HC Deb 17 February 1837 vol 36 cc648-53

Mr. Horsman moved that the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. D. O'Connor) be discharged from his attendance on this Committee, and that Mr. Divett be substituted in his stead.

Mr. Cumming Bruce

objected to the motion. It was most important, in order to render the result of this inquiry useful and satisfactory, that the Committee should be free from all imputations of party motives, and have the character of perfect impartiality. He did not think at the time that this Committee was proposed that it was calculated to effect the object it proposed to accomplish. However, seeing that both sides of the House were unanimous on the subject, he gave way. He thought, however, that the plan on which the hon. Member intended to pro- ceed was sufficiently indicated when, at the commencement, he at one fell swoop excluded no less than six Scotch Members of counties, and subsequently two other Scotch Members, from the Committee, on the ground that, as the inquiry would refer particularly to their constituencies, they were not eligible to be placed on this Committee. He protested against this unusual course of disqualifying Members, which in cases where party influence was involved in the issue might be carried to a dangerous extent. He had no objection that the hon. Member for Roscommon, whose impartiality was beyond suspicion, should be discharged from his labours, as he understood that he had urgent reasons for going to Ireland, but he objected to the proposed substitution of the hon. Member for Exeter. He had had a very old acquaintance with that hon. Member, and personally he entertained for him much regard, but he certainly objected to having him placed on this Committee. He perceived that the hon. Member had, a few days ago, been discharged from his attendance on the Committee on private Bills. Unless there was a particular motive in substituting the hon. Member for Exeter he did not know why such anxiety should exist on the part of those at the other side of the House. Now he had reason to know that Mr. Patrick Stewart, the hon. Member for Lancaster, and Lord Robert Grosvenor had stated that they had no objection to serve on this Committee. He had not any objection to the appointment of either of those hon. Members, but he certainly thought that there must be some motive for the eagerness to place the hon. Member for Exeter on this Committee. That hon. Member had, on a recent occasion, shown little capacity to separate the innocent from the guilty, as he had voted for the punishment of a large number of admittedly innocent and incorrupt voters because certain other electors of the borough to which they belonged had been proved guilty of bribery and corruption. From all these considerations, and feeling the importance that the Committee should possess an undoubted character for impartiality, he should oppose the motion.

Mr. Warburton

wished to call the attention of the House to the principle on which the Committee had been appointed. It was composed of an equal number of Members from both sides of the House, with an intermixture of others of moderate politics. One of the Members who had been placed on the Committee, the hon. Member for Roscommon, was obliged to go to Ireland, in consequence of a family affliction, and was not likely soon to return. The Committee was to sit on Tuesday next, and it was proposed to substitute in his place a Member of equally pronounced politics, in order to keep the balance of the Committee equal. There was nothing in that proposal which could be called unfair. And to take an hon. Member from one Committee to serve on another was nothing unusual.

Mr. Maclean

said, that the Committee was of a peculiar character, being, as he considered it similar to an Election Committee. For his own part he saw no occasion whatever for it. The votes on which it was to make inquiries had been already decided on by the Courts of Registration, and there was no necessity to go over them again. Great care ought to be taken in meddling with the Committee, after its having been once appointed, and he thought it singular to remove an hon. Member from one Committee to place him on another.

Mr. F. Maule

was of opinion that to substitute the hon. Member for Exeter for the hon. Member for Roscommon was quite reasonable.

Mr. George F. Young

begged leave to observe, that the hon. Member for Roscommon was a man of moderate politics, and that, constituted as the Committee was, they were bound to substitute some Gentleman whose opinions were of at least as moderate a nature, in order that the House and the public might have confidence in the result of the inquiry. He believed the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. P. M. Stewart), who was in every respect fitted to assist in that inquiry, would have no objection to be named on the Committee in the place of the hon. Member for Roscommon, and he would move as an amendment that his name be substituted therefore.

Mr. R. Steuart

supported the original motion, and defended the original constitution of the Committee, a list of the members of which he had previously shown to the hon. Member for Edinburghshire.

Sir T. Fremantle

said, that when a noble Lord, a Member of the Committee, and of that side of the House, was likely to have been obliged to absent himself, they had determined not to propose the substitution of any other hon. Member, but, although a different course was thought necessary on the present occasion by hon. Members opposite, he did not expect that they would have brought forward any motion to alter the constitution of the Committee. There were many hon. Gentlemen present perfectly conversant with the subject of inquiry, and to whom there could be no objection on the ground of holding very strong political opinions, one of whom he would suggest ought to be named in place of the hon. Member for Roscommon.

Mr. Horsman

had proposed to the hon. Member for Buckingham to select one of two names; but that the hon. Member had replied, "No; propose your man, and then I will state my objections to him."

Mr. O'Connell

begged to differ with the hon. Member for Tynemouth, in defining the politics of the hon. Member for Roscommon as of a moderate character. Now, the hon. Member for Exeter was a Whig or very little more, while the hon. Member for Roscommon was a thorough Radical, who had pledged himself to his constituency, at the last election, to support the present Administration. He had voted for the Ballot, the Shortening of Parliament, Universal Suffrage, and was a decided Repealer, and yet the hon. Member for Tynemouth had asserted that he was a man of moderate politics.

Mr. Robinson

wished to state the reason why he felt it incumbent on him to vote for the hon. Member for Exeter. His predilections were in favour of his Friend the hon. Member for Lancaster, but when he recollected that the former Gentleman had been originally proposed, he felt that he could not object to him now without casting imputations on him.

Mr. Scarlett

denied that any imputation was intended, by the opposition given to the substitution of the name of the hon. Member for Exeter. A comparison between two hon. Members was an extremely delicate point, and he thought the best way to avoid it would be by hon. Members opposite acquiescing in any reasonable proposal emanating from his side of the House. He was sorry to hear that the politics of the O'Conor Don were of so decided a character as that described, but still there was no man carried further than that hon. Member those notions of honour and impartiality which in a judicial tribunal could alone lead to a correct conclusion.

Sir George Clerk

said, that although he conceived many of the facts as originally stated by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Horsman) to have been founded in misconception, yet he offered no objection to inquiry, stating, at the same time, that the Committee should be so constituted as to meet with the confidence of that House and the people of Scotland. He felt, that as it was to be an inquiry into a question of a legal character, it was not only necessary to have a Committee free from political bias, but one formed of men who, from their professional habits or other sources, were best calculated to turn their attention to a question of so difficult a nature. Being still of that opinion, being anxious for full and fair inquiry, and being desirous that the Committee should be placed above all suspicion, he would suggest that a conference should take place between the hon. Member for Buckingham and the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in order that they might decide upon substituting some hon. Member to whom there would be no objection.

Lord John Russell

had seen the original list of the Members of the Committee before it was proposed to the House, and thought it a very fair one. When it was proposed to the House, the only objection made to it was that some of the hon. Members who belonged to the other side of the House might not be able to attend. He had observed that if that should prove to be the case there would be no difficulty in filling up the vacancies with Members of the same side of the House; for no one contended that the constitution of the Committee was irrevocable. Now, however, when an hon. Member from his side of the House was unable to continue his attendance on the Committee, the substitution of another hon. Member of similar political principles was opposed. The hon. Member for Buckingham was not entitled to refuse the proposition of the hon. Member for Cockermouth, and to say, "Do you propose your man, and I will state my objections to him." With reference to the present motion and amendment, he had only to say that he had every confidence in both his hon. Friends' names (Mr. Divett and Mr. Stewart); but that as a substantive motion had been made for the nomination of the hon. Member for Exeter in place of the hon. Member for Roscommon, he could not consent to the substitution of the name of his other hon. Friend.

Mr. James

could not avoid observing that the discussion which had this evening occurred was calculated to depreciate this House in the eyes of the country.

The House divided on the original question that the hon. Member for Roscommon be discharged from further attendance on the Fictitious Votes (Scotland)Committee: —Ayes 130; Noes 16: Majority 114.

The House again divided on the question that the name of the hon. Member for Exeter be substituted for that of the hon. Member for Roscommon:—Ayes 111; Noes 40: Majority 71.