HC Deb 01 February 1837 vol 36 cc63-5

Lord John Russell moved the order of the day for taking the letters of the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Lechmere Charlton into consideration. The noble Lord then said:— I have very few words to state to the House on this subject. I think it will be necessary for the House to refer this question to a Committee of Privileges, in consequence of the statement which has been made by a Member of this House. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Lechmere Charlton) after stating that he seeks not to withdraw himself from the criminal jurisdiction of the realm, goes on to say, "to be protected, however, from any violence of the Crown, or its Ministers, is, I apprehend, the established and undoubted privilege of a Member of Parliament. To this hour I know not of what I am accused, except from public report." This is the statement which the House has received through one of its members, and it is in contradiction of the statement which you have received from the Lord Chancellor. The statement of the Lord Chancellor is, that it is not as exercising the authority of the Crown or as being one of the Ministers of the Crown that he issued the warrant, but that he issued the warrant for the commitment of E. Lechmere Charlton, Esq., one of the Members for the borough of Ludlow, "for a contempt of the high Court of Chancery, in writing and sending for a certain letter, dated the 24th of October last, to William Brougham, Esq., one of the masters of the court, followed by a certain other letter, dated the 19th of November last, addressed to myself." Now, I think it necessary that the House should refer these two letters to a Committee of Privileges, to see whether this breach of the privileges of the House of which Mr. Charlton complains, has been committed, by the Lord Chancellor in the capacity of a Minister of the Crown, or as a judge of the Court of Chancery, I shall be content with referring its merits to a Committee, as was done in the case of Mr. Long Wellesley, where the matter having been fairly and laboriously investigated, the result was communicated to this House, and this House was not advised to interfere further in it. The order in Mr. Wellesley's case was, that the letters from the Chancellor, and from Mr. Wellesley, and the subject matter thereof, should be referred to a Committee of Privileges, which was required to report their proceedings and opinions to the House. I wish in the present instance, to follow the same course. Before I conclude, I wish to advert for a moment to the opinion given yesterday by the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck), namely, that as the hon. Member from whom the complaint was made was not yet in custody, he was not in a situation to claim the protection of the House. Now, I conceive that the letter received from the hon. Member himself stating that he believes a warrant has been issued for his apprehension, affords quite sufficient ground for the House to conclude that his absence from the sitting of this House has been occasioned by the apprehension of arrest under the warrant which the Lord Chancellor himself tells us has been issued for that purpose. It certainly appears to me that a sufficient case has been made out for the interference of the House, because though the hon. Member be not in custody it is clear that his absence from his duties here is occasioned by a step taken by the Lord Chancellor. Under these circumstances I think that we should proceed in the same way as in the case of Mr. Long Wellesley, and I therefore move that the letters of the Lord Chancellor and of Mr. Lechmere Charlton be referred to a Committee of Privileges, to consider the matters therein stated, and to report their proceedings and opinion to this House.

Mr. Roebuck

wished to ask one question of the noble Lord before the subject dropped. When the Committee of Privileges was appointed, Mr. Charlton, of course, would wish to appear before it to defend himself, and to explain the circumstances under which he was threatened with arrest by the Lord Chancellor. Now, what he wished to know was, whether it was the intention of the noble Lord that the protection of the House should be given to Mr. Charlton in going to and coming from the Committee? In his opinion Mr. Charlton ought to be distinctly in the custody of the Lord Chancellor whilst he was before the Committee; for he (Mr. Roebuck) believed that the hon. Member had endeavoured to evade the law; and, in his opinion, no man could claim the protection of that House against a warrant, or any other instrument by which he might be taken into custody, unless he had first yielded all obedience to the law.

Lord John Russell

did not understand that the order for the appointment of the Committee would give any protection to Mr. Charlton. If the House chose to interfere in favour of that Gentleman to prevent his being committed or arrested as he went to or came from the Committee, a subsequent and distinct order of the House would be necessary for that purpose. For his own part he did not see that it would be necessary to take such a step in the first instance. Mr. Charlton was not yet in custody. If, before the inquiry terminated, he should be arrested, it might then be necessary for the House to make some such order as was made in the case of Mr. Long Wellesley, by which he might be brought before the Committee, and enabled to make his defence.

Committee appointed.

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