HC Deb 20 April 1836 vol 32 cc1249-57

Notice having been taken that the Member for Mary-le-bone (Sir Samuel Whalley), a subscriber to the undertaking, had voted with the Ayes. Lord Granville Somerset moved, that Sir Samuel Whalley's vote be disallowed.

Mr. Hume

contended, that it was the law of Parliament that no person having a personal interest in any question before House should be entitled to vote. A case occurred in the time of Mr. Huskisson, and there was also the case of the St. Katherine's docks, both of which were so decided. When a question relating to the St. Katherine's docks was before the House, Mr. Pascoe Grenfell having voted, the circum stance was brought under the notice of the House, and it having been ascertained that he had a personal interest in the question, it was ordered by the House that his vote be withdrawn. He should be sorry to see any person who had a personal interest in a question of this description voting in any division upon such a question.

Sir George Clerk

read from the journals of the House a minute of the case of Mr. Pascoe Grenfell, in which, on a motion made, that the vote of Mr. Grenfell be annulled, he having had a personal interest in the question, Mr. Grenfell was heard in his place, and the House resolved, nem. con., that the vote of Mr. Grenfell could not be allowed.

Mr. Ormsby Gore

said, that many hon. Members had voted on Railway Bills, in the course of the Session, who were interested in them, and he thought it very hard, therefore, to attempt to visit on the hon. Member for Marylebone that as an offence which had been done by so many others. It was very hard, that he should be selected as the scapegoat.

Mr. Ewart

said, that it was impossible to draw the line; for he could not see if those who were interested in measures before the House were not allowed to vote, why those should be allowed to vote who were opposed to those measures. In the one case the interest was as great as in the other.

Mr. Warburton

said, it might be, that persons had voted on Railway Bills who were interested in them, but if so, the circumstance had not been brought under the cognizance of the House. Gentlemen who held shares, or were Directors of a Company, might have it in their power to vary the market price of those shares by a particular course of action, and was it fitting that such persons should have the power of voting upon the Bills in which they were themselves interested?

Mr. Roebuck

wished to put the question on a higher principle than it had yet been placed. The Members of that House were sent there as the Representatives of the people of England, clothed with all the peculiarities of their different dispositions and interests, and he did not think the House would sanction their acting in op position to their wishes. If any portion of the people of England elected a man to be their Representative, that House had not the power of determining on what questions he should or should not vote.

Mr. Pryme

considered, that the situation in which an hon. Member placed himself, by voting for a question in which he was personally interested, was of his own seeking. He (Mr. Pryme) had no interest in this Bill, but if he had, he certainly should not consider himself entitled to vote.

Mr. Aglionby

trusted, that a specific motion would be brought forward on this subject in order to determine the principle. He thought, at the same time, that it was particularly hard that the principle should be brought forward in opposition to the vote of the hon. Member for Marylebone, when a similar course had been pursued by scores and scores of Members of that House. He would instance the votes last night upon the motion of the hon. Member for Southwark, with regard to the Pension List, and he would ask whether no hon. Members voted against inquiry, who were connected with persons deriving pecuniary advantage for being on that list? With respect also to the twenty millions Compensation Bill, did no one vote in favour of that Bill who was connected with the West India interest? Again, as regarded the Corn-laws, did not the landlords vote in favour of the continuance of those laws, he would not say in favour of a monopoly, but in which they had a direct interest in keeping up the price of corn? He had often been applied to to become a Director, and to take shares in railways, but he had never consented, and, therefore, he at least was disinterested in the view he took of this question. At the same time he did not find fault with those who had acted otherwise, because he considered it was a matter purely of personal feeling.

Sir Samuel Whally

begged pardon of the House for intruding on its notice in any reference to a matter that was personal to himself, and he could assure the House that he adverted to it with a great deal of pain. He begged to assure the House that he fully recognised the principle that had been laid down, and was most anxious to implore his Friends—for Friends he trusted he had many in that House—not to consider it as a personal attack. Let the House bear in mind what were the general principles he had maintained in that House; he trusted that every part of his conduct since he had been a. Member of it, had been upright and honourable, and he trusted the House would now permit him to withdraw.

Lord Stanley

said, one great advantage arising from this subject having been mentioned, was, that it was entirely a question distinct from personal feeling, because the majority on the occasion was so large that one or two votes made no difference in the decision at which the House had arrived. It was perfectly clear, that the conduct of the hon. Member for Marylebone had been open, fair, and candid on this transaction. He was applied to to become a subscriber and Director, and took shares to the amount of 2,000l., and upwards, openly and above board; there had been no attempt at concealment, and therefore not the smallest imputation could rest upon him. He (Lord Stanley) had looked for precedents, and he had found one in the year 1800, in the case of the Albion Flour Mills Company Bill. Upon that Bill the House divided, 47 ayes, and 16 noes, and notice being taken that the name of William De Baines appeared among the ayes, his name appearing as a subscriber to the Company, motion was made that the vote of Mr. De Baines should be struck off the list of the majority. Mr. De Baines was heard in his place. He said he had not paid any money on ac count of the undertaking. He then with drew, and the vote was disallowed. After that notice was taken of the names of several other Members who were parties inter- ested in the measure who had voted, and they one and all immediately stated, that they had no objection to their names being struck off. They left the House, and their votes were struck off accordingly. He re collected another case of a similar description on the Ayr and Calder Bill, but he had not the precedent before him, and therefore would not refer further to it. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), had said that as far as feeling went he was in favour of the practice of Parliament being adhered to, and he also said, that on no occasion had he taken part in these speculations, because his conduct might be open to suspicion. No doubt that was an honourable feeling, but with respect to the argument of the hon. and learned Gentle man regarding the Pension List, he must say, that that argument afforded the strongest ground in favour of the principle. And why? Because it did so happen that no person who was in the receipt of a pension from that pension list could vote on any question in that House. He (Lord Stanley thought the vote must be disallowed, and it would be for the House to determine whether it would take the law of Parliament on this subject into its consideration. In the reasons he had stated, although he admitted that the hon. Member for Marylebone might be hardly dealt with, he thought, the vote must be disallowed; but at the same time, without, casting the slightest reflection or imputation on the hon. Member in question.

The Attorney-General

thought, that it was not according to the law of Parliament, that persons having a personal interest in any question before the House could not vote upon that question. On the 20th of March, 1825, a motion was submitted, that it was the opinion of that House, that no Member should vote for or against any measure in which he had a direct pecuniary interest, and the previous question being put, the motion was negatived. It, therefore, still remained a vexata questio. Full time ought therefore to be taken, and the subject duly considered be fore the House proceeded to disallow the vote of the hon. Member for Marylebone. The House would, in his opinion, find great difficulty in applying any general rule, and still greater difficulty in en forcing it. He would ask, as regarded owners, through whose grounds these rail roads ran, and who therefore had a personal interest, whether their votes were to be disallowed? He thought it would be much better to leave the matter to the honour and feeling of hon. Members, rather than to come to any general rule on the subject.

Sir Robert Peel

should be very sorry if the House were called upon to lay down any general rule on the subject, because he did not think, that the discussion which had taken place corresponded with the importance of the subject. In many instances, if a Member were precluded from voting, in consequence of a direct personal interest in any question, he might be prevented from doing his duty to his constituents. As regarded a remission of a particular description of taxation, a person might have a direct personal interest, but yet there was no law of Parliament that would disqualify him from voting. The principle of Parliament was to be found in a note to Mr. Hatsell's work, who said, that the rule which had been laid down with respect to Members voting on subjects in which they had a direct personal interest was not sufficiently attended to, and that the practice had been contrary to law, to decency, and justice. A case came before the House on the 4th of July, 1800, in which several votes were rejected. Again, there was a case on the 16th of May, 1811, but as no vote was come to, the principle was not practically applied. Again, in 1811, with regard to the Gold Coin Bill, a question arose as to whether the Directors of the Bank of England had not a direct personal interest in that Bill, and the proposition was negatived. The question of direct personal interest, generally speaking, applied to estate bills and canal bills, and to Joint Stock Company Bills, but did not apply to tax Bills, or to Bills of colonial regulation. He thought there would now be great difficulty in establishing a general rule, because, if the object was to prevent the influence of direct personal interest, the mere establishment of the rule would not prevent Members from becoming share holders and Directors of these companies. What was to prevent any Member who had no share in the first instance, when there would be no apparent cause for influencing his vote, after the Bill had gone through Committee, or having passed the third reading, to take part in the speculation? Would not his personal interest in the matter be then as direct as if he had originally been a subscriber to the undertaking? He thought, that the House had even greater security from the notoriety of the fact of seeing the names of parties who were subscribers to the under taking. Let the House take the case of a strong opposer to a Bill, who afterwards made good terms with the parties, and got 1,000l. an acre for his land, would that individual not have a direct personal interest? That person who might have been considered one of the most violent opposers of the measure, might thus become one of its most interested supporters. He must say, in conclusion, as regarded the hon. Member for Marylebone, that there was no charge personally affecting his character. He thought, according to the principle of all previous decisions, the House was bound to exclude the vote; but if it were to imply the establishing a general principle, he should say the subject required greater consideration—were it to be converted into a general principle, he should object to it.

Mr. Gisborne

could state a case perfectly in accordance with the view which had been taken by the right hon. Baronet. He (Mr. Gisborne) applied a short time since to the Directors of a railway, who had a Bill before Parliament, he would not name the Company, the Committee on which he attended, for twenty shares. Not seeing his name in the list of sub scribers, he applied to the solicitor to know the reason, and his answer was, that he thought it better to keep out of view the names of all Members of Parliament; that he might have voted with perfect security without its being known that he was a shareholder, and this was told him in an hotel close in the neighbourhood of that House. He became a shareholder because the railroad ran contiguous to his property, and not because he was a Member of Parliament. At the same time he saw no reason, why, being a Member of that House, he should not be a shareholder. In the case he had mentioned, however, he did not appear as a shareholder, because he was a Member of Parliament. He felt himself bound to state, that the conduct of the hon. Member for Marylebone had been as open and manly as possible.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

said, there was the case of Mr. Harvey in 1830, with reference to Parliamentary agency. In con sequence of the decision which was come to on that subject, the hon. Member moved a resolution, that if the rule was to apply in his case, a similar rule should apply on all others, and upon that question the House came to a vote, and the decision was 124 against Mr. Harvey's motion, and twenty seven in favour of it. He (Mr. Duncombe) voted with his right hon. Friends, the Presidents of the Board of Trade, and the Board of Control, and several county Members, on that occasion, because they determined, that it should go forth, that the Members had the power of voting on private Bills, in which they had a personal and direct interest.

Mr. Brotherton

thought, that it was very important that this question should be decided upon principle.

Mr. Villiers

would suggest, that no witness could give evidence in a Court of Justice, who had a direct personal interest to the amount of 20l.

Sir James Graham

the case of Mr. Harvey, as alluded to by the hon. Member for Finsbury, involved a motion of a general nature. In that case, the previous question was carried in consequence of the reasons stated by the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Wynn), who laid down the law of Parliament on the subject, and who voted in the majority.

Mr. Grote

said, that there appeared to he a general feeling that it was not very desirable for Members to vote on questions in which they had a direct personal interest, while, on the other hand, it was admitted to be impossible to draw any definite line on the subject. The inference which he should draw from these circum stances was, that Committees of that House were not fit tribunals to decide upon these subjects.

Lord Granville Somerset

begged to re mark that he did not act upon any personal feeling, but purely on public grounds. He did not mean to impute any improper conduct to the hon. Member for Marylebone, for, on the contrary, he would freely admit that that hon. Gentleman had acted in the most straightforward and honourable manner.

Lord John Russell

had always under stood the practice of the House to be that which had been laid down by the Speaker of the House of Commons in the year 1811, and which had been quoted by the right hon. Baronet. He quite agreed in the general view which had been taken by the hon. Member for London. He thought that the question, whether any hon. Member, having a direct interest in the matter, should vote upon a Committee sitting with reference to such work wherein such Member was personally interested, was, indeed, a question which should be dealt with, and decided upon, with as little delay as possible. He was quite aware that in bringing this subject before the House, the noble Lord had acted from a sense of public duty, and upon principle only. The precedents which they had access to in this matter were not, as he considered, satisfactory, and the whole question ought to be considered with a view to put an end to the doubt which existed. It was time that the whole system should he revised.

Mr. Bernal

agreed in what had fallen from the noble Lord. He was quite sure that it would be impossible for many years longer to keep up the present system of carrying on the private business of the Legislature; for the tribunals to which the various important questions were referred in the case of private Bills, were wholly incompetent to deal with them. When they were told that Gentlemen were to be allowed to sit upon Committees on Bills in which those same Gentlemen were directly interested, and that they should give a decision on those matters, he would ask simply, whether any principle so absurd would be admitted and allowed to be acted upon in any other tribunal? In other instances, he would ask, did they permit any men to sit in the double capacity of Judges and Jurors in their own case? Sure he was, that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, never would countenance the assertion of any such principle. He would defy that right hon. Gentleman to pronounce such a doctrine, as that any gentlemen, however excellent and upright they might be, should be entitled to sit as the Judges and Jurors in their own case. They were certainly bound to find some remedy for this state of things. He contended that nothing would tend more to depreciate the House in the eyes of the country, than the persisting in any system, the practical effect of which was to render men Judges and Jurors in their own individual cases.

Mr. Harves

said, that this motion ought not to be made a partial one. Let the noble Lord speak out manfully, and move the resolution of the year 1830. [Cries of "You move."] He would then move the resolution of 1830, as an amendment (to the motion of the noble Lord), which was to the effect, that it was incompatible with the ends of public justice, and inconsistent with the situation of hon. Members of that House, to vote on any private Bill in which they might have a direct personal interest in any Committee on such Bill, or on any question in any Committee of the whole House, where they were personally interested.

Mr. Hume

begged his hon. Friend not to attempt to press his amendment; let the motion he carried, and the principle be properly discussed afterwards and set at rest.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

would also beg his hon. Friend not to bring forward the general question, mixed up as it was with the merits of this particular case. He thought it was very necessary that the House should lay down some general rule upon the broad question, whether hon. Members should or should not vote on questions immediately affecting their personal interests; and he did not agree in the opinion of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, that the present state in which the matter lay was a good one. He thought that the vote of the Member for Marylebone ought to be disallowed.

Mr. Hawes

withdrew his amendment.

Mr. Wakley

as his hon. Friend had with drawn his amendment, must propose, that the discussion on this motion be adjourned till Tuesday next. He begged to confirm what had been stated by the right hon. Member for Tamworth, that the conduct of the hon. Member for Marylebone had been throughout most manly;—there had been on his part no concealment and no hypocrisy. He had stated openly to the Committee—"I am a Director of this Company, and I am the proprietor of many shares." He was bound to state, as a Member of the Committee, that no man could have detected from the conduct of the hon. Member for Marylebone that he had any interest in this undertaking.

The House divided on the question of adjournment—Ayes 50; Noes 90: Majority 40.

The original motion was then carried, and the vote of Sir Samuel Whalley disallowed.