HC Deb 25 February 1836 vol 31 cc920-9
Mr. Blackburne

moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances connected with the recent municipal election for the borough of Poole, which had been detailed to the House is the petition that had been printed and circulated amongst hon. Members. The hon. and learned Member adverted to the false return made by the mayor, in consequence of which a majority was given to one party in the town-council, whereas that majority really belonged to the other, and maintained that this was a case which he would undertake to prove if the Committee were granted, the truth of the circumstances which had been mentioned in the petition presented from Poole especially called for the interference of Parliament.

Sir Frederick Pollock

did not rise to oppose the motion, as he should follow now the same course which he pursued the other evening when this question came before the House. But he hoped the House would allow him to make a few remarks on the observations made, not in that place merely, on the conduct which he adopted on the last occasion of this motion coming before the House, for in some measure his own personal character was affected by them. He thought he then said he should act very incorrectly and without that due sense of delicacy which every hon. Member must feel if he took part even in the discussion, much less in the decision of this question. He apprehended that the House, in any decision it might come to on this question, was acting in a judicial character. He was sure that every Gentleman must admit the impropriety of a Member, who was retained as an advocate in the courts below, sitting in that House as a judge in any stage of the same case. The hon. Member for Middlesex had said, that if he refused to interfere in the discussion because he was retained as an advocate a delinquent had nothing to do but to retain as many hon. Members as possible for advocates, in order to screen himself by preventing them from interfering. Was the hon. Member for Middlesex aware of the still greater evil that might occur if delinquents were allowed to retain hon. Members as advocates, in order that they might take a part in the discussion? Was it not better that a Member so humble and unimportant as himself should abstain from taking part on this occasion than that the honour, the integrity, the purity of the administration of justice by that House should be questioned from the circumstance of an advocate for the accused having taken part in its discussions. There must certainly be some limit beyond which hon. Members should not refrain from interfering. But in a matter in which any hon. Member was himself personally concerned, or in which he was confidentially trusted with the case of one of the parties, it was impossible for him conscientiously to do his duty to his clients and to that House at the same time. He might certainly be told, as he had been told, that in such a case there were conflicting duties. It was true; but it was a case which could not often occur; it was a case which he was not sure ought to occur at all. He, however, could not help it. It arose from the circumstance of a case being brought before the House of which the courts of law had already got seisin and possession. The difficulty was none of his creating. The view which he had taken of the question was a view not dictated by his own feeling alone, but was founded upon what, as far as he had been enabled to ascertain, had been the uniform practice of that House. He could quote the authority of two very distinguished men who had been. Members of that House, Lord Brougham and Lord Abinger, and he was convinced that a contrary practice would be productive of the greatest inconvenience. He should act that night as he had acted on a former occasion, and he hoped his explanation would be satisfactory, and that he could not be fairly accused of abandoning a public duty in pursuing that course which a sense of honour and delicacy alone dictated, and be hoped that the hon. Member for Middlesex would not feel it necessary to make any remarks upon his conduct, either whilst he (Sir Frederick Pollock) was absent or present.

Mr. Hume

said, the question stood just where it did. The hon. and learned Member was elected to that House to take part in its discussions, and by his own confession he was, on this question, incapacitated from fulfilling that duty. He would admit to the hon. and learned Member that there might be an individual case—there might be two or three cases not worth mentioning— but his position remained untouched. He was far from desiring to cast any reproach on the hon. and learned Member, as he had no doubt he acted from the most pure and conscientious motives.

Sir Frederick Pollock left the House.

Mr. Williams Wynn

defended the course pursued by the hon. and learned Gentleman. When Mr. Brougham applied to the House for permission to defend the Queen at the Bar of the House of Lords it was made an express stipulation with him that he should not vote as Member of the House of Commons on the question, and the other Members of the House who acted as counsel gave- the same pledge. He did not think the case of Poole a case in which the House ought to interfere. After what they had heard that night of the disgraceful conduct of the House when exercising judicial functions, he did not think the House would be very likely to redeem itself from that imputation if it set the precedent of interfering with municipal elections. If they did, every case in which parties thought they could raise objections would, instead of being taken to the King's Bench, be brought to that House. And why? Because, if there were a favourable administration, or a favourable majority, it would be anticipated that the parties coming before the House would not lose the benefit of that majority. It would be remembered when the Municipal Reform Bill was introduced that he pointed out to the House what must be the inevitable consequence of it if a mayor were resolved to favour one party. He pointed out that very inconvenience. He was told that it would be provided against, and that assessors would be appointed to watch the conduct of the mayor. It so happened that the Clause was not introduced. Whether it was only intended to postpone it to a future occasion, in order to guard against the probability of future corruption, he knew not; but so high a confidence had Ministers in the new municipal authorities, and the way in which they would discharge their duties, that they did not think it necessary to take such a precaution with them. Whether old or new, he believed mayors now were much the same as mayors formerly, and so they would be in future. They might change the name, but the nature of the thing was not changed—the animal mayor still remained the same. The Municipal Bill would not do away with the jobbing and corruption on the part of those at the head of the municipality. They would doubtless possess the same private information, the same advantages, the same opportunities, and be subject to the same temptations as their predecessors; and, if they were inclined to work injustice, they could work it just as well under the new system as the old. ["Question."] He was speaking to the question. Really he must say, this practice of interrupting was as disgraceful as any which had been alluded to in the prior debate of that night. He was not to be put down in that way when he felt that he had important duties to discharge. He knew not how any Member could contribute more to the degradation of the House than by endeavouring, by the mere force of clamour, to overbear all opposition when questions of great judicial importance were under consideration. This was not a question that could be reasonably expected to pass sub silentio, and he must say these unseemly interruptions deserved rebuke. He thought to grant a Committee in this case would be introducing a bad precedent for the reason he had stated, and more especially as the case was al- ready before a court of justice. He thought it was most fitting that they should have the decision of that court before they took any step in the matter.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when upon a former occasion the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Blackburn) called the attention of the House to the subject, he yielded to the opinion of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, and indeed of both sides of the House, that the petition should be printed, in order not to gratify their curiosity, but because, having brought charges against the official conduct of persons, they might have an opportunity of meeting those charges; and he would not call the attention of the House to the fact—that no petition had been presented to the House impugning in the slightest degree the facts stated in the petition. He need not recal to the attention of the House the great excitement which had been produced through the whole country, by the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill last Session, and the anxiety with which the country watched its operations. This was the first election in which the most serious charges against the Mayor (and not controverted by that officer), were brought specifically under the notice of the House; not, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wynn) seemed to think, for the purpose of superseding the Courts of Law, but because in this instance the Courts of Law he feared had no jurisdiction, and could afford the petitioners no effectual redress; and the Committee would be valuable in another point of view, it would assist the House in its legislative capacity. Parliament was, in his opinion, justified in acting in the manner proposed, because it was necessary that a remedy should be applied to the evil before the Court of King's Bench could do so.

Mr. Law

thought it was the most inaccurate reasoning imaginable, to conclude that the parties who had not answered the petition by their silence confessed the allegations against them. Might it not, with as much fairness, be presumed that, like many Members of that House, these parties doubted the competence of the House to take into consideration the allegations of the petition until the ordinary tribunals of justice had been found inefficient for that purpose. He saw, in the proposed proceeding, the commence- ment of a most dangerous interference with the Courts of Justice; and, if for no other reason, he was determined to oppose the motion. What, he asked, would be said of their consistency, if, after having but a few hours ago declared their incompetence to give a judgment upon such a question as one relating to their own privileges, they were to turn round and say that they would judge in a case upon which it was even doubtful whether, by the laws of the land, they were a competent tribunal? Would it not be said that they changed their determination with the view of asserting a party question? Would it not be said, that they determined upon converting themselves into a judicial tribunal in the case under consideration, because they found that their pet Bill had not worked as welt as they hoped, and in order that they might, by an arbitrary vote, correct those supposed defects through the instrumentality of which, in this particular case, they had been discomfited at the last Municipal Election? He contended that the ordinary tribunals of justice were quite sufficient to give redress in the alleged case, and therefore, on that ground, he hoped the House would resist the motion.

The Solicitor-General

Although the hon. and learned Recorder had deprecated the introduction of political and party spirit into the discussion, he would leave it to the House to say whether, if the subject had been brought on, it had not equally been met, in that spirit. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, it was unfair to presume that because the Mayor had not answered the charges of the petition, that therefore he had confessed his guilt. Why he (the Solicitor-General) did not assume his guilt, conclusively; he only assumed it for the purpose of instituting an inquiry, not for awarding punishment. The petition had been printed eight days; Poole was one day's post from London, and not only had no counter petition arrived, but he did not find any hon. Member instructed to say oil the Mayor's behalf, that he denied the allegations of the petition. He admitted, indeed, that if the Courts of Law were armed with powers of redress, it would be most inexpedient to apply to the House; but at the same time he maintained that, inasmuch as the Committee if appointed, would be bound to report if it appeared to them that the ordinary tribunals were adequate for the purposes of justice, without the intervention of the House, no bad precedent or injurious effect could result from the House acceding to the motion. In his opinion the Court of King's Bench could not give the relief required by the petitioners. They might overthrow the election, but could they atone to the inhabitants of Poole for the misapplication of the corporate funds, while the improperly elected officers were in power?

Mr. Scarlett

contended, that until the Courts of Law had been first tried, and found inadequate to the ends of justice, it would be highly improper in that House to grant the proposed inquiry. If, however, it was granted in the case of the borough of Poole, his constituents in Norwich would lose no time in demanding a similar investigation into the appointment of its existing corporation.

Mr. Blackburne

if the hon. Member for Norwich could bring forward any case from that or any other Borough, of such gross misconduct as that of which he complained, he might rest assured of his hearty support, on a motion for a Committee. He did not bring forward the case, as the hon. and learned Recorder said, for the purpose of punishment, but to prevent the mischief; to enable the In habitants of Poole to do that which the Act of last Session intended they should do —elect their own municipal officers, and get rid of those persons which had been palmed on them, under the pretence of that Act, and who, till removed by the Legislature, had the power of doing any thing they thought proper, and, for aught they knew, intended to get rid of the whole Corporate property. He did not want the facts stated in the petition to be taken as true, but only so far taken to be true, after the opportunity of answering them, afforded by the printing of the" petition, as to grant an inquiry; and if, on inquiry, they should be borne out, (and he pledged himself that they should) then he could not conceive that he House would not grant him relief. If he courts of law could effect the object had in view, he would not have thought of the present Motion, but as no court of Law could grant relief if the House did not interfere, it was impossible that justice could be done.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

said, that for the House to draw to itself the jurisdiction of the different courts of the country was a most dangerous precedent. The effect of this inquiry, in which evidence would be forestalled, printed, spread abroad, and read by persons who might be jurors in a trial of an issue on this very question, would be most injurious. ["Cries of Question."]

Colonel Perceval

said, that seeing no disposition on the part of the House to carry on the Debate with fairness to both sides, he felt called upon to move that the House should forthwith be adjourned.

The House divided oil this Motion— Ayes 37; Noes 109;—Majority 72.

The House again divided on a Motion, that the debate be adjourned—Ayes 34; Noes 105;—Majority 71.

Mr. Charles Buller

moved, "that Mr. Sergeant Jackson be now heard."

A long and desultory conversation ensued, which, from the great noise and the number of hon. Members speaking in an inaudible tone, we could not comprehend, in the midst of which—

Mr. T. Duncombe

proposed, that both sides should draw lots, whether the original Motion for adjournment or the amendment should be adopted.

Mr. Wynn

contended, that the conduct of the Ministerial side of the House, in attempting to force on a discussion at that late hour, after they had by their interruptions at first suspended it, and the Opposition benches had become thinned in consequence, was aiming a vital blow at the privileges of Parliament.

The House again divided on Mr. C. Buller's Motion—Ayes 103; Noes 29; —Majority 74.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

moved, that the debate be adjourned till five o'Clock the next day.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

stated, that before he suggested to the House the course which it appeared to him most expedient to recommend, he felt it but justice to the Friends around him, to the House, and to the public, that he should recall to the memory of hon. Members what had this night occurred, and should define accurately the position in which they were now placed. On a former night his hon. and Learned Friend (Mr. Black-burne) had presented a petition, alleging fraudulent and corrupt practices as existing at the late election for Poole. The petition had been presented, and this night was fixed by notice for its discussion. The question came on in the usual course. No objection whatever was raised against the discussion. A debate ensued, and it was apparently closed by the reply of his hon. and learned Friend. Subsequently, in a manner not inconsistent, it is true, with Parliamentary privilege, but at variance with general usage, and in a manner wholly at variance with Parliamentary convenience, the learned Sergeant rose to address the House after the reply. Some interruptions having taken place an adjournment was moved, and, having been negatived, the motion was in other shapes renewed. In order to show the disposition of the House to continue the discussion, the question was put that the learned Sergeant should be now heard, and those very Gentlemen who complained that interruption had been given, were those who voted that the learned Member should not be heard. Again, a proposal having been thrown out by an hon. Member opposite (Mr. Scarlett), that the resolution for a Committee should be now carried, but that to allow the naming of such Committee to take place at a future time, he and his friends had declared their perfect readiness to acquiesce in that proposition. This too had been rejected by that side of the House from which the proposal had originally come. Considering, therefore, that in a full House, at an hour not unusual, a debate had been commenced in the accustomed manner, and brought, without objection, to its ordinary close—considering also that the imputed charge of unwillingness to hear the learned Sergeant had been but increased, by a motion carried that he should be heard, he could but wish that this question should go to the public in a more intelligible shape, to explain the principles acted on by both sides of the House. Above all, it should be distinctly remembered that the Member for Stamford had made the important admission that the absence of his Conservative friends was explained by themselves in conversations to him, and that they had candidly admitted it was a bad case, and that they could do no good. Such being the fact, he was willing to leave the whole in the hands of the public; and in deference to the health, however, of the Speaker, and of the time of the House, he thought the discussion had better be brought to a close.

Mr. Wakley

contended that the con- duct of the hon. Gentlemen opposite proved that they were afraid of an inquiry. If they abused any privileges they might possess in this way, his Majesty's Ministers ought to interfere and take the subject into their serious consideration.

Mr. Wynn

thought the hon. Member for Finsbury was taking rather too high ground when he interfered with the privileges of the House. He could recollect when Mr. FOX divided the House twenty-five times in one night.

Debate adjourned.

The following is a List of the Ayes and the Noes on the first Division. The Lists of the two other Divisions were so like this that it is unnecessary to repeat them.

List of the NOES.
Adam, Sir C. Hodges, T.
Aglionby, H. A. Horsman, E.
Anson, G. Hoskins, K.
Attwood, T. Howard, P.
Baines, E. Hume, J.
Baldwin, Dr. Jephson, C. D. O.
Barclay, D. Jervis, J.
Baring, F. Leader, J. T.
Barron, H. W. Lefevre, S.
Bellew, Sir P. Lennox, Lord G.
Bentinck, Lord G. Lennox, Lord A.
Bernal, R. Loch, J.
Bewes, T. B. Lushington, S.
Bish, T. Macleod, R.
Blackburne, J. Marsland, H.
Blake, M. J. Maule, F.
Bowring, Dr. Morpeth, Lord
Bridgman, H. Murray, J. A.
Brockleburst, J. Nagle, Sir R.
Brodie, W. B. O'Connell, M.J.
Buckingham, J. S. O'Conor Don
Buller, C. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Byng, G. S. O'Loghlen, Sergeant
Campbell, W. Parker, J.
Cavendish, G. Pattison, J.
Cayley, E. S. Philips, M.
Chalmers, P. Phillipps, C.
Chichester, J. Ponsonby, W.
Crawford, W. S. Potter, R.
Crompton, S. Power, J.
D'Eyncourt, C. T. Price, Sir E.
Dillwyn, L. W. Pryme, G.
Divett, E. Rice, Rt. Hon. T. S.
Duncombe, T. Roche, W.
Dundas, Hon. T. Roche, D.
Elphinstone, H. Roebuck, J. A.
Ewart, W. Rolfe, Sir R.
Fitzsimon, C. Ruthven, E.
Gordon, R. Sanford, E. A.
Grey, Sir G. Scholefield, J.
Grey, C. Scott, J.
Hall, B. Sheldon, E. R. C.
Hawes, B. Smith, J.
Hay, Sir A. L. Smith, R.
Heathcoat, J. Stewart, P.
Hindley, C. Stuart, V,
Talbot, J. Wigney, I. N.
Thompson, T. P. Williamson, Sir H.
Thorneley, T. Wilson, H.
Troubridge, Sir T. Woulfe, Sergeant
Tulk, C. A. Wrightson, W.
Villiers, C. Wyse, T.
Wakley, T. Young, G.
Wallace, R. Tellers
Warburton, H. Steuart, R.
Wason, R. Stanley, E. J.
List of the AYES.
Alsager, Captain Hogg, J, W.
Balfour, T. Hoy, J. B.
Baring, T. Law, Hon. C. E.
Bateson, Sir R. Lowther, J.
Bethell, J. Parker, M.
Blackstone, W. S. Parry, Colonel
Borthwick, P. Plumptre, J. P.
Bramston, T. W. Praed, W.
Brotherton, J. Pringle, A.
Buller, Sir J. Rae, Sir W.
Chaplin, Colonel Reid, Sir J.
Chisbolm, A. W. Scarlett, Hon. R.
Eaton, R. J. Sibthorp, Colonel
Elley, Sir J. Vere, Sir C.
Fector, J. M. Vescy, Hon. T.
Finch, G. Wyndham, W.
Forbes, W. Wynn, W.
Forster, C. S. Tellers,
Freshfield, J. W. Jackson, Sergeant,
Hamilton, Lord Perceval, Colonel