HC Deb 28 February 1839 vol 45 cc984-90

Mr. Jervis moved the appointment of the following select committee on Mr. Wynn's case:—Mr. John Jervis, Mr. Goulburn, Sir Frederick Pollock, Mr. Solicitor-General, Lord Stanley, Mr. Sergeant Wilde, Sir James Graham, Mr. Sanford, Mr. Ward, Mr. Pusey, Mr. Greene.

Mr. Ward

said, as the present committee very much resembled that in the case of the hon. Member for Southwark, he thought it indispensable, before the motion was put, that an imputation which had been thrown out by that hon. Member (whom he was glad to see again in his place) in his last address to his constituents, should be explained. In that address, the hon. Member used terms which he should be happy to hear him explain. In that address the hon. Member stated, that he conceived himself, although he could not recollect the exact words used by the hon. Member, to have been the victim of the select committee, with whose appointment he had nothing to do, and from whose proceedings he had been perfectly excluded. He believed every Member on that Committee was most anxious to do his duty, and as to the hon. Member for Southwark being excluded from its deliberations, he was present during the whole of the sittings, until there were no further suggestions to be made; but when the Committee was about to deliberate as to their Report, it was intimated to him, that, according to the rules of the House, he was a stranger, and must withdraw. He felt the importance of having the statements in that address modified, because it was most unfair to make such a statement in an address to a constituency, as applied to the judicial proceedings of a Committee of that House. He thought that some explanation was due to the House, before another Committee of the same sort was appointed.

Mr. Hume

thought it was not altogether regular to call upon an hon. Member to explain what appeared in the public journals. If they once admitted the principle, that Members must be answerable for what was reported in the public papers, or in public committees of that House, see what a situation hon. Members would be placed in. The speech might or might not be correct. His hon. Friend said, it was an address, but even then they had nothing to do with what occurred out of the House.

Mr. Aglionby

said, there might be some doubt as to the expediency of putting the question, but he believed in principle and practice, that it was quite right. He contended, that when any statement appeared calculated to prejudice that House, it was their duty to call upon the hon. Member in his place to state whether what appeared in the public papers had been spoken by him, or whether he avowed or disavowed the expressions; that was done in the case of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. When the noble Lord made his motion he had no knowledge of the matter except from the public papers; that was the origin of the proceedings which had occupied the House so long. An objection was now taken to the same course of proceeding, and he saw no other way in which the question could be set at rest, if it were worth noticing at all. He hoped, therefore, the House would call upon the hon. Member to give some explanation. He had seen the hon. Member in attendance at the committee; the hon. Member heard all the questions that were put and the discussions that took place, and he could assure the House, that he had never once lowered his voice in putting questions. The committee might have been wrong in permitting Mr. Harvey to be present during the two days of their proceedings, but he believed, according to the rules of the House, Mr. Harvey was a stranger, and the committee were justified in requesting him to withdraw. So far from there having been any secresy in their proceedings, the grounds on which they had come to their decision were communicated to Mr. Harvey. It was due to the committee to state thus much, and it was due to the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire to say, that according to his judgment the right hon. Member had done nothing that was not strictly according to the forms of the House.

Mr. Harvey

having been called upon, said, if the House considered it right, that a Member of that House should be called upon to explain an address to his constituents, he should not interpose any difficulty whatever. He had only hoped, that they had more important matters to engage their attention. As he understood the observation of the hon. Member for Sheffield, he had been called upon in courtesy, and he had no objection to give any explanation that was required. The hon. Member, however, should not have been altogether unmindful of what was due to him, for although he had been sitting in the House since four o'clock, and although the hon. Member had been there nearly for the same period, it was a mere accidental suggestion about five minutes since which led him to understand, that the hon. Member was about to mention the subject, or that he cared anything for what appeared in the public papers. As he had been called on by the hon. Member for Cockermouth to avow or disavow these words, he would at once; and he was not one of those who would take shelter under one thing or another; he would at once avow and explain what he had said. If he was wrong, no one was more ready to explain or retract it. He did write that letter, and he abided by it. It was true, not only in the letter, but in spirit. A secret and select committee of the House of Commons, in whose appointment he had no share, and from whose deliberations he was expressly excluded, had in its wisdom come to the decision that he had accepted an office of profit, and declared his seat to be vacated. That it was secret was not denied, because the hon. Gentleman had admitted, that all strangers were excluded. That it was select was also true, for that was the very title of the committee. In the appointment of that committee he had no share, because the names had never been shown to him, nor had he been asked whether the Committee were acceptable in its persons, or as a whole. True, he (Mr. Harvey) had accidentally suggested to a right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Benches, that if there was no objection he would be pleased to see Mr. Sergeant Wilde and Mr. Sergeant Talfourd on that Committee, considering that they were both able lawyers; and with all due submission to the hon. Member for Cockermouth, they might have been useful in such a case, if they got a word in. With respect to that part of the subject he would say, that he not only gave credit to his hon. Friend, when he had stated, that he talked as loud as usual, but he heard nobody else speak. The first day there was no deliberation at all. There were only five Members present, and it appeared to him (Mr. Harvey), that they considered it as a mere conversazione. They walked about the room, and stood at the fire, and there was a great deal of coquetting about who should take the chair. The Solicitor General stated, that rather than nobody should take the chair, he would. He was obliged to the hon. Member for the compliment he had paid him in saying, that he had an opportunity of hearing what he did not recollect. The only deliberation was as to the questions to be circulated among the Members who were to be summoned for the following Thursday. They did assemble on that day, and he carried his point notwithstanding the thunder of the hon. Member's voice, that the hon. Member for Southwark had no business there, the committee being a secret and select one—nothing offensive of course was meant. He immediately said, that all he wished was, that the committee should come to a con- clusion as soon as they could. It was then intimated to him, that he should retire, which he did most readily. The Chairman certainly asked him whether he had anything to state. He replied in the negative, adding, that all he wished them to do was to decide at once. To show how little he had to do with their deliberations, (he did not mean their talk or conversation), and to show how expressly he was shut out from them, the committee directed the messenger to tell him that they would be glad if he would wait in the library during their deliberations. He did wait there, and if they asked their librarian they would find, that during that time a good many of its shelves had been deranged as they sent for not less than twenty books to assist their deliberations, in which deliberations he (Mr. Harvey) had no share whatever. If, in making that statement to his constituents, he had offended the hon. Member or the committee he was sorry for it. Why should he? he was in excellent humour with them all, and so were his constituents. He had nothing to apprehend from their decision, for as soon as the forms of law permitted it he was repossessed of his seat. He would conclude by assuring them, that he had no intention Whatever in framing that address to speak of the hon. Member in any other terms than that of kindness and courtesy.

Mr. Goulburn

regretted very much that the hon. Member who had moved the Committee, had seen reason to depart from what he understood was the original intention of the House, viz., to submit the question to the same Committee as before—he was surprised to find the substitution of the names of two Gentlemen to whom he had no objection farther than as it infringed on the principle. The hon. Member was proceeding on the supposition that two Members of the previous Committee could not attend, and that it would be therefore necessary to substitute other names, but he doubted whether that would justify him in appointing other Members. He thought it was their duty not to make any alteration in the original understanding of the House for the accommodation of any particular Member on the one side or the other. He had really considered the question as one which they were not to deal with as a party or political one. The present Committee was a new construction of it, more than one Member being added; and he felt it impossible to give his sanction in such a proceeding. He hoped, therefore, the House would adhere to its original understanding.

The Attorney-General

said, he had suggested the substitution of another name for his, as it would be impossible for him, however anxious to do his duty, either in this House or before a Committee, to be present. He should be engaged for three days. After that time, he should have no difficulty, but he thought the House to determine as early as possible.

Lord John Russell

believed, that neither he nor the hon. and learned Gentleman intended to ask any Member proposed, whether he should attend the Committee or, not. He thought, in a case of this kind, which involved the seat of a Member of the House, there should be no delay, especially as the investigation was not one likely to last for weeks or months, but would be decided in two or three days. He should move the appointment of the original Committee.

Mr. Jervis

had no objection; however, he could not substitute Mr. O'Connell for Sir Thomas Acland, nor Mr. Harvey for Mr. Cresswell, because he had not given notice to that effect. He was indifferent about the opinion of the Committee—what he wanted was, to have the facts of the case clearly developed and laid before the public. Let no one accuse him of acting unfairly in this matter. He was willing to undertake the entire responsibility of the proceeding. However, for the sake of expediting the business, if those opposite would strike out of the eight Members which their side of the House furnished, Sir Thomas Acland and Mr. Cresswell, he would strike out Mr. O'Connell and the Attorney-General. Then the Committee would consist of eleven which he moved accordingly.

Mr. Harvey

said, that if there had been a house on Tuesday, the Committee would have gone off well. He was glad of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Chester, but some of the arrangements that had been proposed were open to inferences unfavourable to the even flow of justice. He would have the House remember, that some persons were as much alive to their proceedings, as others were sensitive to addresses. When the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, that it was unnecessary to propose a Committee because he was satisfied the Memfor Southwark had vacated his seat, it might be said, that he should not be on the Committee because his mind was made up. Why, if Montgomeryshire were not as safe as Southwark, that would be some reason for him to be on the Committee. They must not be content with mere parole evidence now, they must have ample documentary evidence before the House, and he was satisfied then the House would come to a just conclusion.

Original Committee nominated, with the exceptions as moved by Mr. Jervis.