HC Deb 15 March 1837 vol 37 cc457-66

Lord George Lennox, in pursuance of the instructions he had received from the London and Brighton Railway Committee, begged to move that the Resolution of the House of the 20th of February, 1830, be now read. He would state to the House what had taken place in the Committee, and then leave it to them to decide in what manner they should treat it. A petition from Mr. Goldsmid had been referred to that Committee, and upon asking who appeared in support of it, the Committee were informed that the agent was Mr. Freshfield, jun.; and Mr. Fresh-field being asked whether he was in partnership with his father, a Member of that House, replied, that he was in partnership with his father in general business, but not in Parliamentary business, or as regarded this particular case. The Committee had directed him to bring the subject under the notice of the House.

The Resolution having been read by the clerk, that no Member of the House be permitted to engage, either directly or indirectly, in the management of private Bills before Committees of that House for pecuniary reward.

Mr. Freshfield

thanked the noble Lord for the courteous manner in which he brought the subject under the consideration of the House; but there was no mode in which such a subject could come before Parliament which must not of necessity occasion regret and pain—regret that the time of the House should be occupied with anything that merely concerned him as an individual, and pain that after he had had the honour of a seat in that House for three Parliaments, during which he had always refrained from forcing himself upon their notice, he should now feel compelled to solicit attention respecting a subject which involved his own personal conduct, and which, to say the least, imputed to him some obliquity of moral perception. It was supposed that he had acted in a manner inconsistent with a resolution of that House—a resolution which appeared to him to have no more to do with the relation in which he stood towards the individual referred to, than it could possibly have to do with the conduct, if he might take the liberty to say so, of the right hon. Gentleman then in the chair. There was no individual more distant or more remote than himself from any interest upon any question that could come before that House as a subject of Parliamentary inquiry. He understood the resolution to be, that no Member by himself or his partner should be engaged in soliciting any Bill before that or the other House of Parliament, for pecuniary reward or advantage. Could there be a shadow of doubt that the object of that resolution was to prevent Members of the House of Commons from acting as Parliamentary agents—that it was intended to embrace partners in Parliamentary business, but not partners in other transactions? That was the precise and just interpretation of the resolution; and as to the particular case now under the notice of the House, they would of course deal with it as they thought proper. His object was not to argue the question beyond what was barely necessary to its full explanation. He should simply state the facts, and then leave the House to deal with those facts as they might think proper. He most distinctly asserted that he had no interest, direct or indirect, in soliciting, managing, or conducting any private business before that or the other House of Parliament. When he was first returned to Parliament, in 1830, he lost not a moment—he did not wait even till his return to London, but wrote to town for the purpose of directing an arrangement to be made by which his son, and his son only, should derive any of the profits arising from Parliamentary business. Although he remained in partnership with his son in general business, yet from any participation in any Parliamentary business he was wholly separated and removed.—He directed that the accounts should be kept quite separate, and that the profits of all Parliamentary business should be taken by his son for his own separate and individual use, and from that moment to the present be had never once interfered in any of the Parliamentary business with which his son was concerned. Let it not be supposed that such arrangements were unknown to professional men; they were, on the contrary, matters of every day occurrence; there was scarcely one large house in which arrangements of that sort had not at one time or other taken place. Nothing was more usual than that one partner should have no interest in the common law business, another no concern with the conveyancing department, a third no interference with the business of a particular family. In his own house, one of his sons was, and another was not, connected with him in the Bank of England. He and his sons were partners in general business, excluding one of them from the concerns of the Bank. They were partners in general business, he himself being excluded from Parliamentary concerns. By other Members of that House, who belonged to the same branch of the profession that he did, the same course was adopted. Mr. Henry Smith was solicitor to the East-India Company. From the moment he came into Parliament he disconnected himself from all Parliamentary business. Similar arrangements were made by Sir J. Graham, by Mr. Evan Folks, solicitor to the Audit-office, and by Mr. Jones, who was solicitor to the office of Woods and Forests. Without multiplying instances, he would ask, had any abuse arisen from the practice in which he had been one amongst many to follow? He begged permission to state what had been his own conduct in the matter. From the moment he entered Parliament he abstained from interference, direct or indirect, with any Parliamentary business conducted in his office. He asserted most solemnly, that no client had derived the slightest advantage from the circumstance of his being a member of Parliament, no client was ever permitted to hold any conversation or intercourse with him on any matter with which his son was professionally connected, and though he had presented petitions for gentlemen, who might have stopped him in the lobby, he had in no instance presented any petition, or so much as moved any of those Bills, through any one of their stages, in which his sons had the least interest. He kept himself completely distinct from any thing of the sort, and it thence frequently occurred that the progress of their business was delayed, but he strictly abstained from interference lest his taking any part in affairs of that nature should compromise his character as a Member of Parliament. He claimed most respectfully, but with the utmost confidence, that the House should give full reliance to the statement he was then making. He claimed it without assuming to himself a higher degree of sincerity or a more scrupulous regard to character than belonged to others; but he thought he might even claim that confidence without offering proof of his statement; but if any individual in that house entertained the slightest suspicion on the subject, or had any curiosity to gratify, he could inform that hon. Member that such was the state of business in his House— such the notoriety on the subject—such the information of the clerks in the House such the knowledge of official persons connected with both Houses of Parliament, that his statement if not literally accurate, might meet with instant contradiction. The observations which he was then taking the liberty of laying before the House, and which probably would appear in the papers of to-morrow morning, was one to which twenty persons in his own establishment could if it were unfounded, give a flat contradiction. The books of the House too, about which there was no mystery, would contradict him if he deviated in the least from the exact facts. He therefore asked—he provoked any Gentleman who felt the slightest interest in the matter, to move for a Committee of investigation, and by the decision of such Committee he was willing to stand or fall. He had recorded in the books of the House, his withdrawal from any connexion with any Parliamentary concerns; that was a fact not only recorded in the hooks of the House, but within the knowledge of those employed by him and his partners, and known likewise to all those clients of the House whose affairs had the least reference to Parliamentary business. What Mode was there of separating himself from such matters to which he had not resorted? If he had withdrawn altogether from professional pursuits, he should still feel a great interest in all that concerned the gentleman by whom the Parliamentary department was conducted, As the parent of that individual, would it be said that the indirect interest he felt was such as to disqualify him from being a Member of the House of Commons. He conceived that the resolution proposed to be read had reference only to direct interest and avowed partnership in Parliamentary business. He enjoyed none of the advantages which brought him within the scope of the resolution, nor by any possibility could any such advantage accrue to him; in fact, to what ever extent his house was concerned in Parliamentary business, he suffered rather a proportionate injury than a proportionate advantage. He need only add, that arrangements of this nature were so familiar to professional men, that there would be no difficulty in their understanding the distinction between partners engaged in general business and those whose union was limited to particular objects. A case was present to his recollection of a Gentleman, now a Member of that House, which might be offered in illustration. He was a banker, and so far as his banking business was concerned he was in partnership with a solicitor. Would it be said that the hon. Gentleman should be affected by the resolution because his partner in banking affairs solicited Bills in that House? He thanked them for the indulgence which they had shown him, but on the present occasion he desired no favour. If there existed the least suspicion or doubt with respect to his motives, he wished such feeling or opinion to be fairly and frankly expressed; a very short time would suffice to decide the question, and, whatever might be the decision of the House, to that he should willingly bow.

Mr. Freshfield

having left the House,

The Attorney-General

felt bound to offer his opinion to the House at once. It appeared to him that the hon. Member was taking unnecessary pains to vindicate himself. Because as soon as the hon. Member declared that he had no concern directly or indirectly with the business, it seemed to him quite clear that he could not be in the remotest degree implicated in the resolution that had been read. They were bound to give credit to the statement of any hon. Member, much more to the hon. Member who had just left the House, who, he must say, during the long period he had known him, had maintained that character that there was no hon. Member whose word could be more implicitly relied on, or who had a stricter or more delicate sense of honour.

Sir F. Pollock

entirely concurred in what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend. No Member of that House, either by himself or his partner, ought to participate in the profits of a Parliamentary agency. There never sat in that House an hon. Member more entitled to a higher share of confidence than the hon. Member for Penryn; and if the House was satisfied that what that hon. Member had stated was correct, it was clear that this case did not come within the spirit or the letter of the resolution. Having expressed his concurrence in what had been stated by his hon. and learned Friend opposite, and there being no motion before the House, he hoped the House, would now proceed to the other orders of the day.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that this was one of the farces which they were occasionally in the habit of seeing performed in that Mouse. It was impossible to come to any conclusion upon this that would be beneficial to the public. Constituents had it in their power to elect such Members as would be likely to serve them in Parliament faithfully; but to tell him that the hon. Member opposite could not feel any solicitude about the interest of his son, was just one of those extravagant suppositions that could not be tolerated any where but in the House of Commons. What he complained of was, that the House formed resolutions with the idea of reaching private interests, which it was impossible, and he thought that the best proceeding they could adopt would be to erase the resolution from their books altogether, and let all who could have a majority of their constituents have a seat in that House,

Mr. Tooke

would not occupy the attention of the House more than a few minutes. There was no one who acquiesced more readily than himself in the satisfaction which the explanation of the hon. Gentleman had given; but he feared the influence which his respectability would have in contravening the spirit of the resolution; and he thought that some words should be added which would render it more simple, and make it impossible that influence respecting private Bills could be used. He hard been in the same predicament as the hon. Gentleman when he first was elected a Member of that House; and he thought that the spirit of the resolution should prevent any interference whatever with the private business which might be before it: and he therefore dissolved a useful and valuable partnership, although it had been suggested to him that his connexion with it might still be continued, the parties having different offices from him. He, however, abandoned the idea; in fact, he had never entertained it; for he held it to be his duty not to engage in any business connected with that House which could in any way be productive of pecuniary profit to him; and he feared that if the doctrines of the Attorney-General and of the hon. Member for Huntingdon were received, that as some would not be actuated by the motives of the hon. Member for Penryn it would be productive of considerable mischief. He would now state in what manner the influence of a Member of Parliament was likely to prove so. He had during the summer received letters from several gentlemen, who stated that they had projected a line of railroad similar to that in question, but they considered that as the name of Mr. Freshfield, jun. was attached to this, there was no chance for them in any competition with him. For these reasons, therefore, and without any retrospective views, and entertaining, as he did, as much respect as any Member of that House for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn, and disclaiming any personal or party motives, he considered it his duty to take the opinion of the House, and to move, if the resolution was not strong enough, the addition of such words as would make it so. It was impossible to draw such fine distinctions between persons whose business was conducted within the same House and walls by the same clerks, and who employed the same stationery in their general business. He thought that it was his duty to the profession to bring this matter before the House. He suggested that the following words be added to the resolution—"to be received by such Member, or any person standing in the relation of partner with him."

Mr. Law

thought the hon. Member was bound to give notice of his intention to move an addition to the resolution. The only question now before the House was, whether or not the hon. Member who was particularly referred to had been guilty of an infraction of the rules and orders of the House. He thought that any one who had an opportunity of hearing the perfectly satisfactory explanation of that hon. Gentleman must be of opinion that his case did not fall within the terms or spirit of the orders of the House. In conclusion he would observe that if the hon. Member for Truro were to give a notice for the purpose of bringing the question regularly before the House, he should certainly give him his strongest opposition.

Mr. Harvey

expressed his entire credence in the statements of the hon. Member for Penryn, and did not doubt that he had done everything in his power to escape the operation of the resolution of the House. Yet he denied that his conduct or character were any defence, however it might extenuate the course he had pursued. It was idle to say, looking at the words of the resolution, that the partner of a Member of Parliament could conduct Parliamentary business, nor could the learned Member complain of it, for he had entered the House since its enactment. But as regarded himself the case was as different as it was vindictive, oppressive, and cruel. Parliamentary business had been for years his principal professional pursuits; by it he was realizing upwards of 2,000l. a-year, with rapidly improving prospects; and his constituents well knew and approved his engagements. But it had been his lot, through the whole of his political life, to be opposed to the two great political factions, who with all their enmity to each other, cordially concurred in every Act which might annoy, distress, plunder, and destroy their opponents. Honesty was obnoxious to both. He should like to ask, what would be the course pursued if he had acted as the hon. Member for Penryn has acted? Would a troop of practising barristers have started forth to justify his conduct, and extol his character? oh, no! we should have high sounding denunciations of the practice, and the obligation of preserving the order of the House. Those learned Gentlemen were keen scented; they well knew that the hon. Member for Penryn was solicitor to the Bank, and that his house tried many causes in the courts of law, and instituted many suits in the Court of Chancery. These Gentlemen were consistent in their persecution; more than one of them had disinterestedly voted to deprive him of his profession at the bar, and they would now readily rob him in another way. But he had not given them the chance of so acting. For cruel and persecuting as he felt the resolution to be in his case, yet bowing to the decision of Parliament, and respecting its Members, he resolved never to do anything at variance with its orders. The moment, therefore, the resolution of February, 1830, passed the House, he dissolved a valuable connexion, and declined all arrangements by which future emoluments might be secured. It is true that the hon. Member, at whose immediate instance the resolution was adopted, congratulated him upon it, as it proclaimed to the world that he was engaged as a Parliamentary agent, and suggested the facility by which the resolution might be evaded. But he declined to take the advice—it might correspond with the virtue of a man qualified to be a Peer as he had since become, but it was totally at variance with his notions of justice and honour. Yet this did not alter the oppressive conduct of which he had been the victim, and he congratulated those hon. Gentlemen who had sanctioned the resolution upon seeing him amongst them, to expose their political and personal persecution, for though they had plundered they had not been able to crush him. He trusted the hon. Member would persevere, so that the resolution might be repealed, as it ought to be, or rendered efficient to its object.

Mr. Tooke, not wishing to prolong the period for the discussion of the important matter that stood for to-night, would move that the further consideration of this subject be adjourned to Thursday, the 6th of April.

Mr. Goulburn

would put it to the hon. Member for Truro whether that was an advisable course to pursue? If the hon. Member opposite intended to propose any new resolution upon the subject, it would be proper the discussion should be adjourned, in order that ample time might be given for its consideration; but the first question the House had to consider and decide was, had the hon. Member for Penryn violated any order of that House? Now, it had been admitted on all sides that the word of the hon. Member himself was sufficient to exculpate him fully, and it appeared to him that the declaration of the hon. Member set the question at rest. The House was called upon to come to some declaration upon the subject.

Debate adjourned.

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