HC Deb 22 May 1840 vol 54 cc504-6
Sir G. Clerk said

Sir, I beg leave to call the attention of the House to a matter deeply affecting the privileges of the House. A new writ was moved for yesterday in the room of Mr. Horsman, late Member for Cockermouth, on the ground that the hon. and learned Gentleman had accepted the situation of a Lord of the Treasury. I hold in my hand an address to the electors and non-electors of Cockermouth, signed "Edward Horsman," and dated "London, May the 18th."Sir, I wish to call the attention of the House to the terms of that address. It commences as follows:— Gentlemen, I have been offered the appointment of a Lord of the Treasury, and from the manner in which the offer was made, I have felt it my duty to accept it. It is therefore necessary that I should appeal to you for your approval of the step which I have resolved to take, The hon. Member, after proceeding to explain his public principles, and after stating that he held, in common with the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay), that it was the duty of every public man to be ready on every occasion to lend his best efforts, when he could be useful, to assist the party with which he acted, and after stating that it was owing to an adherence to his principles that the offer was made, the hon. Member goes on to state:— I have accepted the offer, not only as a distinction to myself, but as a compliment to those whom I represent. The moment, therefore, the debate on the Irish Registration Bill is over, I shall present myself to you. Sir, I beg leave to state, that this address was sent up to me this morning from Cockermouth, and was printed and circulated there on Wednesday last, and on Thursday morning, after dictating this address on Monday, and after the publication of it on Wednesday, in which the hon. and learned Gentleman stated especially that he had accepted office, he still continued to sit and vote in this House. The words are these:— I have been offered the appointment of a Lord of the Treasury, and, from the manner in which the offer has been made, I have felt it my duty to accept it. It is perfectly clear that the hon. and learned Gentleman himself knew the con-sequences that would necessarily follow, namely, an appeal to his constituents for their approval, and yet he states afterwards, that having accepted the offer made to him, not only as a distinction to himself, but as a compliment to his constituents, that he would remain in London till the debate on the Irish Registration Bill was over. I ask any Member whether he can have a doubt, after hearing the expressions used by the lion, and learned Gentleman, that he had accepted office on Monday last, and that he anticipated, as, I have not the least doubt, did the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord opposite, that the discussion would have closed on that day, and that he considered that there would be no harm in announcing his acceptance of office to his former constituents. I beg to call the attention of the House to the very serious consequences that may arise from a case of this kind being passed over. It might have happened, as it very nearly happened on the present occasion, that the fate of the Irish Registration Bill might have been decided by a single vote, and I ask, in what condition would the House be if they found that the fate of the bill had been decided adversely by the vote of a Gentleman who, having accepted office, had no longer a right to sit and vote in that House? The least, the mildest step which the House could take, would be to do what had been done in similar cases, when votes which had been counted had been disallowed, as the parties voting had no right to sit in the House. The mere acceptance of office vacated a seat as effectually as if the party had naturally died, and his vote would be. precisely in the same situation as if a gentleman had come and personated him, and voted in his stead. The consequences towards the hon. and learned Gentleman himself were very serious. Independent of any step which the House may take, he lies at the mercy of any common informer who may choose to sue him for the penalties which he has incurred by voting when he had no right to vote. Although the House had taken care to protect its printer and Sergeant-at-Arms from the vexatious suits of Messrs. Stockdale and Howard, those two gentlemen, feeling the severity with which they were punished, may avail themselves of this opportunity to take proceedings against a Member of that House. I know it is impossible to call upon the House to take any judicial step at the present moment, because we have no proof of the authenticity of the genuineness of the address. There is certainly very strong prima facie evidence of its genuineness. It was circulated at Cocker-mouth on the day he had mentioned, and whatever might be said of the folks farther north, he did not know that the people of Cumberland were gifted with second sight. The printer might be called to show upon what authority he had printed the address. Before taking this or any further proceeding, he wished to know from the noble Lord opposite, or from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or from the Secretary of the Treasury, at what time this offer was made to Mr. Horsman, and whether that Gentleman had accepted the offer on Monday last?

Lord John Russell

Of course the hon Baronet is quite correct in stating that the House cannot take any step, whatever the law may be, upon the document which lie has read. With respect to the question which the hon. Gentleman has asked, my answer certainly will not be of a very precise description. All I have to say is, that having come to town on Monday afternoon, on Tuesday Lord Melbourne informed me that he had made an offer to Mr. Horsman, and he stated, that that Gentleman seemed inclined to accept it. That is the utmost amount that passed. I left Lord Melbourne immediately afterwards, and I have no further information with respect to the subject. Of course I cannot say anything with regard to the general law respecting appointments to office.

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