HC Deb 06 December 1837 vol 39 cc737-46
Lord Staley

As we have now gone through the whole of the business that stands upon the notice-paper for to-day, I beg to take the opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the state in which we stand with respect to the question which we had hoped to have brought to a discussion and conclusion this evening. Certainly if there were any parties in that House feeling that the motion to be brought forward by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Blewitt) was one not only of the most unusual, but also of the most absurd and ridiculous character.—I say, if there were any parties in this House who were of opinion that the motion brought forward was absurd and ridiculous, I must say, that the proceedings of this evening must have been most highly gratifying to them; because a motion introduced with so much pomp, heralded by so loud a flourish of trumpets—a motion upon which the Government avowedly intended to make a stout battle—was at last brought forward [the remainder of the sentence was drowned in loud cries of "Question!" and cries of "Go on!"] When order had been restored the noble Lord continued: I am too well aware of the practice of this House not to know that at this moment, formally speaking, there is no question before it. If, therefore, it be the pleasure of the House that I wait till the question be put from the chair "that this House do now adjourn," I am perfectly willing to sit down. But I thought it more convenient—[cries of "No, no,"] and I have the right—[cries of "question" and adjourn"]—have the right to make what observations I may think fit, and still be in perfect order, by moving myself, at the close of my remarks, that the House do now adjourn; but I will not take that course. I will wait till the motion for the adjournment be made, if Gentlemen choose to stand upon form, and demand that that more formal course should be taken, because I intend to show them cause why the House should not adjourn without a more definite explanation of the course which public business is to take tomorrow.

Lord John Russell moved that this House do now adjourn.

Lord Stanley

I am now in perfect form, according to the orders of the House, and have a right to continue those observations that I was about to make as to the course of proceeding which has been taken this evening, and the course which lies before us for to-morrow. I have stated, and repeat it again, that those who thought that the motion of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Blewitt) was absurd and ridiculous, must have been highly gratified at the farce which has been enacted to-night. Yes, the motion so confidently brought forward, so avowedly made the groundwork upon which the Government had intimated their intention of taking a most extraordinary and, as I think, most unconstitutional course with respect to petitions, has turned out to be the greatest farce ever enacted in this House. The hon. Member for Monmouth comes down with a long string of, I suppose, very well-considered resolutions; because no man, and especially a new Member of the House, would, I think, come down with, so long a string of resolutions, involving the most serious principles, unless they had previously been well and carefully considered.

Mr. Hume

I rise to order. The noble Lord is about to arraign the conduct of an hon. Member. Has he given any notice to that hon. Member of his intention? That hon. Member is not now present. I leave it, therefore, to the noble Lord to say how far he thinks it proper to proceed with observations relating to the conduct of another Gentleman, that Gentleman not being present to defend himself.

Lord Stanley

I thank the hon. Member for Kilkenny for informing me that the hon. Member for Monmouth is not present. Finding that he has disappeared under the cloud which has involved all the proceedings of this evening in so much mystery, I will not proceed with any observations that can relate either personally to him or invidiously to his motion. But I wish to call the attention of the House, as the Spottiswoode conspiracy storm seems to have blown over for this evening [No, no!]—What! not blown over [No, no!]—not blown over for this evening? Surely I have a right to say that the storm is blown over when an hon. Gentleman, having given notice of five resolutions, having made a long speech in recommendation of those resolutions, finding very great doubt and difficulty thrown upon them by a part of the House, finally withdraws the first of the five, and on the remaining four, fearing the decision of the House, declines to have the question put. That is the precise situation in which this most vaunted motion, which was to blow up the, Spottiswoode conspiracy, now stands. But I want to know what we are to expect from tomorrow. Clearly the hon. Gentleman who has given way to-night has no intention of again inviting us to the discussion of those resolutions from which he has shrunk this evening. No possible Parliamentary ground can be alleged for such a course. The House to-night was full to overflowing. The only wish, on the part of the House was, to have the question put. But the hon. Member could not persuade himself to have the question put, because he was well aware of the reception it would meet with from the majority of the House. Therefore, that these resolutions should ever again make their appearance upon the table of the House, I hold to be a presumption insulting to the dignity of the House. If they should again make their appearance, then I must say, that the proceedings of this evening can be characterised only as the grossest and most vexatious trifling with the House. But i suppose, that the great field-day is to be upon the motion of the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. W. S. O'Brien). The noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, told us at an early hour of the evening-, that it was necessary to print the petition of the hon. Member for Limerick, because the whole question in which his petition was involved was to come under the consideration of the House to-night—that the whole matter would be taken as a substantive question, of which the hon. Member for Limerick's case would form a part, though only a small and inconsiderable part; and moreover, that that case would be determined by the general decision to which the House came tonight. We ask, then, for judgment on the general question; we claim it, we beg for it, but we cannot, even have the question put, which is to enable us to express our opinions upon it. Now, it is proposed, as I understand, to sink the general question in the individual question. The petition of the hon. Member for Limerick is to be brought forward to-morrow night, when the great constitutional question is to be decided upon, whether any individual is entitled by the law of the land to subscribe his money to carry into effect the legal rights of any man, or any body of men—whether any individual has the right to support by his money the expenses necessary to procure justice by securing a true election, free from fraud, for Members of this House. We desire to discuss that point on the general question, but we are told that we must discuss it upon the single question. I put it then to those Gentlemen, who were so anxious to call me to order, is it an unreasonable thing that I should ask to be informed what the precise question is to be which, within twenty-four hours, the hon. Member for Limerick is to bring forward? We were ready to meet the case to-night, we were prepared with our answer; we knew the case, we had had warning given us of what it was to be; but now the hon. Member for Limerick, under cover of his single case, persuades the hon. Member for Monmouth to shrink from the general issue, and proposes to have the question revived upon his individual petition, not having had the courtesy to give us notice of what the question is to be when he brings the matter under our consideration. The hon. Member for Kilkenny charged me just, now with a want of courtesy in not having given notice to the hon. Member for Monmouth, of my intention to allude to the manner in which he had brought, forward his resolutions. But how could I, or any human being, imagine by anticipation the events of this evening? Could any man conceive that a question so solemnly brought forward, would be so ludicrously disposed of? But I submit, whether the hen. Member for Limerick—I do not know whether he be present or not—I submit, then, whether he be not I chargeable with a want, of courtesy to the House in not giving, before the question of adjournment was put to-night, a distinct notice of the proposition which he thinks of sufficient importance to bring forward in a substantive form to-morrow. As the hon. Gentleman is in his place, I hope I shall obtain from him the object I have in view—a distinct statement of the nature of the proposition which in the course of some eighteen hours hence, we are to be called upon to discuss.

Mr. W. S. O'Brien

had taken an opportunity, more than once in the course of the evening, of stating that until the motion of the hon. Member for Monmouth was disposed of, he could not exactly say in what terms his motion would be framed; but, from first to last, he had given a distinct intimation that it was his intention to direct the notice of the House to the conduct of the hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Burdett), the Member for North Wilts. That intimation was given in terms as clear and explicit as he had the power of employing; and his absence from the House, a short time since, was for the purpose of writing out the notice of his motion for to-morrow night, and giving it to the clerk. The notice he was going to submit, and which had been drawn up without any reference to any thing that had fallen from the noble Lord, was to the following effect: that he would, on the morrow evening move, that the petition presented by him, complaining of the subscriptions raised to prosecute election petitions in Ireland, be referred to a Select Committee.

Lord John Russell

The noble Lord has called the attention of the House to the proceedings of the night; and, I think, he has indulged rather unduly in an air of triumph at the resolutions moved by the hon. Member for Monmouth not being acceded to by the House. It is very possible, that the hon. Member for Monmouth, not being used to the modes of proceeding in the House, may, without sufficient consideration, have given notice of resolutions with which other hon. Members could not agree. It may be very possible that the motion which he framed was not in accordance with the general view of those who share in his opinion, as to the character of these subscriptions. But I do not think, that the noble Lord is justified in assuming from that that he is to leave this House with an assurance that the confederacy to collect subscrip- tions for the purpose of displacing Irish Members, and Irish Members only, is to remain unassailed. I do not say, that I could have supported the motion of the hon. Member for Monmouth. I do not say, that it may be fit, considering the law and the precedents in these cases, to institute a Select Committee upon the subject; but this I do say, that an act more calculated to shake men's confidence as to the fair decision of Election Committees—an act more calculated to make men believe that the seats in this House were to be determined, not according to the just rights of the case, but according to the politics of those who held those seats—an act more calculated to make one part of the United Kingdom afraid, nay, strongly sensible, that they will not get justice—an act more calculated to work these evils than this combination, of which Mr. Spottiswoode is at the head, I know no instance of in the history of this country; and if I take any part in the debate to-morrow, it certainly will be to insist upon the dangerous character of such a proceeding. What is the appearance that the thing presents? That men collect subscriptions to support or to attack seats which they think to be held unduly. That would be a question which, upon some precedents and some decisions, might well form matter for deliberation, and one high authority might be quoted who has given a legal decision upon views founded upon the subject. But this is not the character of this proceeding. The character of the present proceeding is this, that hardly were the elections over—hardly could any man know the exact circumstances of any particular election—than a party of persons meet (this was upon the 30th of August, when the particulars of the elections could hardly be known) and decide immediately that a certain number of those elections—they neither say which nor how many—are invalid; they declare that practices had prevailed at those elections, of which they could have no knowledge, and they proceed to say—not, certainly, that they found their petitions upon that point—but they proceed to say, that Members will be seated in the House having different opinions from those of many Gentlemen who have been returned for many parts of the United Kingdom. What was the direct tendency of such a course as this? Was it not enough to make every Irish- man believe and think, "Whatever I may do with my franchise, to whomsoever I give my vote, I know, although there may be a majority of hundreds of sound votes in favour of the Member to whom I commit my wants, my feelings, my interests, he will be no sooner returned to the House than he will be attacked by a monied combination, not on the grounds that he does not represent me—not on the grounds that he is not sent by me freely into the House of Commons to speak my sentiments; but, because he does not speak the sentiments of those more wealthy and more opulent persons who take care that there shall be returned for the county or the borough of which I am an inhabitant a person, not to represent my sentiments, but to represent the sentiments of those who subscribe their money to secure the seats of such Members as they please?" I maintain that the tendency of such a subscription is to raise in the breast of every independent elector the feeling I have stated, and no other. I put aside, at this moment, the inconvenience, the expense which may attend those who have been so elected; at this moment, I will not take that point into consideration. But I say that, considering the difference of political opinions, and the differences in point of religion which prevail in Ireland, to raise a subscription fund, and to carry it throughout the country for the sole purpose of unseating Irish Representatives, and no other Representatives, is a measure more calculated to estrange the people of Ireland from a great portion, at least, of the people of England—more calculated to engender feelings of bitterness and of alienation than any measure of which we have a record in history. It is calculated—and this is the most injurious effect of all—it is calculated to make the people of Ireland think that there are Members meeting in London cognizant of the constitution, and aware of the practice of the House, who believe, that if the Members for Ireland are not suitable to the taste of some parties in this country, they may be turned out of their seats. I say this, because the noble Lord has thought fit, at the moment that the House was about to adjourn, to recite, out of triumph, an account of what had taken place this evening. I ask the noble Lord, therefore—as there is no doubt that the hon. Member for Limerick will bring forward his motion—to come down to-mor- row and say, not whether it be legal in certain cases to make subscriptions, but whether he be ready to stand by this Spottiswoode conspiracy,—whether he applaud it as an act done in the spirit of the constitution,—whether he stand up for it as an act calculated to cement the union,—whether he, with his knowledge of the proceedings of the House, will say, that those who have circulated and promoted this subscription are likely to make the character of this House more respected throughout the empire. I will not say now, that any direct proceedings can be taken by the House: I know but of one case in which resolutions of a similar nature were proposed to the House, and they stand, indeed, upon a very weak and fragile authority. I wish I could quote some person of high legal fame as having brought them before the House; I wish I could name some person of great constitutional knowledge, some person of sound judgment, as having proposed them; but, alas! the only person I can name as having brought forward any similar resolutions, was the hon. Baronet, the Member for North Wilts. Upon his authority, I certainly shall not lean. The hon. Baronet, undoubtedly, brought a case against two electors of Middlesex, who were Members of this House, who not only had signed a petition but assembled at a meeting somewhere in the city, and passed resolutions condemning the hon. Baronet for having obtained his seat by illegal means. The hon. Baronet moved resolutions calling upon the House to declare whether these electors had not committed an unconstitutional act. Their defence was, that, although they were Members of the House, they were electors of Middlesex, and that they had signed the resolutions in question as being the only means by which they could make common cause with their fellow-electors in promoting a petition against the seat of one of their Representatives; and I think, with this defence, it was hardly to be expected that the resolutions of the hon. Baronet could prevail. But I will not take the hon. Baronet as an authority; any strength to be derived from the former conduct of the hon. Baronet I am ready to relinquish, and give him up entirely to the noble Lord. I promise the noble Lord, that he shall not hear me quote the proceedings adopted by the hon. Baronet as an example for the House to follow in the present in- stance. I will stand only upon the actual facts that have occurred; and without saying, that it is possible for this House to afford any direct remedy upon the subject; I will say, that it is fit that the public notice should be called to the case, in order that in consequence of the discussion which I hope will take place—in consequence of the condemnation (which I think will be general) of such an attempt to govern the elections—persons may not, for the future, endeavour to say "here are men who do not agree with us in opinion—here are men with whose religion we differ—here are men who go to constitute a majority against us; for these reasons, and upon such pretences, we will raise the country for petitions to subvert them."

Sir Charles Douglas

congratulated the House upon the speech it had just heard from the noble Lord. But he begged to ask the noble Lord a question—he wished to know from the noble Lord, what was the course taken by him some few years ago, not with regard to subscriptions for election petitions, but with regard to subscriptions for forwarding the elections themselves? He wished to know, whether at the time before there was any coalition between the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member, who at the beginning of his Parliamentary career was called the franking Member for Ireland, but who since had been well known as the temporary Member for Dublin—he wished to know whether, at that time, the noble Lord was not aware that large sums of money were systematically collected to further the elections of that party to which the noble Lord was attached? The noble Lord might think that constitutional; he (Sir C. Douglas) did not. The noble Lord and his Colleagues might very probably think their coalition with the hon. and learned Member of very considerable importance, and, therefore, they continued steady to engagements which many of them in their hearts wished they had never contracted. Their coalition with that parley was, indeed, as disgraceful to themselves as their continuance in office had been pernicious to the country. He repeated the remark, and he thought that the majority of the House must agree with him, when he reminded them that the coalition of the Ministry was with one who could not speak of his own countrymen but as "hereditary bondsmen," nor of the people of England except as the most "priest-ridden" people in Europe.

Question carried, and House adjourned.