the House would devise some means of preventing the abuse of the right of petitioning, and thereby restrain an individual from injuring the character of honourable and respectable persons. The right of petitioning was one of very great value, and for that, amongst other reasons, should its exercise be confined to the statement of real grievances. In this 1031 case it was made the means of setting forth gross and unfounded libels; and here he would take leave to suggest the necessity of ascertaining the truth of the matters contained in a petition before any Member presented it to that House. The petitioners further prayed that the petition he had referred to should not be sent to the Committee on Corporation Abuses, as they did not consider it competent in that body to take cognizance of trading corporations such as those of the Merchant Tailors. The petitioners also thought, and he fully agreed with them, that no extension of power should be given to the Committee on Corporation Abuses, without the express concurrence of that House. This part of the prayer he thought could not be denied to the petitioners, for the claim they thus preferred to the House had been recognized in the case of most other committees, which were appointed to inquire into certain but yet given and defined objects. Such was the case in the Bank and East-India Company's Charters. The Petitioners, as he had stated, complained of the abuse of the right of petition which had taken place in this instance, while they, and he with them, would always admit that it was the proper and legitimate mode, when properly and legitimately exercised, to bring the grievances of the people under the notice of that House. While this, however, was an admitted right, it became a very serious evil that an individual, or a few individuals, should be able, through its instrumentality, to libel and calumniate respectable and honourable persons. A right, the exercise of which was liable to such dangers and such evils, should, impossible, be restrained, if not by the interference of that House, certainly by Members who had petitions to present taking care to examine into the allegations they might contain before they gave a most dangerous currency to them by their being presented to that House. The petition with which he was now intrusted was signed by many honourable, respectable, and independent Members of the Merchant Tailors' Company, and also by men who stood eminently high in the commercial world. They were charged with misappropriating the funds committed to their care for charitable purposes, and this charge they solemnly denied. They were charged with perverting the funds of their Corporation to their private uses, and this again they 1032 denied. The men so charged were, as he had just observed, most respectable persons; many of them had been Members of that House; many of them were now City Magistrates—men, than whom none were of greater wealth, respectability, and independence. The petitioners complained that the hon. Member who presented the petition of which they had now complained, had not stated its contents to the House, although, upon his Motion, it was ordered to be printed, and in this way its calumnies and libels had obtained an extensive circulation. He (Mr. Attwood) was not in the House when the petition was presented, but he understood that the hon. Member who did present it had said a good deal upon the abuses practised by the Corporation of Merchant Tailors. It was therefore the duty of the persons so libelled, in courtesy to that House and in duty to themselves, to deny the charges which had been alleged against them, and that in the most earnest, unequivocal, and solemn manner. He would not, however, on this occasion, occupy the House with any details, although he was fully prepared to show that the conduct of the Corporation of Merchant Tailors had been such at all times as to challenge the strictest investigation. On the part of the petitioners, as well as on his own, he would declare that the allegations made against them were unfounded in fact, and malignant and unjust.
§ On the Motion for bringing up the Petition,
said, that as he was the Member who had presented the petition which the hon. Member had so loudly complained of, he trusted the House would allow him to say a few words on the subject. When the hon. Member thought fit to insinuate that he (Mr. Hill) had wilfully kept the nature of the petition from the knowledge of the House, and that the petition had been presented in the hon. Member's absence, he might have had the candour to inform the House, that he (Mr. Hill) had sent the hon. Gentleman a copy of the petition—that he had informed the hon. Gentleman when he intended to present it—that he was prepared to present it on Friday, his name having stood at the head of the paper of that day, but that, at the request of the hon. Member, he had postponed the presentation to Monday, in order to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity of being 1033 present, and of making any observations on the petition which might occur to him. Under these circumstances, he thought that the hon. Gentleman had made a most unfair attack upon him. If he had acted as the hon. Member insinuated, he should have forgotten what was due to himself as well as to the House. The hon. Member had spoken in very general terms of the petition; and had complained that nothing had been stated in it but some vague personal accusations. In presenting the petition, he had not thought proper to go into the particular charges of the petition, though there were many; and he would now state one of them. The petition stated, that the Merchant Tailors' Company were in possession of considerable funds for charitable purposes, which they did not duly apply; and the petitioner gave his reasons for the statement. There was one particular bequest made to them, in the reign of Elizabeth, of 5l. a-year to be paid to the poor. The property which then yielded the 5l. now consisted of no less than thirteen houses. Of that property the Merchant Tailors' Company were in the continual receipt of the rents, and yet they continued to give only the miserable pittance of 5l. a-year to the poor. He submitted that the Merchant Tailors' Company was a Municipal Corporation, and that, therefore, it was a very proper petition to be referred to the Committee on Municipal Corporations. The Merchant Tailors' Company was one of those companies in the city of London to one of which an individual elected to be a Lord Mayor or an Alderman must belong. The Merchant Tailors' Company had very little to do with trading, but it had a great deal to do with the Government of the City; and it was because there was to be an inquiry into the state of the Corporation of the city of London, in common with other Corporations, with a view to a reform, and because it was manifest that that inquiry and reform never could be complete without an inquiry into the state of this Company, that he had thought it right to present the petition in question to the House. It appeared that the Merchant Tailors' Company had, within the last twenty years, increased their fines for admission, from thirty guineas to 80l.; and, when they were asked why this was so, they refused to assign any reason, and refused the inspection of their books and 1034 muniments. The charters of these companies, from the time of Edward the 3rd to that of Henry the 7th, all vested the right of the officers of these companies in the body at large; and yet, in the case of the Merchant Tailors' Company, not two years ago, a respectable body of the members of that Company were treated as trespassers and rioters by the hon. Member who was Master of the Company, for seeking to exercise their rights, and for seeking the use of their own hall. Did not this usurpation demand inquiry? Did not this prove that the Merchant Tailors' Company exercised (he rights of a municipal corporation, and were therefore liable to the same inquiry as all other municipal corporations? Nothing was proved by the speech of the hon. Member, or at all as showing that the allegations in the petition which he (Mr. Hill) had presented were false, unless, indeed, a loose, vague, and general denial could be taken as proof. As to the character of the petitioner, he (Mr. Hill), was not unacquainted with him, and he believed that he was a most respectable man. It was a new doctrine to advance in that House, that no petition ought to be presented to it except by a large body of persons. For his part, he had always been taught, that any man who had a grievance to complain of, was entitled to submit it to the consideration of the House. What did the petitioner pray for? Inquiry. All, too, that he (Mr. Hill) had asked for, was inquiry; but the present petitioners had resisted it. They had also resisted it when it was sought for in the Court of King's Bench; and he could not help deeply regretting that the Court of King's Bench, which should be a court of protection for the people, was so fettered by old and bad precedents that they refused to issue a mandamus for the inspection of the muniments of the Merchant Tailors' Corporation. He was well aware that many members of that Corporation were honourable and respectable men in private life; but it was almost the condition of human nature that even good men, when they became members of a corporation which was founded on a system of corruption, became contaminated by it, and that they would do, in their corporate, what they would shrink from in their private capacity. He did not blame the individuals, but the system on which they acted. If, however, the Corporation had done every thing that was right, why 1035 should they resist inquiry? If they had done all that the hon. Member had stated, why then inquiry would enable their virtues to shine forth with greater brightness. Surely the hon. Member, who was master of the Company, might be satisfied with the power which he already had, without refusing their rights to the body of the Company, which consisted of many hundreds of respectable persons. He had been charged by the hon. Member with not doing his duty to the House in abstaining from entering into the details contained in the petition which he had presented. He was certainly a young Member, but yet not so young as to be guilty of any inadvertence as to the forms of that House. Neither was he guilty of any inadvertence to the hon. Member, as must be evident to the House, when he again repeated that he had sent a copy of the petition in question to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, he knew the petitioner, and he could say that he believed his character, public and private, to be as good as that of the warden of the Merchant Tailors' Company; and as for his trade, he knew that it was fully as good, for he was a maker and issuer of hats, though not of notes.
said, that in the remarks which he had felt it his duty to make, he meant to cast no personal imputation on the conduct of the hon. and learned Member. He avoided any such observations—be avoided entering into details—he—
§ Lord Althorp
here interrupted the hon. Member, by making a reference to the recent regulations of the House, by which, the hon. Member, in this stage of the question, was precluded from making a reply, having made an opening speech on the presentation of petitions.
§ The Speaker
said, it was very desirable that this point should be thoroughly understood. According to his view of it, it stood thus:—An hon. Member in presenting a petition would have an opportunity of speaking twice; first, on the question that the petition be brought up. The question that the petition do lie on the Table would then he a matter of course. If that were a matter of course, then the individual who presented the petition might lie by, and would have an opportunity of answering afterwards any of the observations that had been made.
declared, that he had been grossly misrepresented when he had been 1036 described as apprehensive of an inquiry into the state of the Merchant Tailors' Company. The complaint which he had made was, that the petitioner libelled and calumniated parties, whose characters were affected by it in a manner which they had he opportunity of meeting. The petition contained charges of the most atrocious nature against the members of the Corporation. As to the right of the petitioner to interfere with the management of the funds of the Company that had been positively disallowed by a Court of Law. He protested against an hon. and learned Member, after the case had been adjudicated before the legitimate tribunal of the Court of King's Bench, introducing it to the attention of that House, because the decision had been against his client.
denied, that he was at the time the feed counsel of the party. If he had been so, he would not have presented the petition.
continued. He had Understood that the hon. and learned Gentleman conducted the suit of the petitioner in the Court of King's Bench. He hoped the House would not countenance professional men in the practice of bringing their unsuccessful clients into that House to try their cause again. The Courts of Law, he would contend, and not that House, had the power of deciding who had the proper exercise of jurisdiction in particular Corporations—[hear, hear]—and he would go further and say, that that House was not to be made an arena for discussing such rights, though he was aware that the abuse of all Corporations, whether just or unjust, was a source of no inconsiderable popularity. He did not think it very becoming in the hon. and learned Member to have spoken of the "bad precedents" on which the Court of King's Bench had acted. The King's Courts should, he thought, be treated with at least a little more courtesy. The petitioners in this case denied that they had abused any charitable funds; they denied their having used them for any private purposes; and they denied having put them in their own pockets. They asserted that their conduct was unimpeachable, and they were prepared to prove it. It was said by the hon. Member, that nearly 700l. a-year had been divested from the purposes of charity, to which it should have been applied. But how stood the fact? About the year 1488 a will was made by a member of the 1037 Company, bequeathing some land and houses to the Company, in order to pay 5l. a-year in charity; and, that being done, he considered any surplus that might arise as unquestionably the property of the Company, as if a man had left a house by will to pay 10l. and that its value should ultimately amount to 1,000l. Well, to proceed. Some old alms-houses stood on part of the ground, and other parts of it were let upon long leases. Those leases dropped in a few years ago, and what was done? The old alms-houses were taken down, new and more extensive almshouses were erected, and the Company, in their erection, expended no less a sum than 12,000l. of their own money. He would tell the House again that the officers of the Company courted inquiry before any Select Committee which the House might think proper to appoint—and that no more gratifying circumstances could occur to the Merchant Tailors' Corporation than to render the fullest account of the distribution of the funds intrusted to their management. He regretted that the House should be so long detained by the refutation of libels, but he regretted still more that growing disposition on the part of the public to hear with pleasure of the destruction of the ancient institutions of the country. He was sorry to find that the public listened with eagerness to the calumnies which were circulated against respectable individuals—and he regretted again, that the House should be made the arena for discussing calumnies. He would again contend that the Merchant Tailors' Company was not a municipal corporation, for it conferred no right, no franchise, and exercised none of the powers of such a corporation. In conclusion, he would take upon himself to say, that nothing could be more satisfactory to himself and the Corporation of which he was a member, than to give the fullest information relative to the management of the trust which was reposed in them.
§ Sir Edward Knatchbull
observed that the matter was of the first importance and deepest moment to the parties against whom such heavy charges had been brought, not only by an hon. and learned Member, but also by the petition. The parties were, however, fully prepared to meet those charges; and if that had not been the case he should not have risen to address the House upon the present occasion. His hon. friend had said that if accusations 1038 were to be made they ought to be brought forward openly, in order that the parties should have an opportunity of making their defence. This was as fair a proposal as could be made, and he thought that after such a declaration, it was plain that the object of the petitioners was not to shun inquiry or shelter themselves from any investigation. He wished to put a question to his Majesty's Ministers on one point, and that was with respect to the powers confided to the Select Committee appointed the other night, on the Motion of the noble Lord, to inquire into the state of all municipal corporations in the United Kingdom. He was willing to admit, that for many years past no Committee of greater importance had been appointed than that to which he alluded, for it embraced subjects of the deepest interest and very first moment. It was not his intention to cast reflections on any individual member of that Committee, but he still could not help expressing it as his opinion that the selection of the noble Lord was very far from being judicious. To his (Sir Edward Knatchbull's) thinking a very different choice ought to have been made if the object was unbiassed and impartial investigation. He was not aware of the powers which were intended to be confided to the Committee, or whether it would devolve upon them to inquire into the circumstances of all corporations without distinction; but one thing he did hope, and that was, that they would go fairly and dispassionately into the subject, and not deal with it rashly or hastily. The question which he wished to have answered particularly was, whether the noble Lord, in appointing this Committee, had intended to invest them with power to entertain questions relative to the affairs of trading companies, as well as to inquire into the state of municipal corporations; and whether he had contemplated that they should take cognizance of petitions like that which had so improperly been submitted to them?
§ Lord Althorp
said, that before he proceeded to answer the question put to him by the hon. Baronet who had just sat down, he wished to make a single observation upon what had fallen from him relative to the manner and spirit in which the Committee was chosen. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) begged to assure the hon. Baronet and the House, that he bad taken the utmost pains in 1039 choosing this Committee, to select only such persons as he was convinced would deal with the important subjects before them, not only impartially, but with the fullest consideration. He repeated, that he had, as far as in him lay, endeavoured to form the Committee of such individuals as he felt persuaded might safely be intrusted with the investigation of a subject so momentous, and the strongest conviction was impressed upon his mind that he should not be disappointed in the conclusion to which he had come respecting them. In appointing the Committee, he had deemed it necessary to include persons of every party, and the mixture of Gentlemen who had been nominated was such as to render it impossible that anything rash or precipitate could be effected, even should anything so unwise be essayed—a circumstance which appeared to him anything but likely. With respect to the question put to him by the hon. Baronet, he had only to say, that it never was his intention that trading companies should be introduced to the notice of the Committee. The object for which the Committee was appointed had no reference to trading companies, and this he conceived would appear from the order to which allusion had been made. The functions of the Committee related only to municipal corporations, and the scope of its inquiry went no further. It was empowered to inquire into the constitutional rights and privileges, and other circumstances connected with all chartered corporations in boroughs and towns, but then that power never was intended to be applied to mere trading companies. He did not pretend to be acquainted with the exact character of the Merchant Tailors' Company, but even though it should prove to be only a trading company, he did not see the necessity of the House making an order to rescind the order of reference adverted to in the petition. It was clear that the Committee had no power to go into any inquiry that did not relate to a municipal corporation, and hence it followed that an order referring a petition concerning a trading company to it must be considered merely as a dead letter. Such an order could have no effect, and for the best reason in the world, namely, that the subject was one that the Committee had no power to interfere with.
§ Mr. Harvey
agreed that the Committee could have nothing to do with a subject like 1040 that mentioned in the petition referred to. Indeed the Committee would have abundance of other and more important occupation for their time. There was, however, a tribunal in existence that was competent to deal with the matter, and that was the charity Commissioners, who were appointed in the year 1818, and had cost the country 250,000l., without any benefit having been derived to the public from their labours. The gentlemen composing this commission were Reformers before their nomination, but he was sorry to say that since then they had evinced very little of a reforming spirit. The petition adverted to might, with advantage, be referred to them, as he fully concurred in thinking that nothing was less desirable than to try questions in that House which had already been decided by the Courts of Law. It might, perhaps, be right of the legislature to alter irrational decisions of Judges, or repeal laws that were vicious in principle, or inapplicable to existing circumstances; but he still thought that the House ought not to interfere in cases where a remedy might otherwise be obtained. He was willing to admit, that the petitioner in question would find great difficulty in getting redress by any of the ordinary means; for would it not be worse than hopeless to enter into an unequal contest with one of the most opulent companies in all London? The very attempt would ruin any man, however great his fortune might be; and, therefore, the petitioner did right in seeking redress from Parliament. But the matter might very properly be submitted to the Charity Commissioners, who though they had furnished twenty-six volumes of reports, had rendered no service to the public that was not almost worthless. It was most important that the funds of these public companies should be properly applied, and, for that purpose, inquiry was desirable. The Merchant Tailors' Company had, it was true, recently expended 12,000l. in endowing alms-houses, but, perhaps, if the truth were known that was no more than an act of justice. About four centuries ago three houses on London-bridge were left to the company to which he belonged, for the purpose of furnishing a certain number of poor persons with charcoal. At that period the rent was 6l., but the property had of late years greatly increased in value, and the premises were ultimately sold to the London-bridge Company, to 1041 make way for the improvement in that part of the town, for 17,000l. This sum the Company would in all probability, have appropriated to their own use, but that an information on the subject was filed, in which it was contended that not only the annual sum of 6l., but the whole amount, was applicable to the original designs of the donors. Being unwilling to incur the heavy expense of a Chancery suit, a compromise took place, and the Company were let off by expending 10,000l. in the erection and endowment of alms-houses. Had the hon. Member who had complained on this occasion been a master girdler instead of the Master of the Tailors, he had no doubt he would have come forward on that occasion also to complain of being exposed to the inconvenience and injustice of doing justice to the poor. But it had been said by the hon. Member that any inquiry into the circumstances of public companies would only be an additional attack upon the ancient institutions of the country; but would an act of justice toward the poor have any such effect? It was his belief, that if the Charity Commissioners had prosecuted their inquiries as they ought to have done, there would now be more than 100,000l. at their disposal, in aid of the education of the poor and the support of the aged and infirm. He was satisfied that the Charity Commissioners might take the complaints of the petitioner up, and, believing that they were invested with full authority to investigate the abuses of public companies, he should recommend the petition to be referred to them.
expressed his readiness to submit the affairs of the Company to any investigation that might be deemed necessary. The Company had nothing to conceal, and they were perfectly ready to meet any charge that might be brought against them.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that even according to the noble Lord's own showing, the clear and regular course to be pursued would be for the House to rescind the order of reference which had been made. By the noble Lord's own admission, it was manifest that the petition had been referred to an improper tribunal, and placed beyond the control of that House. But would it be more than an act of justice to all parties to have it brought back and placed on their Table, so that they might dispose of it as they should think fit? 1042 Many motions for rescinding similar orders had been made. Those who thought that the Committee had not power to deal with the subject, that it would be inexpedient to give the Committee such a power, or that even if the Committee possessed it, that it could not be beneficially exercised, ought surely to agree on the propriety of rescinding the order. It was not enough to say, that the Committee could not take cognizance of the matter; but the regular and proper course to be pursued would be, he submitted, for the House to retrace the course they had taken. He could appeal to the Speaker whether this had not been done in the case of a petition on the subject of scot-and-lot voters, which had been referred to a wrong Committee during the last Session, but which, on the suggestion of the Speaker, had subsequently been withdrawn. Notwithstanding the willingness of his hon. friend to submit the private affairs of the Company to scrutiny, he hoped that the House would not sanction any such course; for they must all feel that the House had no more power to open such transactions than they would have to enter upon the investigation of the circumstances of any other trading establishment in the kingdom. It was true that an appeal might be made to the Court of King's Bench for the correction of any abuse that might exist in the Administration of the funds of public companies of this description. That tribunal was armed with ample authority to enter upon the examination of such questions, and, if any improper or illegal perversion of the funds of the Merchant Tailors' Company had taken place, the remedy was in the hands of the Judges of that Court, and did not rest with that House. He was not prepared to say whether or not the Charity Commissioners had the power to entertain such matters, but, if they had not, he for one would have no objection to such a power being extended to them, and that the petition alluded to should be referred to them; wherefore he hoped the House would see the propriety of rescinding the order in question.
§ The Speaker
said, that having been personally alluded to by the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down, he deemed it necessary to make a few observations on the subject now before the House. The petition presented by the hon. member for Whitehaven (Mr. Attwood) prayed that the order made for referring another peti- 1043 tion to the Select Committee on Municipal Corporations might be rescinded, and he the Speaker) had been appealed to, as to whether that Committee, not having power to take cognizance of the petition, it should be allowed to remain in the Committee's hands. He took it to be clear that if the Committee had not power to entertain the petition, the order of reference ought not to have been made. But what was the position in which the House was placed by that order? They had done two things; first, they had referred a petition to a Committee that was incompetent to deal with it and next they had sent the same petition beyond their own control; and the question they had now to decide was, whether, in order to recover back this petition, they ought not to rescind the order of reference. His opinion certainly was in favour of that course, and if the House agreed with him they would at once concur in rescinding the order.
§ Mr. Hume
agreed in the distinction which the noble Lord had drawn between Municipal Corporations and Trading Companies, and he was also willing to admit that the Committee could have no right to interfere in the affairs of the latter. But before he could acknowledge that the Merchant Tailors' Company was not a Municipal Corporation, and as such within the scope of the powers wielded by the Committee, it must be shown that it was a trading company, and of what its trade consisted. It seemed to him to have two duties to perform, and one of them was clearly of a political character. He alluded to the creation of liverymen. At present there were 6,000 and upwards liverymen in London, and was it hot in the power of these guilds to increase that number to as many more thousands if they pleased? This circumstance, he contended, brought such companies within the description of Municipal Corporations, and he therefore entertained the opinion that the Committee had full power to examine their affairs. The whole question, in his opinion, turned upon the point of whether or not such bodies were or were not trading companies.
§ Lord Althorp,
in explanation, said that, in stating that the powers of the Committee were confined to the investigation of Municipal Corporations only, he did not mean to determine whether the Merchant Tailors' Company was or was not a Municipal Corporation. He had purposely abstained from expressing any opinion on 1044 that question; and his reason for doing so was because an hon. and learned Gentleman, whose knowledge of these matters was greater than his could possibly be, had declared that it was. As he was in doubt on the point he certainly would not undertake to say whether or not the petition had or had not been improperly referred to the Committee.
said, it appeared to him that it ought to be referred to the law officers of the Crown to decide whether the company in question came under the description of a Municipal Corporation. If it were a trading company, it was quite clear that the Committee could have no thing to do with it; but if, as was suggested, the company could, by creating Livery men, influence the election of Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, it would acquire the character of a Municipal Corporation, and therefore be properly a subject for the consideration of the Committee.
observed, that if the Corporations' Committee was to be allowed to inquire into the affairs of private companies a monstrous tribunal would be established, which it was most important for the people of this country to resist at the commencement. If he were connected with a public company he would refuse to answer the first question which might be asked relative to the disposal of the property of the Corporation. It was necessary to make a distinction between public and private corporations at the present moment when there were some grounds for apprehending that the inquisitorial powers exercised by Committees of that House might become a cause of grievance. He therefore approved of the distinction which had been drawn by the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer. The petition in the present case did not complain of the abuse of any Municipal powers on the part of the company, if they possessed any, but only of the misapplication of funds. That was the gravamen of the charge contained in the petition. That was a question with which, by the noble Lord's own admission, the Committee had nothing to do, and therefore he hoped that the order for referring the petition to the Committee would be rescinded. It was well known that all these companies were originally trading corporations, and although many of them had ceased to trade, and amongst them the Merchant Tailors' Company, yet the Company of Goldsmiths continued, he 1045 believed, the old practice. Be that as it might, however, he must deny the right of any Committee to trifle with these properties. He did not wish to detain the House, but he could not dismiss the subject without saying a word or two with respect to this Committee. He was ready to ac-knowledge that it was as important a Committee as had ever been appointed, and he was sanguine in hoping that the result of its labours would be attended with advantage to the country. The Committee which had been appointed might, if they performed their duty with discretion and firmness, be productive of the greatest benefit. He had not seen the names of the Members, but he had sufficient confidence in the noble Lord to believe, that he would appoint none but an impartial one. What he apprehended most was, that the Committee would have more labour to perform than they could possibly accomplish, unless they subdivided themselves into smaller Committees, the attention of each of which would be directed to a particular object. That was the course which he had recommended when the India Company's Committee was appointed, but it was not followed, and for two years the Committee made little or no progress. In the third year his suggestion was adopted, and then, for the first time, the Committee arrived at anything like a practical result. It would require a good many weeks to investigate properly the abuses which prevailed in the Corporation of London alone. That Corporation imposed dues of a very onerous nature, which ought to be strictly scrutinized. Then, again, there was the Mayor's Court, exercising a jurisdiction which interfered with the common jurisdiction of the country, and was felt to be most oppressive by merchants. When he was in business he felt this Court to be a great nuisance. He concluded by expressing a hope that the order for referring the Petiton to the Committee would be rescinded.
§ Mr. Warburton
hoped that the Order would not be rescinded without notice previously given. One great point to be decided was, whether the Merchant Tailors' was or was not a trading Company. In other places freemen were admitted to the privileges of the Corporation through the means of the Corporations themselves, bat in the City of London they could only be admitted through these Guilds. There was another point on which he wanted in- 1046 formation, and that was as to the power of the Committee. He wanted to know whether they had power to institute an examination into the rights of these Companies? He thought that the particular grievance now complained of ought to be referred to the Charitable Funds Commissioners, and not to the Committee.
denied that because a man was a liveryman he had the right of voting. The truth was, that being a liveryman conferred no such right.
§ Mr. Shaw
took that opportunity of protesting against the composition of the Committee, which he thought had not been formed with that fairness that usually distinguished the noble Lord. He had no complaint to make against any Member individually, but he could not but observe that of the Irish Members of that Committee, six out of seven had made up their minds against what had usually been considered as Corporation rights. There were seven Irish Members of the Committee, and six of them, it was well known, had openly professed strong opinions against all privileged bodies, and all corporate rights. There was only one of the seven, and that was himself, who, though not a supporter of corporate abuses, had a regard for corporate and vested rights, and for himself he should only say that he hoped he should find it consistent with his duty to absent himself altogether.
An Hon. Member
expressed his surprise at the observations which had just fallen from the hon. and learned Member. If that hon. and learned Member thought that the Members of that Committee would enter upon their duties after having made up their minds on the subject they were appointed to investigate, and would not allow their opinions to be changed by the evidence that would be laid before them, he was mistaken in his supposition. They would not discharge their duty if they were to allow their previous opinions to bind them. He, as a Member of that Commmittee, certainly should not do so, and he did not know what right the hon. and learned Gentleman had to entertain such a supposition. As for himself, he declared that his sole object in sitting upon that Committee, would be to examine the system of Corporations, and see how it worked; and to agree to a Report only upon the evidence that might be laid before him.
§ Sir Richard Vyvyan
said, that the Com- 1047 mittee was composed for the greater part of Gentlemen who were known to have made up their minds as to the necessity of doing away with Corporations. The House had received no intimation as to what point the Committee were to report upon. He wished to know whether the Committee were to confine themselves to investigating the abuses which existed in corporations, and to ascertaining in what respect they had deviated from their charters, or whether they were to suggest a plan for altering the Constitution of those bodies? He could not help thinking that a Committee of that House was not a fair tribunal for conducting such an inquiry. The King was, by law, the visitor of Corporations, and a Committee of the House of Commons could not compel the production of their muniments and charters. He could not help thinking with the hon. member for Kent that the appointment of the Committee, which was one of the first measures of a Reformed Parliament, afforded a strong indication of what might be hereafter expected. It would not surprise him to find the patents of the nobility treated with no greater respect than the charters of Corporations.
§ Mr. Abercromby,
as one of the Members of the Committee, could not help saying that they had been unjustly dealt with by some honourable Members. The majority Members of that Committee were as unknown to him as he was to them, but he thought it exceedingly strange that so much pains were taken to throw discredit upon the Committee. He should act unjustly towards the Committee, who had done him the honour to elect him their Chairman, if he did not say, that in the single meeting which had taken place, which, however, afforded a fair opportunity of eliciting the general scope and tendency of the opinions of the Members, he had the satisfaction of finding their views such as inspired him with a strong hope that the inquiry with which they were intrusted would be conducted in a spirit of fairness and justice. If there were individuals in the Committee who looked forward with confidence to the destruction of all Corporations, he could only say, that he was not one of them. He professed to act upon the opinion that Municipal Corporations were intended to promote peace, order and good government in the country, and if it appeared to him that those objects would be better secured by a reasonable 1048 change in their constitution, he should be only performing his duty in endeavouring to effect that change. He entered the Committee with no other disposition, and he had heard nothing which should induce him to suppose that any other Member of it entertained views different from his own. With respect to the Petition which had given rise to the present discussion, he certainly thought it was one which could not properly come under the notice of the Committee. It was quite impracticable for them to enter into an investigation of the accounts of all the Corporations in England, Wales, and Ireland. There was, however, some doubt as to the fact whether the Merchant Tailors' Company was a Municipal Corporation. It was possible that such companies might exercise powers connected with Municipal regulations which would render it necessary to have them brought under the consideration of the Committee. He knew not how the fact really was, but he could not help observing that it was possible the inquiry which the Committee had undertaken would be impeded if they were not allowed to ask questions respecting the City Companies.
§ Colonel Perceval
said, that being attached to the ancient institutions of his country he could not help declaring that there was a most unjust proportion of Irish Members (who were devoted to innovation, which they called improvement, but which he termed destruction) on the Committee. It was not originally intended, as he had been informed, to include the Irish Corporations; but it was, at all events, not quite in character with the noble Lord's known fairness to name seven of one party and only one on the other. He felt, however, that he stood on delicate ground. That was the second Parliament of which he had been a Member, and without wishing to convey personal offence to any hon. Member, he must say that he feared the present Committee would be conducted in the same manner as the Committee of the last Parliament on the state of Ireland. He had been a Member of that Committee, and, therefore could testify the unfair spirit in which the business was carried on. While the rev. Mr. Bourke, from Castle Pollard, and other Roman Catholic priests, were brought forward as witnesses, a single Protestant clergyman was not examined.
§ Mr. Portman
rose to order. The question before the House had nothing whatever to do with the Committee of last year.
§ Colonel Perceval
would bow to the decision of the Chair, but he thought the interruption of the hon. member for Marylebone would have applied to others with as much justice as it did to him.
Petition to lie on the Table.