HC Deb 17 March 1840 vol 52 cc1216-8
Mr. Wakley

said, that until the introduction of an Act in 1837, the expenses of coroners' inquests had been paid by parishes out of the poor rates; but that Act, besides enabling the magistrates to frame a schedule to meet these expenses, had empowered them from time to time to alter and vary that schedule. It gave them no power to rescind former schedules, but the Middlesex magistrates had thought themselves justified in rescinding as well as varying and altering the schedules; and with regard to the recent orders made by the justices, the constables and beadles complained that they had been unjustly deprived of fees to which they were entitled. The consequence was, that the greatest confusion prevailed in the office. Legislation on the subject would certainly be necessary, and as a preliminary to that it was advisable that a Committee of Inquiry should be appointed. He, therefore, moved for a Select Committee to inquire into any measures which have been adopted for carrying into effect, in the county of Middlesex, the provisions of the Act 1 Vic, c. 68; and also into any proceedings of the justices of the peace in relation to the office of coroner in the said county, with power to send for persons, papers, and records, and to report thereon to the House.

Colonel Wood

should certainly oppose the motion. If any inquiry at all was necessary it ought to be general, and not confined to a particular county. He knew not what was the direct complaint against the magistrates of Middlesex; they had only acted in accordance with the strict letter of the Act, and he objected to the hon. Member availing himself of his seat in that House to institute an inquiry into the conduct of magistrates, upon whom that House had imposed the duty of correcting his accounts.

Mr. Hume

thought, the argument of the hon. Gentleman had great force. He did not see why the inquiry should be confined to Middlesex.

Mr. Wakley

said, he was the last man who would object to extend the inquiry into the office of coroner generally throughout the country. He begged leave therefore to alter his motion to that ex- tent, by leaving out the words "in the county of Middlesex" and in the said county."

Sir T. Freemantle

said, he had been prepared to object to the motion as it originally stood, on the ground that no sufficient cause for it had been shown; but when they proposed an inquiry to extend all over the country, his objection was infinitely strengthened, because not one word had been said of abuse or dissatisfaction in any other county but Middlesex; and even limiting the motion to that county, he thought no sufficient ground for it had been stated. The constable and beadles, it was said, were dissatisfied; but they had had no petitions from them; nothing had been heard of it. There was some question as to the accounts of the coroner of Middlesex; and if that were the true ground of the motion, it ought to be so stated to the House. It had been said, too, that the magistrates had exceeded their power, but the Act clearly gave them the power to alter and vary the schedule—[Mr. Wakley, not "to rescind."] But the power of varying and altering was equivalent to that of rescinding. He objected to the motion as it now stood, on the general ground that no sufficient reason had been given for it, and if his hon. Friend thought fit to divide the House he should vote with him even as to the original motion.

Viscount Palmerston

thought the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wakley) had been hardly used, for, after having adopted the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, whose only objection was, that the inquiry was too limited, up got the hon. Baronet opposite and objected to the extent of the inquiry. If it should appear that there was nothing to inquire into, the committee would have short work, and, by extending it throughout the kingdom, all that seemed invidious in the inquiry was removed. He hoped that they should, at all events, have the support of the hon. and gallant Member for Middlesex.

Colonel Wood

begged the noble Lord's pardon; he had never said, that he should support the motion in any form.

Mr. Kemble

thought, that the terms of this motion were very unusual. It was a very extraordinary thing for that House to institute an inquiry into the manner in which certain justices had carried into effect an Act of Parliament.

Mr. Wakley

begged to know whether it would have been proper for him, in that state of the House, to have made a statement on [this subject? Would he have been justified in attacking persons who were not in that House to defend themselves? All he asked for was an inquiry by a committee, which would consist of fifteen Members. How could he or any one Member control the fourteen other Members of that committee. Was it desirable, then, for him to go into the whole case? He should be glad to make a statement, which would put the House and the public in possession of information on this question; but feeling it was not just, he had refrained from doing so. He had no objection to extend the inquiry into every county; but he confessed that, so far as he had been able to collect, he thought such inquiries were scarcely demanded, but what was demanded was an investigation in that House as to this particular county. He should like to know which motion the hon. Baronet would support; and if the committee were agreed to, he should be glad if both the hon. Gentlemen opposite would be on the committee to defend the interests of their parties. At present as to the payment of officers, the coroner's office was in the greatest difficulty. Yesterday the constable of St. Andrew's, Holborn, had declined to act, in consequence of the new orders which were issued in December last, so that he did not, at the present moment, know to whom he could legally send his warrant.

The House divided—Ayes 31; Noes 17: Majority 14.

List of the AYES.
Baring, rt. hon. F. Lushington, C.
Barnard, E. G. Morris, D.
Bewes, T. Palmerston, Lord
Brodie, W. B. Parker, J.
Brotherton, J. Rice, E. R.
Busfeild.W. Rundle, J.
Chichester, J. P. B. Strickland, Sir G.
Clay, W. Turner, E.
Duke, Sir J. Vigors, N. A.
Ewart, W. Wallace, R.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir C. Warburton, H.
Hawes, B. White, A.
Hobhouse, T. B. Wood, Sir M.
Hodges, T. L. Wood, B.
Howard, P. H. TELLERS.
Humphrey, J. Wakley, T.
Lister, E. C. Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
Bailey, J. jun. Cripps, J.
Courtenay, P. Eliot, Lord
Freshfield, J. W. Lowther, J. H.
Gaskell, J. M. Plumptre, J. P.
Grimsditch, T. Rickford, W.
Hodgson, R. Vivian, J. E.
Hughes, W. B. Wodehouse, E.
Kemble, H. TELLERS.
Knatchbull, Sir E. Wood, Colonel T.
Knightly, H. G. Fremantle, Sir T.

Leave given.