Mr. P. St. John Mildmay
appeared at the Bar of the House, and reported that the County of Carlow Election Committee having met on that morning, it was found, that one of its Members, Lord Robert Grosvenor, was prevented by illness from attending, and the Committee had therefore adjourned until eleven o'clock to-morrow.
§ Mr. Mackinnon
said, that as a Member of the Committee, as some informality had taken place, he felt it to be his duty to bring the circumstances under the notice of the House. After the ballot had taken place, and the Committee had been struck on Tuesday, and the Members had been sworn, they proceeded to their room, and the noble Lord, the Member for Chester (Lord R. Grosvenor), was elected to act as their chairman. He accordingly took the chair, and acted in the capacity of chairman that afternoon, and the Committee eventually adjourned until half-past three o'clock the next day. On 903 their meeting at that hour, however, the noble Lord stated, that he was uncertain whether the delicate state of his health might not prevent his performing the duties of his office, and he, therefore, requested the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Winchester to act in his place. This met with no opposition from the Committee, and the hon. Member took the chair and performed the usual duties of a chairman. Now, on referring to the Act for the regulation of election Committees, the 9th Geo. 4th, it appeared by the 37th section, that the chairman first appointed must continue to act except in case of death or unavoidable absence on the ground of illness. According to his interpretation of the Act, he believed, that no individual Member of the Committee could by any means absent himself unless with the sanction of this House, which must be obtained on evidence produced at their Bar, that he was unable to attend. This regulation with regard to the sanction of the House being obtained, was grounded on the 43d section of the same Act; and he apprehended that if the provisions were not complied with, the proceedings of the Committee were illegal. If the noble Lord, therefore, were properly appointed chairman in the first instance what had been done by the hon. Member for Winchester was informal; and if not the absence of the noble Lord, at all events, would only he justified on permission granted by the House, or evidence produced. He therefore thought it his duty to state the grounds of his objection to the Committee this morning, and most of its Members agreed with him, that the doubts which he entertained were reasonable. He desired now to ascertain whether, under the provisions of the statute the hon. Member for Winchester could be supposed to have been legally elected chairman? and if not, whether the proceedings which took place yesterday were informal; and whether the Committee therefore, ought not to begin de nova? It had been stated, that it was not necessary that the same chairman should continue to sit throughout the continuance of the sittings of the Committee, but that the Committee had a right to appoint new chairman every day, but on looking at the clauses of this Act, he thought it was pretty clear that a chairman, when once elected, should continue to act as chairman until, "by death or necessary 904 absence from illness," his presence was prevented. The words of the 43d section were, that no Member should be allowed to absent himself from the Committee unless he should first have obtained leave from the House "on special cause shown, and verified on oath," and such Committee should not sit unless all the Members elected to serve upon it should be assembled together, except in the case of leave of absence having been obtained. He begged to say, that he had no motive whatever in bringing forward this matter, except that of satisfying the Members of the Committee of the legality of their proceedings and providing for the interests of the parties concerned, because, if the proceedings of the Committee should turn out to have been informal, they would all have been of no avail. At present, as the Committee was constituted, there were some doubts whether any warrant signed by the chairman, the hon. Member for Winchester, would be considered as legal.
Mr. P. St. John Mildmay
said, that be wished to state to the House, that when he was called upon to take upon himself the office of Chairman, it was with the unanimous consent of the Committee, and under the firm belief, that he was doing right, and on this ground. The House sent the Committee from the table to make its own arrangements with respect to their proceedings, and in his recollection—a recollection of nearly twenty years—the House had always been very cautious how it interfered in matters of this description, and the only cases in which they did interfere were those where the Members of the Committee had been altered. The election of the Chairman was always left to the discretion of the Committee; and, therefore, if it was for the convenience of the parties, as well as of the Committee, that the Chairman should be changed, the House would not interfere with the arrangement. The reason for which the Committee was not permitted to be changed was, that, independently of its Members being altered, the number was reduced.
§ Sir E. B. Sugden
said, that he conceived that the question was one simply of law, founded on the Act. On the section he was clearly of opinion that the Committee, having once appointed a Chairman, had no power to alter their choice, except in the two cases pointed 905 out. If this rule were not strictly followed great mischief might be produced, for by the statute a casting voice was given to the Chairman, but if this rule was not persisted in, who would have the power of deciding? There would have been no difficulty whatever in the case if the noble Lord had followed the provisions of the Act, and had applied to the House, for on leave having been obtained, he might have absented himself from the Committee on the ground of illness, and a new Chairman might have been appointed. It would only have been doing that in a legal and formal way, which had been done informally. This case was not that of an election of a new Chairman, but only of the transfer of the office from one individual to another, without proper authority. Then, another question arose as to what would be the consequence of any act of the Committee. Supposing they had come to the vote, and the right of the Chairman to give the casting vote should occur, the House would have to consider whether the acts of the Committee were void in consequence of that act of the Chairman. Those acts which were merely ministerial, he thought, would not be void, but he was of opinion, that if they came to vote, their proceedings must be deemed to be illegal, and in consequence they must be held void.
§ Mr. R. Steuart
said, that a Committee could only communicate to the House through a chairman, and this officer could only be appointed by the Committee. Under the circumstances of the present case, therefore, the House could not interfere.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, that in the whole course of his experience he had never known an instance in which the chairman originally elected by a Committee was deposed, and another chosen in his stead. If the chairman were prevented by serious illness from attending, the chairman's seat then became vacant, and the Committee might proceed to elect another hon. Member of their body to preside over them; and having done so, report the fact to the House. The House would then deal with it. But if the system of deposing chairmen were adopted—if they changed a chairman to-day, they might also change their chairman at any other time; and a regular contest of parties in the Committee might thus arise. The chairman of this Committee had committed 906 an error in practice, which it was expedient for the House to set right.
§ The Attorney-General
said, that the House had no power whatever to control the election of the chairman of a Committee. The facts of this case he believed to be, that the Committee had elected a chairman, who had since intimated his wish to resign. It was the unanimous opinion of the Committee that his resignation should be accepted, and another chairman was unanimously elected in his stead. In his humble opinion, that individual was properly elected; for, although he quite agreed with the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, that a chairman once elected could not be deposed, still he apprehended that a chairman might resign, and that a new election might, under such circumstances, take place, in the same way as the Speaker in that House might resign, when the election of his successor would immediately follow. Such would also be the case in a Committee, unless the act of Parliament forbade that practice. It must be clearly shown, that the act of Parliament stated, that the chairman once elected must still remain in that situation until the report of the Committee was finally sent in. Now, the act contained provisions for the appointment of a new chairman in the cases of death and of indispensable absence occasioned by illness; but it contained no provision whatever for the case of resignation.
§ On the motion of Mr. P. Mildmay, a witness was called in and examined: He stated, that he was the medical attendant of Lord Robert Grosvenor; he had seen his Lordship that afternoon; he was too unwell to attend his duties as a Member of the Committee; his indisposition was of such a nature that it would be greatly aggravated by his attendance in the Committee; he was confined to his House that day, but not to his room.
§ The Speaker
What is the nature of his indisposition?—It is an irritation, of a nature that would be aggravated by his coining out.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
Can you state what his complaint is? ["Oh, oh!" and "Withdraw!"]—Witness withdrew.
§ Viscount Howick
would appeal to the House whether this was not an unusual mode of examination towards a medical man called to that bar? He thought, that there was ample evidence before the House, that the noble Lord was not able to attend. Of all the manifestations of party feeling that had ever been shown in that House, he thought that that just exhibited was the most extraordinary, and he could not believe, that any Gentlemen in that House could have carried their feelings to such an extent as had been shown. When an honourable man stated that he was not able to attend a Committee, and when that statement was confirmed on oath by a medical practitioner, he did not think any person would insist upon carrying that examination further; and, with a total disregard to all delicacy, press questions into the nature of the complaint under which the noble Lord laboured. The noble Lord could have no other cause than illness for not attending the Committee, and he would put it to the good feeling of the House whether such a line of examination should be persevered in? He, for one, objected to such a course of examination being persisted in.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
felt called upon to make a few observations in answer to what had fallen from the noble Lord. He should regret showing a want of proper feeling or any deficiency in point of delicacy, but he had asked the question because he thought that the public had a right to be satisfied on this point, and he also thought, that he heard the Speaker ask the nature of the complaint under which the noble Lord suffered. He did not hear that question put from the chair answered, and having but a short experience in that House, he conceived that no question would be addressed to a witness from the chair which should not be answered. The noble Lord said, that they had the word of an honourable man that he was too unwell to attend, and that that should satisfy the House; but if that were the case, why were they to go through the form of calling a medical man and examining him on oath, and to allow him to give no information on the subject? He should not address a question to a medical attendant which he did not conceive that person was bound to answer, and he could tell the House that the public looked with anxiety and jealousy at their proceedings as regarded election 908 Committees. With regard to the imputation that had been thrown out by the noble Lord of being actuated by party feeling, he would undoubtedly say that there was no party feeling in the inquiry on his side of the House. He repeated that he and others on his side of the House were not actuated by party feelings. The House might dispose of the matter as it thought fit, but he should not persevere in the question he had put to the witness.
§ The Attorney-General
said, that if any hon. Gentleman thought that the question should be put to the witness, of course he could insist on its being answered. But would it not be disrespectful to the noble Lord, as well as a want of delicacy, to insist on a reply? Since the question was put from the Chair, the medical man said that Lord Robert Grosvenor was so ill as to be unable to attend in his place. After such evidence, he put it to the hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they would persist in this line of examination.
§ Mr. Goulburn
would not have said one word upon the subject had it not been for the language of the noble Lord, the Secretary at War. The noble Lord had taxed his side of the House with being actuated in deciding on that subject by party views and party feelings. What had that side of the House to gain by the keeping Lord Robert Grosvenor on the Committee? If there was any party feeling, they should be most anxious to facilitate his removal from the Committee, because the noble Lord came down the other night and voted in the majority on the question respecting the government of Canada, which retained the present Administration in office. He saw the noble Lord on that occasion, and as he knew him, he was glad to see him in improved health; he was now sorry to find that it was otherwise. If, therefore, they were actuated by party feelings, they should be anxious to have the noble Lord removed from the Committee, and there was nothing in the question of his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Bandon, which entitled the noble Lord to put such a construction on it. The question had been put from the Chair, and no answer had been returned to it; and his hon. Friend did that which was his obvious course—he repeated the question, and the noble Lord opposite was pleased to make an attack on him.
§ Viscount Howick
said, that when he rose to object to the question, he did not 909 think of imputing to the hon. and learned Member individually his being actuated by party feelings, but he wished to put it to the hon. Member himself, if he had not inadvertently asked a question which was not necessary? What led him to impute party feeling was the shout of doubt and taunting cheer which he heard spread from one end of those benches to the other when he said that he was sure the House would feel, that the examination had been carried far enough.
§ Sir R. Inglis
observed, that the noble Lord, in no measured terms, had stigmatised that side of the House with want of delicacy and party spirit, and as he was one of those who called "order!" it occurred to him that the noble Lord accused the Speaker as much as hon. Members on the Opposition benches, and he had intended to rise and defend the Chair from the noble Lord, who was cheered by Gentlemen opposite when the noble Lord accused him and his Friends of a want of delicacy in persisting in putting a question Which had been put from the Chair. If the noble Lord thought fit to retract the charge, he would say no more; if not, he should call upon the Speaker to desire that some explanation might be given of the charge affecting the whole of his side of the House. The hon. Gentlemen opposite might be regardless of the charge of want of delicacy, but he desired the noble Lord to explain what he meant by such a charge.
§ Mr. Warburton
had no doubt that the question, as originally put by the Speaker, was perfectly regular; but the manner in which the witness, a professional man, avoided speaking as to the nature of the disease made him conceive that the gentleman had a delicacy, as to professional confidence, in answering the question. He thought that, at any rate, the question should not be pressed.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
said, that if he had had the slightest notion that there was any objection to the question being answered, he would not have pressed it.
§ Mr. Mildmay
moved, that Lord Robert Grosvenor should be excused from further attendance on the Carlow Election Committee.
§ Motion agreed to.