HC Deb 16 June 1836 vol 34 cc563-74

On the motion of Lord J. Russell, the Order of the Day for the further consideration of the Report on the Registration of Voters Bill was read, and the Bill recommitted.

Clauses 1 and 2 were agreed to.

On Clause 4, for establishing a Court for the Revision of the List of Voters, the Court to consist of not less than twelve Barristers, to be appointed by the Speaker, vacancies to be filled up by the Lord Chancellor,

Mr. Wakley

moved, that the words "His Majesty" be substituted for the words "Speaker of the House of Commons," and "Lord High Chancellor."

The Committee divided on the original clause—Ayes 58; Noes 38: Majority 20.

Mr. Maclean

moved, that the Barristers be required to have practised three years below the bar, and three at the bar.

The Committee divided on the amendment, Ayes 113; Noes 2: Majority 111.

On the question that the clause as amended stand part of the Bill,

Lord Granville Somerset

observed, that there was a very important matter to be taken into consideration, namely, the time which would be taken up in effecting the registration. The Bill proposed that every district should have the registration effected once in each year. Now, he had found that last year 475 days were taken up in completing the registration. The hon. Member opposite might reply that that was an extraordinary year; but he would take the two years preceding, which were not extraordinary, and the average number of days occupied in the registration was 323, in which computation Sundays were not included. It was evidently a physical impossibility that the number of Barristers to be appointed could perform this duty, and he should therefore divide the Committee against the clause.

Mr. Warburton

contended, that every question must be decided by the balance which appeared between conveniences and inconveniences. He did not agree with the noble Lord in thinking that so much time would be consumed in the registration as had been wasted under the old system, owing to the incompetency of the tribunal which had to decide on questions relating to that subject.

Sir W. Follett

said, that in his judgment, it was not so much a matter of importance whether the number of Barristers was large or small, as whether the appointment should be vested in the Government. He had a strong objection that the Revising Barristers should be creatures and nominees of any Government. It was objectionable in the highest degree to invest the Ministers of the day with the power of appointing officers filling such important stations as these Barristers, who had a power of deciding on the validity of all the voters in every town and county in the United Kingdom. This was too dangerous a power to be thus flippantly bestowed. The House, in adopting the clause, would be acting with gross inconsistency. In cases of petitions against the return of Members at contested elections they did not leave the matter to the decision of the Ministry, nor even to the decision of a majority of that House; but they required a Select Committee appointed by the Ballot. The proposition of investing the Ministers with so tremendous a power as the nomination of Commissioners, on whose decision the elective franchise all over the Kingdom was to be in most cases decided, was so objectionable and unconstitutional, that he should support the proposition of the noble Lord if he pressed for a division.

The Committee divided on the clause,— Ayes 88; Noes 55: Majority 33.

Clause as amended agreed to.

Clause 6 was agreed to.

On the question that Clause 7 stand part of the Bill,

Mr. Goulburn

said, that by this clause, if the Revising Barrister should be taken ill, a Deputy was to be appointed. Now, was it intended that they, having enacted that the Revising Barrister himself should be prevented from sitting in Parliament for any borough, city, or county, for which he had revised the list, that the Deputy to be appointed should be placed under the same restriction?

The Attorney-General

considered that they ought to be placed on the same footing with the Revising Barristers themselves, and it would be necessary to introduce a proviso to that effect.

Sir James Graham

begged to enter his protest against the propriety of vesting the appointment of Revising Barristers in the officers of the Crown.

Mr. Jervis

cited, in justification of the proposal, the case of the Welsh Judges, who, until within a few years, had always been appointed by the Crown, upon the same principle that it was proposed now to adopt with reference to the Revising Barristers.

Sir James Graham

remarked, that the precedent put forward by the hon. Member for Chester was an unfortunate one, inasmuch as the manner of appointing the Welch Judges had long been a theme of general and deserved reprobation, and in consequence of the objections that have been raised, the practice in that respect had been altered.

The Attorney- General

begged to remind the right hon. Baronet, that there was a wide difference between the cases of the Welch Judges, as formerly appointed, and that of the Revising Barristers to be appointed under this Bill—namely, that the Welch Judges did sit in Parliament, which gave rise to the charge of political jobbing as against them, while the Revising Barristers were expressly incapacitated from holding seats in Parliament, not only for the time being, but for a period of eighteen months, after being employed in that capacity, in respect of the places for which they had revised the lists, whether city, borough, or county.

Sir Frederick Pollock

begged to ask if no jobbing could be done unless the parties had seats in that House? If it was considered necessary to exempt certain individuals from sitting in that House, was it not sanctioning a much worse principle, to say that persons under the influence of the Crown should have the power ministerially to decide the question as to who should sit in that House?

Mr. Charles Butter

was strongly disposed to join in the objections that were taken to this clause. It certainly was a most extraordinary principle that the Revising Barristers were to be appointed by one person, while the substitutes for the Revising Barristers, when a necessity arose for their appointment, was to be appointed by another, who could not be so well acquainted with their fitness as he whom they had excluded.

Mr. Maclean

contended that the Lord Chancellor might appoint a person as a supernumerary Revising Barrister, who might not be of more than two or three years standing; and the scale of payment of these individuals was to be determined by the Lord Chancellor; he was to award what he should deem meet. He had great objection to lodging this power in the hands of the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Warburton

had no objection to postpone the clause.

Clause postponed.

On the question that Clause 11 stand part of the Bill, the Committee again divided—Ayes 107; Noes 67: Majority 40.

Clause agreed to.

On its being proposed to consider Clause 18, there were calls for "Mr. Brotherton."

Mr. Brotherton

rose, and said that he owed an apology to the House for not persisting on a former night in his motion for an adjournment of the House at twelve o'clock. He had submitted, however, on that occasion, to a power which he felt that he was not able to resist. He had not undertaken the task of moving the adjournment at twelve o'clock at night from any unworthy motive—from any morbid love of notoriety—he had undertaken it because he felt that the system of midnight legislation was not only injurious to the health of hon. Members, but was also highly prejudicial to the interests of the country, and to the sober and deliberate judgment which those interests imperatively required. He desired on all occasions to act impartially, and he hoped that he had done so. He was sorry, however, to observe that there seemed in certain quarters to be a desire to break through the very wholesome regulation on this subject, to which the House agreed at the commencement of this Session. He therefore felt himself called upon not to give way to-night, and he should therefore move, that the Chairman do now report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Mr. Warburton

thought, that the hon. Member for Salford had not fairly stated the regulation to which the House assented at the commencement of the Session. The understanding then was, that no new matter should be commenced after twelve o'clock, but that was not to prevent the matter in hand at that hour from being brought to a conclusion. He considered that the hon. Member, in making his present motion, was guilty of a decided breach of the understanding which had formerly been made between him and the House.

Mr. Shaw

said, that he had never understood that the hon. Member for Sal-ford had consented to let business go on till three or four o'clock in the morning, because it had commenced before twelve o'clock at night.

Mr. Praed

expected the hon. Member for Salford to persevere in his Motion; and reminded him that he had frequently moved the adjournment of the debate when a new Speaker rose at five minutes past twelve o'clock.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, that if the hon. Member for Salford felt any hesitation in pressing his motion, after what had fallen from the hon. Member for Bridport, he would take upon his own shoulders the responsibility which the hon. Member declined, and would move that the Chairman do now report progress.

Mr. Aglionby

was not aware that the House had ever come to any understanding on this subject with the hon. Member for Salford. For himself, he had not been a party to any such understanding, nor would he now. He would not let the hon. Member for Salford be the sole judge whether the House ought or ought not to sit after twelve o'clock. He should certainly divide the Committee on the question of reporting progress.

The Committee divided on the motion for reporting progress.—Ayes 39; Noes 85—Majority 46.

Colonel Sibthorp

moved that the House do adjourn.

Sir John Hobhouse

hoped that this motion would be resisted. If the House determined not to sit later than twelve o'clock at night, hon. Members must make up their minds to continue sitting to that hour till the middle of September. He, therefore, hoped that hon. Members would not obstruct the public business by making motions of this kind. He denied that Government had ever come to any understanding with the hon. Member for Salford on this question.

Mr. Wallace

said, the hon. Member for the University of Dublin himself spoke frequently fifteen or twenty times after twelve. For his part he never did and never should adhere to the rule of adjourning at that hour. It was departed from almost every night. He did not wish to make any harsh observations upon the course pursued by the hon. Member for Salford. No hon. Member ought to be permitted to dictate to the House what was or what was not important business, or prescribe a time for closing their discussions. They were sent there to do the public business with the greatest possible speed. He must remind the hon. Member for the University of Dublin, that while that hon. Member was absent in Dublin, in the discharge of his duty, he and others must be in that House at all times during the Session. It might be very convenient for hon. Members to concur in a motion for adjournment, who were not in their places all day watching the public business. Were they, after proceeding so far with this important Bill, to give it up at so early an hour as twelve? If this rule were to be observed, they must meet at twelve at noon, or the business of the Session could not be gone through.

Mr. Brotherton

would take with calmness the observations of the hon. Member for Greenock. He had never pretended to make himself a judge on this matter, and as a proof of it, he would appeal to the House whether he had ever divided it before to-night on the question of adjournment.

Colonel Sibthorp

observed, that though the hon. Member for Greenock had alluded to the hon. Member for Salford as "the guardian of the night," he had never yet been under his control; and if the hon. Member for Salford intended to vacate his present post, he was prepared to take possession of it. He was determined to take the sense of the Committee again on the question of adjournment, and he hoped that hon. Members would support him in so doing.

Mr. Shaw

reminded the House that the understanding with the hon. Member for Salford, which his Majesty's Government now repudiated, was a compromise made with a certain party in that House. He was sure that hon. Members could not have forgotten that the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny had given notice that he should move the adjournment every night at ten o'clock, but that promise, like several others from the same quarter, had never been performed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was quite clear that the continuance of such desultory conversation tended only to exhaust the patience of the House, without advancing the business of it in the least degree. That the Bill before them was of importance no one denied, and that it was one of exigency, in point of time, was equally admitted. It had been re-committed a third time, and, therefore, it remained to be shown by hon. Gentlemen who knew that they were a minority, whether they would interrupt public business, not for the purpose of reserving points upon which a difference of opinion was likely to arise—rbecause he was willing to reserve any such points—but for the purpose of retarding the business of the House. We say, that with a view to give the people of England a remedy for admitted evils, let us proceed with the points upon which we are all agreed.

Mr. George F. Young

did not wish to impede the business of the House, but his experience had convinced him that the business was always unsatisfactorily conducted at late hous.

The Committee divided on the question of adjournment—Ayes 30; Noes 83— Majority 53

Clause 18 was then agreed to.

On Clause 19 being put,

Colonel Perceval

begged leave again to move, that the Committee do adjourn.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entreated the House to go through those clauses to which no objections were taken, and postpone the rest to another evening. It was not wished to entrap hon. Gentlemen into an acquiescence to clauses against which they entertained any objection. But if they would oppose clauses now, to which they would at another hour assent, why then let the country understand that such was the spirit in which these hon. Gentlemen were prepared to legislate.

Colonel Perceval

said, that a great number of Gentlemen, who were the best informed upon the subject of this Bill, and on whose judgment he and his friends placed implicit reliance, were gone home, upon the understanding, that the proposition which was made at the early part of the Session for adjourning the House at twelve o'clock, would be adhered to. He did, therefore, feel it his duty, under those circumstances, to persevere in his endeavour to prevent the Bill going on any further to-night.

Sir John Hobhouse

would ask, whether anybody could deny that the opposition now offered by gentlemen on the other side of the House was not a most fruitless, injudicious—he would not call it unfair, because nothing was unfair in that House,— and most unfounded opposition. If those respectable Gentlemen, who so well understood the provisions of the Bill, were gone away, still he begged leave to say, that many Members who had taken part in the debates upon the Bill, and who seemed to understand its details were still present. There were the hon. Member for Oxford, the hon. Member for Yarmouth, and the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln—a wise gentleman in his generation—all those who seemed to understand the subject best, still remained. If public business was to be impeded, let it be understood by whom it was so impeded, [laughter, amidst which, the laugh of Col. Sibthorp was distinguishable.] "There is a well-known Latin proverb," continued the right hon. Baronet, "which rendered into English, signifies, that 'nothing is so foolish as a foolish laugh.' It is more foolish, I think than agitation is. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been kind enough to say something of its being the wish of the Government to postpone public business. He must, on consideration, know, that that is not our intention."

Colonel Sibthorp

As what passes in this House afterwards finds its way out of the House, nothing ought to pass within it which would not be suffered to pass unnoticed out of it. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to say anything which was personally offensive to me—I ask the right hon. Gentleman to state whether such is his intention? After a few more words, which were not heard, the hon. Member resumed his seat, and immediately afterwards left the House.

Mr. Maclean

The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his address to the House, was good enough to use my name. Before he did that, he said that those respectable Gentlemen who understood this question had left the House, laying some little emphasis on the word respectable. I presume the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to imply that those whose names he mentioned were not properly designated by that term?

Sir John Hobhouse

begged to deny, in the most express manner, any intention to make the slightest possible reflection on the hon. Gentleman; and if he had said anything which was the least injurious to the hon. Gentleman, or which in any degree was hurtful to his feelings, he begged to express his sincere regret that any such unintentional circumstance should have happened.

Mr. Rigby Wason

said, that the only way to put an end to this discussion was by forty members putting down their names, and declaring that they would remain there till six o'clock in the morning, in order to go through the business of the House.

Mr. Bonham

hoped the House would not be deterred by any threat from doing its duty.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was an important question and ought to be treated with calmness. If hon. Gentlemen would not allow the business to go on, undoubtedly they had the power to prevent it. He had hoped that the mode that he had before suggested would have been adopted, but as that was not the case he could only advise his hon. Friends not to waste their time by raising their voices any longer against adjourning the further consideration of the Bill, by using their power of resisting, as hon. Gentlemen opposite did of proposing, that course. All the gain would be on the side of hon. Gentlemen opposite; therefore he was not disposed to enter into a contest which must end unprofitably. He should accordingly move that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Question agreed to.

The House resumed.

Mr. Bernal

(The Chairman of the Committee) begged to acquaint the Chair, that certain words had passed between the hon. Member for Lincoln (Col. Sibthorp) and the right hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir John Hobhouse), in the progress of the Committee whose proceedings he had just reported, on which false constructions might be put; he therefore considered it his duty to report the fact to the House. It would be for the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair to take that notice of it which he should deem necessary.

The Speaker

Are the hon. Members in the House?

Mr. Bernal

No, Sir.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, I must say, Sir, that I did not hear any words used by the right hon. Member for Nottingham, which any man in his common senses could take offence at.

Mr. Wason

begged to suggest the propriety of both the hon. Members being taken into custody forthwith.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

submitted, that the proper course of proceeding would be, to move that both the hon. Members be ordered to attend the House. This would bring them under the jurisdiction of the House, and they could then proceed as they thought proper. He begged to make the motion.

The Speaker

put the question, that Sir John Hobhouse and Colonel Sibthorp be ordered to attend in their places.—


After a short interval, Colonel Sibthorp entered the House.

The remaining orders being disposed of,

The Speaker

said, that seeing the hon. Member for Lincoln in his place, it became his duty to acquaint him that the Chair- man of Committees had reported to him that certain words had passed between the hon. Member and the right hon. Member for Nottingham, which had been, in his (the Speaker's) opinion, misapprehended and understood in an offensive sense by the hon. Member. He, therefore, required to be informed by the hon. Member whether or no any such feeling existed in his mind?

Colonel Sibthorp

I have no hesitation in saying, Sir, that I have entertained, and must continue to entertain, such an impression, until I find an inclination on the part of the right hon. Member for Nottingham to disavow such an intention. I have but one course to pursue, Sir; I determined upon that course, Sir, when I first entered public life; and I hope the course I have uniformly pursued, both as a military man and a civilian, has never been irreconcileable with the course I ought to pursue. Sir, I have but one course to pursue; it is the maintenance of, I hope, unimpeachable honour, and, I trust unimpeachable courage. I have no hesitation in saying, Sir, that I did receive those words, and that I shall continue to receive them, in a manner offensive to me. As a man of honour, I have but this course to pursue; and this being the case, it is my inflexible determination to pursue no other.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was quite certain that the general expression of opinion which had fallen from the hon. Member, contained those principles by which every other hon. Gentleman would be most anxious to regulate his own conduct. For the moment, however—he meant no offence in this—he wished to leave the hon. Gentleman entirely out of the question, and to appeal to the personal and political friends who sat around him. He appealed to them for the accuracy of his interpretation of what had taken place. He really did not apprehend that any circumstance had occurred in the course of the debate in Committee, of which any hon. Gentleman had a right to take personal notice. He wished it to be understood that he was not now arguing the case of the hon. Member for Lincoln, because he wished to remove him altogether from the scene. The occurrence was simply this: a laugh took place on the Opposition side of the House; it might have occurred on the Ministerial side. Upon this, his right hon. Friend, translating a Latin proverb, said, "few things are more foolish than a foolish laugh." Now, he put it to hon. Members whether if an hon. Gentleman took such a remark as this to himself, he might not with equal propriety construe almost every remark which was made in that House into a very serious personal affront. No personal offence could have been intended. The hon. Gentleman laughed certainly, but so did other hon. Members. He would put it to the hon. and good-humoured laughers opposite, whether they had felt affronted by the observation of his right hon. Friend? Well, they had not felt it any very heavy personal offence. The hon. Member for Lincoln should remember, too, that he had deprived his right hon. Friend of a reply, by leaving the House first. In his absence, however, his right hon. Friend had replied; and in that reply he had unequivocally stated that he had meant no offence whatever to anyone. Under these circumstances, he put it to the judgment and good sense of the hon. Members around the hon. Gentleman, whether it would not be misapplying the powers of the House and the functions of its Speaker to interfere at all in the present case.

Mr. Eaton

felt bound to state, for the information of the House, and the satisfaction of the gallant Colonel, that he had been informed by the right hon. President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Poulett Thomson), that he was quite sure no personal offence had been intended by the right hon. Member for Nottingham.

Colonel Sibthorp, being loudly called for, said that so long as he was under the Speaker's authority, he was bound to abide by his decision; but he would rather vacate his seat in Parliament than bend to anything which was contrary to his feelings, or yield to anything which he considered an affront, or, he would add, an insult. If the communication he had heard, however, came from the right hon. Member for Nottingham, himself, he had no other course to pursue but to say that he was perfectly satisfied with it.

Subject dropped.