§ Lord John Russell
wished to know from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Blewitt), whether he did not consider it better to reserve the discussion of his resolutions until to-morrow, when the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) would bring under discussion a petition bearing on the same subject?
§ Mr. Blewitt
If I am to understand that I shall have precedence to-morrow evening, I shall agree to the noble Lord's proposition.
§ Sir Robert Peel
I think the hon. Gentleman should stipulate for his taking pre- 718 cedence of all other motions. He is perfectly entitled to do so.
§ Mr. Blewitt
then proceeded:—Sir, in rising to move the resolutions of which I have given notice, I can assure the House I feel deeply impressed with the responsibility of the duty I am now called upon to discharge. It will naturally be asked of me, what qualifications have you, a young and inexperienced Member of the House, to put yourself forward thus prominently in the face of your country, and to assume a position which would have better become a more eloquent advocate, and a more practised debater? Sir, in answer to that inquiry, I must plead guilty to a charge of presumption—the presumption of one who undertakes an Herculean task, without the strength or the power by which only it is to be achieved. Humble, however, as my position in this house may be, I cannot stand tamely by, and see its dignity insulted, its authority despised, and its just rights and privileges set at defiance, Sir, my attention was first called to the grievance in question by the remittance to London, from the country town near which I reside, of a sum of money, for the avowed purpose of expelling from this House the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. Sir, it did appear to me that this was a most foul and atrocious aggression upon the freedom of election, and the liberty of the subject, and such as I could not have anticipated, even from the utmost virulence of political or party feeling. I had, indeed, heard that a Committee had been formed in London, for purposes which I could not but deem unlawful and unconstitutional; but until the subscription to which I have alluded came under my notice, I had no conception of the mischiefs that might result from the formation and objects of the Committee. I little dreamed that the combination of a few individuals, filling respectable stations in society, and who might be acting from honest impulses, but wrong conclusions, to achieve what, however illegal in itself, might by them be deemed justifiable, would lead to results tending to sap the foundations of justice, and to annihilate at one "fell swoop" the rights and liberties of a mighty nation. Sir, if the hon. and learned Member for Dublin is to be expelled from this House by the combined and collected resources of Conservative opulence, why not the noble Lord on the treasury bench, and all 719 his right hon. coadjutors? Why not each and every one of the hon. Members on this side of the House? Even you, yourself, Sir, are not safe in that chair, to which the unanimously-approving voices of the House have elected you. No man, however large his own immediate resources, however powerful and unlimited his credit, however rich he be in the "golden opinions of his constituents—no man, I say, in this House, can stand singly and unsupported against that mighty deluge of wealth which is, as I understand, to be supplied and fed ad infinitum from the princely and almost inexhaustible resources of a certain hon. Baronet in this House, and of his new political associates out of the House. Sir, I beg to call the attention of the House to the form and language of my resolutions. They are framed upon the principle, that immutable principle of justice in a free country, that no man should be presumed to be guilty, nor condemned without a trial. My first four resolutions are declaratory of what I consider to be the law upon certain points. My last seeks an inquiry into what have been the circumstances of a particular transaction alleged to have taken place, but of which the House has no judicial knowledge, in order to ascertain whether those circumstances have been such as to bring any and what parties within the scope and operation of the law. By this course, Sir, nothing will be taken for granted, nothing prejudged; and I have adopted it, because it was most consistent with my notions of justice and of equity, and with that moderation of temper and feeling which best becomes a man who is actuated by public, and not by any party or personal motives. It is just possible, Sir, that I may not, on this occasion at least, gain credit with some hon. Gentlemen for that pure honesty of intention to which I lay claim; and as I cannot introduce them into the recesses of my heart, I must be content if I can only obtain from them a fair and dispassionate hearing. This, Sir, I might demand as a right, but I am quite willing to accept it as an act of the kindest and most considerate courtesy. Sir, to support the first of my resolutions, I shall have to prove that it is a breach of the privileges of this House to impeach, or wilfully and deliberately call in question, otherwise than by a petition, the right or title of any Member to a seat in the House. I request attention to the precedents and 720 authorities which I am about to cite, and which I shall do as shortly and succinctly as the nature of the case will admit of. I well know the value of your time. Let the House hear me but with patience while I speak to the purpose, and I promise that its indulgence shall not be abused. I will not confine myself to a reference to the character applied to the House by Fortescue.Si antiquitatem spectes, est vetustissima; si dignitatem est honoratissima; si jurisdictionem est capacissima.In the time of Henry 6th, the following doctrine was laid down by the judges:—It hath not been used before time, nor becomes it us to determine matters concerning the high court of Parliament, which is so high and mighty in its nature that it is judge of the law, and makes that to be law which is not law, and that to be no law which is.Unless I am able to satisfy the House by precedents analogous to the present case, I shall waive all claims to a decision in his favour. Lord Coke, in his 1st Institute, said,Whatever matter arises concerning either House of Parliament ought to be examined, discussed, and adjudged in that House to which it relates, and not elsewhere. In the celebrated county of Norfolk case, in 1586, the Lord Chancellor and Judges took upon themselves to decide which of two returns were valid; upon which it was resolved by the whole body of this House, 'That it was a most perilous precedent, that after two knights of a county were duly elected, any new writ should issue out for a second election without order of the House itself. That the discussing and adjudging of this and such-like differences only belonged to the House.' On the 28th of April, 1626, Mr. Crooke complained to the House, that Sir Thomas Horwood had reviled him, saying, that he came to be a Member of the House by bribery and corruption, and Sir Thomas Horwood was sent for to answer the charge. On the 7th of December, 1669, the House of Commons passed a resolution,' That no petition, or any other matter depending in the House of Commons, can be taken notice of by the Lords, unless communicated to them by the House of Commons.' The celebrated declaration of rights, which was comprised by 1 William and Mary, 1688–9, contains the following passage:—'That the freedom of speech an I debates, or proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.' On the 11th of January, 1694, the House passed the following resolution:—'Resolved, that Mr. Alexander Norres, mayor of the borough of Liverpool, in the county of Lancaster, having taken upon him to judge, that Joseph 721 Maudit, esq., being coroner of the said borough was incapable to be elected burgess to serve in Parliament, though duly chosen, having made a false return, Thos, Brotherton, esq., to serve as a burgess for the said borough, hath herein violated the rights of the Commons of England, and broken the privileges of this House. Resolved, that the said Alexander Norres, for the said misdemeanour, be sent for in custody of the Serjeant-at-arms.' On the 26th February, 1701, the House agreed to a resolution of a Committee of Privileges to the following effect:—That it is the opinion of this Committee, that to assert, that the House of Commons is not the only Representatives of the Commons, tends to the subversion of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons, and the fundamental constitution of the Government of this kingdom.' On the 26th January, 1703, the House passed the following resolutions:—1. 'That according to the known law and usage of Parliament, it is the sole right of the Commons of England in Parliament assembled (except in cases otherwise provided for by Act of Parliament,) to examine and determine all matters relating to the right of election of their own Members.—2. 'That according to the known law and usage of Parliament, neither the qualification of any elector, nor the right of any person elected, is cognizable or determinable elsewhere than before the Commons of England in Parliament assembled (except in cases otherwise provided for by Act of Parliament.'")The cases which I have cited, show the jealousy felt by that House as to any doubt being cast upon the right and title of any of its Members. That the House does not allow of any impeachment of its title as a collective body was proved by the resolution of 1701, declaring it to be mischievous to hold that they were not the Representatives of the people. Then came the resolution of 1703, by which the rights of electors were clearly defined and ascertained. I will add to these authorities, the statement of Judge Black-stone, who said, that the privileges of Parliament were established, not only for the purpose of protecting its Members from being molested by their fellow subjects, but also, more especially, from being oppressed by the Crown. If Blackstone had lived in these days, he would have transposed these clauses, and have said that the privileges of Parliament were established not only for the purpose of protecting its Members from being oppressed by the Crown, but also, more especially, from being molested by their fellow subjects. The House is now, however, threatened externally with a species of molestation at which every true 722 lover of his country looks with horror and dismay. A self-constituted tribunal has risen up—an imperium in imperio—greater and yet less than the Parliament, acknowledging apparently its power, but intercepting and controlling and rendering nugatory its jurisdiction. Sir, the judges of the land the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, kings and queens, all the high and mighty of the kingdom, have been told successively, in the plainest and most indignant terms, that they shall not interfere in any matters affecting the House of Commons. I shall be glad to hear by what ingenuity of argument any hon. Member will attempt to convince the House that a self-elected committee of private individuals are entitled to do that which is forbidden to the Lords, the Judges, and the King's Majesty. Sir, the next point which I shall have to support before the House is, that according to the law, and also according to the established practice of the House, no person who has not a direct and immediate interest in an election which is the subject of controversy can petition, or directly or indirectly be a party to a petition, against the return of any Member. I shall argue this point, first from the general principles of law, and then from such direct and analogous precedents as I have been able to find in the Journals of the House. Sir, such naturally is the wicked propensity of mankind to meddle in the affairs of others, and to promote quarrels and disputes amongst their neighbours, on the Lucretian principle, I presume—Suave mari magno turbantibusæquora ventis E terrâmagnum alterius spectare laborem"—such, I say, Sir, is this propensity, that it was found necessary, at a very early period of civilised society, to make it an offence, and provide some remedy against it; and accordingly I find in the Roman law an express enactment forbidding the practice, denouncing the offenders as the pests of society, and subjecting them to the condemnation of fine, imprisonment, and perpetual infamy. The same principle was adopted in our common law under the head of maintenance, which is described by the best authorities as an officious intermeddling in a suit that no way belongs to one, by maintaining or assisting either party with money or otherwise to defend it; and this is expressly charged as an offence against public justice—as tending 723 to keep alive strife and contention, and to pervert the remedial process of the law into an engine of oppression. These salutary regulations of the common law were adopted and confirmed at a very early period of our history by various statutes.The 1st Richard 1st enacted, 'That no person whatever shall take or sustain any quarrel by maintenance in the country, on grievous pain—the King's officers to be punished as therein provided; all others, on pain of imprisonment and ransom.' By the 1st Edward 3rd. (one of our most accomplished princes and law-givers) it was enacted, 'That no person shall take upon him to maintain quarrels nor parties in the country, to the disturbance of the common law.' This offence was again recognised by the 32d Henry 8th, and tke offender was made liable to a penalty of 10l."I will here anticipate an objection with which I may be met on this point. It might be contended that this was not such an officious intermedling in the quarrel of another as was contemplated by the law—that this was a question in which all ought to unite "ut bene gereretur Respublica." I will answer that objection by this argument—that every elector has a right to exercise his privilege in a particular disstrict, and not elsewhere, and that an unqualified person can take no part in an election. He can not propose or second a candidate, he can not demand a poll, nor can he subsequently call for a scrutiny. All these rights and privileges are expressly confined to the electors, or those who have a right to be candidates. I admit that when a candidate is returned, he is a representative of the whole country; but it is the privilege of the House to decide upon his title, and none but electors or candidates are allowed to interfere. The first case bearing upon this subject is the Buckingham case, in 1689:—There it was said the objection was taken that the petitioners against the return had not entitled themselves, by their petition, to question the election, having not thereby so much as alleged that they were either electors or elected, or candidates for the said ejection. The committee did not come to any express resolution on that particular point, but upon the whole matter they decided that the election was good. In the Dumbarton district case, 1728, the House decided that the manner of obtaining and signing a petition was a material question previous to the trial, and referred that matter to the consideration of the Com- 724 mittee; and in the Wotton Basset case, 1742, and in several other cases which he could mention, the House made similar orders. I find it expressly laid down in several works on parliamentary practice, that previous to the Grenville Act, 10th Geo. 3rd, no petition against the return of a Member to that House was ever admitted, except from the electors or candidates. The Grenville Act would seem to have suspended the operation of this principle, as it did not restrict the petition to any particular class of persons, but it was soon found so inconvenient, and productive of so much vexation, that it was deemed necessary to bring back the law to its ancient footing; and, accordingly, by the 28th of Geo. 3rd, after reciting, that provision ought to be made for discouraging persons from presenting frivolous and vexatious petitions, 'It is enacted, that no petition against the return of a Member shall be proceeded upon unless subscribed—first, by some person claiming a right to vote; second, by some person claiming a right to be returned as duly elected; or, third, by some person alleging himself to have been a candidate.' In the Honiton case, 15th of February, 1786, it was made a preliminary objection before an election committee, to the trial of a petition against a return, that the petitioners had applied to different persons for money to support their petition. The committee went into the objection, but it was not proved. On the 14th of November the House agreed to a resolution. 'That it is highly unwarrantable, and a breach of the privileges of the House, for any person to set the name of any other to any petition to be presented to the House.' Then came that most important chancery case of Wallis v. Duke of Portland, decided by Lord Loughborough, and confirmed on appeal to the House of Lords, in which it was laid down by his Lordship, 'That the procuring and maintenance of a petition by one not immediately interested in an election, was against public policy, and amounted to maintenance at common law,' and in which, also, his Lordship expressed a strong opinion, that a general public subscription to carry on a petition to the House was a crime.It will be said that this was only an opinion pronounced by a judge in equity, and not by a criminal tribunal, which alone can be supposed to have a right to deal with such a case. But I answer that it was the solemn legal opinion of one charged with the administration of justice, and that it was confirmed by high legal authorities in the House of Lords, and, amongst others, by the chief justice of the King's Bench for the time being. It was found, in accordance with the law, and was entitled to the consideration of the House, more especially as there was no conflicting opinion to rebut it. All the cases showed 725 that not only the signing of a petition, but the getting it up, was confirmed to electors and candidates, and that no other person had a right directly or indirectly to interfere. Then, Sir, if I have satisfactorily established the principle, who can doubt that an infringement of it is a breach of the privileges of the House? It is and must be a contempt, and consequently a breach of privilege, for any person to do that which the House says he shall not do. The House had decided that a letter written by one Thomas Fergusson to influence the vote of an elector—he being in the employment of the crown—was a breach of its privileges. Let the House suppose the case of a Member elected by the almost unanimous suffrages of his constituents, but who was petitioned against from private motives on the ground of an election fund—suppose this individual not encumbered with a large fortune, but having before his eyes the fear of a dunning creditor or of a necessitous family, reproaching him with the wicked weakness of his ambition—suppose that this favourite of the electors chose rather to abandon his seat, than to defend it to his ruin,—was this case an impossible—was it even an improbable one? What man in his senses would be a candidate, if he must always have the fear of these consequences before his eyes? If this association were permitted to one side, it would be equally legal for the other; and in that case the whole representation of the country, and the whole construction of the Government for the time being, would depend upon the longest purse. This is a state of things which I am sure no Gentleman in the House would wish to see. I shall now have to prove that it is a conspiracy and a crime at common law, and a breach of Parliamentary privilege for any persons to confederate together for the several purposes mentioned in my 3d and 4th resolutions. I shall first inquire what sort of confederacies have been held at common law to subject parties to a conviction for conspiracy. Russell, in his excellent work on the criminal law, lays it down that every confederacy of persons to obstruct, prevent, or defeat the course of public justice, or wrongfully to prejudice or to impoverish a third person, or to maintain another in any matter whether true or false, or to effect any public mischief, will amount to the crime of conspiracy, the unlawful agreement being the gist of the 726 offence. I have before shown that no man can legally maintain another in a civil proceeding—that it is a violation of the common law—that it is against the provisions of sundry statutes—and that it subjects offenders to fine and imprisonment. Now, Sir, a petition against the return of a Member to Parliament is altogether in the nature of a civil proceeding, though some hon. Members perhaps may consider it a very uncivil one. The petition does not seek to prosecute criminally an alleged offender, but is in the nature of an appeal for the trial of civil rights. I have before shown that to assist in getting up such a petition, or to support it with money, is forbidden by the law, and by the practice of this House, and that such assistance and support have been pronounced by judicial authority as an act of maintenance at common law, and a crime. The case, therefore, to which I have last alluded does not and cannot apply. If then, Sir, maintenance be of itself an offence of so highly criminal a nature, how greatly must that crime be increased when it is superadded to and incorporated with another of equal if not of greater magnitude! I mean, of course, conspiracy—which then becomes conspiracy—to do an act of maintenance. Such then, Sir, are maintenance and conspiracy in statute and common law. I will now show how I connect them with a breach of Parliamentary privilege. It appears to me, upon a full consideration of all the cases that have occurred in Parliament on the subject of privilege from the commencement of its records to the present day, that whenever any crime or offence, either at common law or by act of Parliament, has occurred to affect the proceedings of Parliament or elections, or any other matters concerning Parliament, the same crime or offence has been adopted and naturalised, and engrafted, as it were, and acted upon as part of the lex Parliamenti. This, Sir, appears to me the only rational basis of our judicial privileges. I consider that every such privilege ought to be founded on the law and consistent with the law, and that any decision of the House in direct violation of a rule of law or of an existing statute would be an act of usurpation and of injustice. It is, however, a rule of law recognised by all the judges of the land, and by every writer on the constitution of the country, that this House is entitled to certain privileges— 727 that those privileges are part of the law of the land—and that one of those privileges is the sole right of examining, discussing, and adjudging all matters concerning the House itself. What I claim, therefore, for this House as an undeniable privilege, founded upon the law and consistent with the law, is, not the right of ourselves to make new laws, but the sole right of applying the laws as they exist to all matters affecting elections or any of our proceedings—the sole right of adjudging whether in such cases the laws have been broken, and the sole right of punishing those whom we may have found guilty of a breach of the laws which we are so entitled to administer. Is not this position proved by all the cases of libel, with reference to which, proceedings have been taken in this House, from the year 1500 down to the case of the hon. Baronet, the Member for North Wilts (Sir F. Burdett), in the year 1810? Is the authority of Parliament not proved by analogy of what was the case in the courts of justice in the country? Do they not maintain the necessity of a true and faithful record of their proceedings; and do they not commit persons for contempt who infringed upon that rule? Is it not upon record that an individual, a Captain Perry, was committed for presuming to print his brief before the hearing of the cause? If such be the practice pursued in courts of justice, is it not a contempt of the privileges of that House for parties to confederate together to interrupt the established jurisdiction of that House, to prejudice the minds of the public and of the Members of that House, not only by allegations made without proof, and not only before the cause came on for hearing, but before the case was even in course of judicial investigation? Sir, I think I have now said enough in support of my first four resolutions. They will be found to embrace the following list of crimes and misdemeanours:—First, libel; second, maintenance; third, conspiracy; fourth, contempt of court; fifth, breach of Parliamentary privilege, the last uniting them all in a sort of Gordian knot, which this House will not allow to be cut, and which it may, I think, baffle the ingenuity of hon. Members to untie. I now come to my fifth resolution. Sir, the reference I ask for to the Committee of Privileges is founded upon the passages I am about to read from The Standard 728 newspaper. [The hon. Member then read the resolutions adopted by the meeting at the London Coffee-house, Ludgate-hill, on the 30th of August last.] He continued:—I shall not imitate the example of those who have taken upon themselves to prejudge the cause of poor persecuted Ireland, whose singular ill-fortune it is ever to be thought in the wrong. Upon the proceedings detailed in these papers I shall make no comment. There is no proof before the House, and, therefore, I will not assert that any meeting took place—that any committee was formed—that any resolutions were passed—that any subscriptions have been made. In order to avoid the possibility of injustice I should be even willing to become an adherent to Bishop Berkeley's philosophy, and to believe, if I could, that no such papers as I hold in my hand were ever printed, and that no such person as Mr. Andrew Spottiswoode ever existed. I wish nothing to be done partially or unfairly. From what has been read to the House, regard being-had to my first four resolutions and what I have advanced in support of them, the House is, I think, bound to believe that something has occurred which ought to be inquired into, and that that something must materially affect the question whether or no certain election petitions which have been presented to the House ought or ought not to be proceeded upon? This question, Sir, cannot be determined until the whole facts of the case are laid before the House. That the House has the power, and has always acted upon the principle, of inquiring into the manner in which election petitions (or indeed any petition) have been got up and supported, I have before shown. Sir, I shall now make a few concluding observations on the principles attempted to be established by my first four resolutions. Whatever may have been heretofore thought by hon. Members on the other side of the House, they will now see that in these at least no party question is involved. We are all equally interested in the maintenance of those rights and privileges which we hold in trust for ourselves, for our successors, and for the people. There is no man, however humble, who may not make it an object of his ambition to obtain a seat in this House. Our privileges, therefore, are privileges of the whole nation, and in them every member of the community has a direct and immediate interest. On these 729 grounds, then, Sir, I appeal for support to every party in this House, but more especially I appeal to the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, whose chastened temper, and whose wise and enlightened mind will enable him to view the question entirely divested of prejudice or party feeling. He, I think, will admit that I have conducted the discussion of an important and exciting topic with candour and moderation, that I have asserted no principle for which I was not prepared to produce precedent and authority, and that if I am mistaken, I have at least shown grounds for a rational opinion. Sir, the subject to which I have been calling the attention of the House affords a fruitful field for declamation, and had I been actuated by no other feeling than that of making an ostentatious display of rounded periods and studied sentences, my speech might, perhaps, have been more agreeable to your ears, though not so satisfactory to my own judgment. I have throughout addressed myself to the reason of hon. Members, and not to their passions. If I have failed to convince the House of my honest opinions, I shall of course readily submit to their decision. I do, however, beseech the House to ponder deeply and anxiously upon the results that may ensue from it. Our ruling princess, though as yet but in the springtide and blossom, as it were, of her maiden intellect, is wise, just, virtuous, and beneficent. I believe, Sir, that to her we might surrender all our dearest rights without a fear that our confidence would be abused. But let us recollect that life is uncertain—that there is a power more mighty than kings and queens, to whose inscrutable decrees the high and the low, the bad and the good must succumb. The time will arrive (long, long be it averted!)—but the time will arrive, and we know not how soon (for in the midst of life we are in death!), when that virgin Queen, who is now the object of our fondest hopes, shall be torn from us, and laid to repose in the sepulchre of her illustrious predecessors. What may then happen, Sir, lies unseen and unknown in the womb of futurity; but should another despot ever arise in this country, and presume to treat as a bauble yonder mace—the emblem of your authority, and of the House's power—to what should we fly for succour if not to those privileges which have been handed down to us as an inheritance from our forefathers, and 730 which it is now my object to have transmitted to our children's children unimpaired either by royal influence or by aristocratical encroachment, as the best, the only safeguard for the rights and liberties of the people. I conclude, Sir, by moving that the five resolutions which stand on the notice-book be adopted by the House.
§ On the first resolution being put,
§ Mr. Warburton
expressed a hope, that the hon. Member would confine himself to the last resolution which he had read, and merely move for a Committee to inquire generally into the transaction. There might be much difference of opinion among hon. Members as to the details and bearings of the question, but he thought there could be none as to the necessity of the House being acquainted with all the facts of the case. Suppose, for instance, it should appear that among the subscribers to the fund alluded to there were some foreign potentates. [Oh, oh.!] Hon. Members might exclaim, but the thing was by no means impossible that among the subscribers to this fund there were certain would-be despots, to whom it should be of the utmost consequence of what materials that House should be composed. He did not say the case was so, but it was not impossible, and therefore he conceived it became necessary for them, on being apprised that a large collection was being made to turn Members out of the House by persons other than electors, to institute a rigid inquiry into the allegation. It was perfectly notorious out of doors that there were subscriptions to a large amount raised with a view of trying to influence the determination of the election Committees. He did not, of course, mean that the money was to be applied in bribing the Members who should sit on election Committees, but all knew that as money constituted the sinews of war, so it was the sinews by which petitions were persevered in. If there were money the petition might be persisted in even long after the electors might wish it abandoned. He had seen a list of the subscriptions to this fund, and he thought it would be well to ascertain whether the names there represented were real or not. An Oxford newspaper had been sent to him containing one of those lists, on examining which he found no less than 700 names of bachelors and under-graduates subscribing ten shillings each, besides various anony- 731 mous contributions of 25l. and 20l. each. Now, all this ought to be a matter of inquiry. For his own part, though he might not be willing at once to agree to all the resolutions of the hon. Gentleman, the first of which called on the House to designate as a breach of its privileges the institution of this fund, if the hon. Member only moved for a Committee he should readily have his vote. ["Hear, hear!"and cries of "withdraw."]
§ Mr. Blewitt
, seeing that the wish of the House was, that he should not press the first four resolutions, and merely move for the Committee would at once submit to its desire.
§ The question was put and agreed to that the first resolution should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. French
submitted to the hon. Member whether he might not as well wait for the motion of the hon. Member for the county of Limerick which stood for to-morrow, and which was precisely for the Committee the hon. Member sought, and thus let the matter come in a more matured shape before the House.
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
said, that if he were allowed to reserve that portion of his motion which stood for to-morrow, and which referred more immediately to the conduct of the hon. Baronet, the Member for North Wiltshire, he had no objection to the Committee being appointed at once.
§ The Speaker
wished to know from the hon. Member for Monmouth, what the question was he had now to move?
§ Mr. Blewitt
To strike out the first part of the fifth resolution, and move for the appointment of a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Blewitt
left his seat, and was proceeding to make the alteration in the form of his motion, when
§ The Attorney-General
rose for the purpose of entreating- the hon. Member to withdraw his motion, inasmuch as a discussion was fixed for to-morrow, which would open the whole subject. On the discussion of the petition of the hon. Member (Mr. S. O'Brien), which had been ordered to be printed to-morrow, they would have both the law and the fact for their consideration, and the House then might determine as to the propriety of the appointment of a Committee of privileges, or a Select Committee. His 732 own private opinion was, that neither the one Committee nor the other would be expedient. The hon. Baronet (Sir F. Burdett) had subscribed and had maintained his right to do so; and many persons entertained doubts as to whether this confederation was an offence. He had seen one Committee of Privileges, and he never wished to see another. A Committee of privileges consisted of all the Members of that House who were of the legal profession, all the merchants, and all the Members for counties, and, therefore, it was neither more nor less than a Committee of the whole House.
§ The Speaker
called the hon. and learned Gentleman to order, there being no question before the House.
§ Mr. Blewitt
said, if the subject was to be taken up by any hon. Member of more weight than himself, he should be content to withdraw his resolutions. But inasmuch as it was admitted that a difference of opinion prevailed in the public mind on the subject of the subscription, he thought it quite necessary that it should be known what the law was.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
called the attention of hon. Members, and that of the noble Lord, in consequence of the course pursued by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Blewitt), and the proposition that the subject under discussion should be deferred until to-morrow. The hon. Member for Monmouth had deliberately persevered in bringing on his motion, after he had been requested by the noble Lord to postpone it until to-morrow, and after having occupied the time of the House with the delivery of a speech which very possibly contained much information, now came forward and asked leave to withdraw his motion. Under ordinary circumstances he (Sir E. Knatchbull) should not object to the adoption of such a course, but he did think, under the present it was due to the justice and character of the House that it should come to a decision upon the question.
§ Mr. Hume
called the attention of the House to the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Ripon (Sir E. Sugden) had occupied the attention of the House the other evening for two hours and a half, and then withdrew his motion. No objection was then taken by that (the Ministerial) side of the House to the course so pursued. They had not pressed for a division on that occasion. He 733 had seconded the motion of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Blewitt), in order that the question might be brought before the House; but it was now considered by hon. Members around him that they could not properly decide upon it at present. If the hon. Gentleman was not allowed to withdraw his motion, then let it be negatived. As they were ill informed on the subject, however, it had better stand over or be negatived.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
had not been aware that such was the case. If the Speaker should say he had put the question, that would alter the case. He did not believe the question had been put.
§ The Speaker
said, he had put the question on the first resolutions, and that part of the motion was withdrawn. He considered that no objection existed to the withdrawal. He was then about to put the question on the last resolution, but it not being in the proper form to be put, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Blewitt) came to the table to alter it. At that time it was, that the hon. and learned Attorney-General proceeded to address the House, when he had called the hon. and learned Gentleman to order, on the ground that there was no question before the House.
§ Mr. Borthwick
had understood the Speaker to have put the question on the first resolutions, upon which he (Mr. Borthwick) rose to oppose them, when he was interrupted by hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House stating that they were withdrawn.
§ The Speaker
said, that he had called the Attorney-General to order because at the moment when he was addressing the House there was no motion before it.
§ An Hon. Member on the Ministerial side. There was literally no question before the House, and it was not competent to the right hon. Gentleman to speak.
§ The Speaker
said, that undoubtedly there was no motion before the House, but if any Member entertained a reason- 734 able doubt as to the propriety of the course pursued by him, he would be most happy to hear anything that might fall from him.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, he had risen to subscribe to the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman in his statement with regard to the first resolution.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that it certainly did appear more difficult for the Speaker to perform his duty in this reformed House than in the old un-reformed Parliament. He wanted to know how it was the hon. Member had withdrawn his resolutions without the consent of the House?
§ The Speaker
said, he was in the course of reading the fourth resolution, when, in consequence of the hon. Mover desiring to make certain alterations, he called on him to come down to the table and put the resolution into an intelligible shape. While he was doing this the Attorney-General began to address the House, and he called him to order because there was no motion before the House.
§ An Hon. Member on the opposite side (amidst much confusion) suggested that the Speaker had better proceed to read the fourth resolution, as altered by the hon. Member for Monmouth.
§ Sir E. Sugden
said, the real state of the case appeared to be this. The resolutions having been regularly moved and seconded, the hon. Member for Monmouth walked down to the table to place the amended paper in the Speaker's hands. You, Sir, continued the hon. and learned Member, state that you afterwards put the question for the withdrawal of the first resolution. But I am bound to say that I did not hear a single word of your putting that question, owing to the inattention that prevailed at the time on these benches. The difficulty seems to me to arise, not from your not having put the question, but from our not having heard you put it. Suddenly you passed on to consider what were the terms of the fourth resolution, with what I at the time, and I say it with the utmost respect, thought some irregularity, I having no conception at the time that any motion to withdraw the resolution had been put by you, Sir. Had I been aware that such a question had been put, I should myself have got up, and opposed the withdrawal.
§ The Speaker
I am sure the House will give me full credit when I say that my only desire is to have the question fairly deci- 735 ded. I have stated, according to my recollection, what I think passed, but I am sure the House will see that it is a very painful situation for a Speaker to have what he says so questioned. I therefore appeal to the House, not so much for my own sake, as for the sake of those who may follow me, that when a difference does arise as to a matter of fact, the question should be properly decided—I wish, indeed, that it were possible to put the question again, but I feel assured the House will do me the justice to think that I would never decide any question in a manner that I did not think fully justifiable.
§ Mr. Goulburn
had not heard the motion put for the withdrawal, although it was evident from what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman in the chair that the question had been duly put.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
trusted that nothing that had fallen from him had been construed into any disrespect. He could in all sincerity declare that he had intended none.
§ Sir E. Sugden
declared, that he had not the slightest intention to cast any imputation on the chair. His only object had been to explain how it had been that they on that side of the House had fallen into the error of supposing that the question of withdrawal had not been put.
§ The Speaker
said, that all he had meant was to point out the very painful situation in which he had been placed by what had occurred.
§ Sir Edward Knatchbull
was quite sure that every decision of the right hon. Gentleman emanated from the purest mind. He thought that the decision of the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, whatever it might be, should at once be accepted by the House.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
could confirm what the hon. Member for Evesham had stated as the fact with regard to the motion put from the chair. There was no noise whatever on that (the Ministerial) side, though there was much noise among the Gentlemen on the other side. It was that noise which had no doubt given rise to the mistake.
§ Mr. Borthwick
had one word to say in confirmation of his previous statement. He would not have got up to address the House in the first instance had he not heard put the question of withdrawal. He then rose solely because he was afraid that 736 the question would be carried for want of opposition.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, as there appeared to be so much confusion of opinion in the House, he would state his recollection of the facts, thinking that whatever decision the right hon. Gentleman might himself come to ought to be at once acquiesced in by the House. After the resolutions had been moved and seconded, and the first had been read from the chair, the hon. Member for Bridport suggested that all the resolutions should be withdrawn, except the fourth, and that a Select Committee should be moved for. The question for the withdrawal of the first resolution was then put. The hon. Member for Evesham rose at the moment to address the House, but, finding that the hon. Members on his side did not agree in his wish to do so, he sat down, and the Speaker proceeded. He (Lord J. Russell) then understood the withdrawal to have been put and carried. The Speaker could not be answerable for the inattention of Members who afterwards were unaware of what had been the proceedings. He paid attention at the time, and had now stated his recollection. It remained for the Speaker to take the course he thought necessary.
§ Sir Robert Peel
was quite of opinion that the proposition of the hon. Member for Kent should be adopted; namely, that whatever might be the decision of the Speaker on the point must be assented to. It appeared that the hon. Member for Monmouth was prepared to relinquish his first three resolutions. If the father of those babes, and pretty large babes they were, chose to abandon them, they must be thrown on the parish; The House had no authority to compel the hon. Member to provide for them. He and his friends were, he trusted, not to be accused of smothering them. The only safe course for the House to pursue in this as well as in all similar cases was to adhere strictly to their rules. If the hon. Member for Monmouth chose to relieve them—
§ The Attorney-General
, amidst roars of "Order, order! chair, chair!" rose to call the right hon. Baronet to order. There was no question before the House. The right hon. Baronet, while he recommended to the House to adhere to their rules, ought at least to adhere to them himself.
§ Mr. Blewitt
had always been accustomed to give the right hon. Member for 737 Tamworth credit for discretion, and finding that he was in a good position, he should imitate the right hon. Baronet,—say nothing more, and sit down. The hon. Member therefore did not move his last resolution, and the others were previously withdrawn.
§ The Solicitor-General
(amidst much confusion) rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to make better provision for collecting and distributing the estates of persons found bankrupts under commissions and fiats directed to country Commissioners. This motion put an end to the confusion, and leave was given to bring in the Bill.