HC Deb 06 May 1841 vol 57 cc1498-502
Colonel Sibthorp

rose to call the attention of the House to the appointment of Mr. William Vizard as Solicitor to the Home department. He had intended to bring the matter forward on the proposal of the miscellaneous estimates, but when he found the vacillating conduct of the Government with respect to the time of moving those estimates, he felt it his duty to the country to introduce this as a substantive motion, and he was supported strongly in taking the sense of the House on this appointment by the correspondence laid on the Table. First, he must remark on the period selected by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home department for making the application to the Treasury for this appointment. That application was made on the 6th of August, 1840—Parliament was prorogued on the 11th, and the answer was not given till the 13th, two days after that prorogation This of itself did seem extraordinary. No doubt the secret appointment of this individual had taken place before, but it was kept from the public till Parliament was up. The next thing was, that the noble Lord thought the best way of paying i this gentleman was by professional bills; why the noble Lord should fix on this method of payment, would probably never come before the House; but the Treasury thought this mode of proceeding would not be satisfactory to the public, and they, not the noble Lord, fixed the payment of 1,500l. a-year as salary. Again, there was no formal warrant for the appointment; and he might have his suspicions as to the cause of withholding that formal appointment. Upon what grounds did the appointment take place? The noble Lord said, for the more convenient despatch of the legal business of this department, which had considerably increased of late years, and which ought to be conducted by a gentleman whose exclusive services might be secured. From the Government of the Duke of Portland in 1798, during forty-three years, with eighteen changes, down to 1840, including the period of the Manchester riots under Lord Castlereagh, the state of excitement of the trial of Queen Caroline, and the Newport riots, he found that the duties of the Home-office were carried on satisfactorily to the public, without imputation as to the manner in which those duties were performed, and there had been no exclusive solicitor to the Home-office. There was nothing extraordinary in the circumstances of 1840 that required a change, except, indeed, the conduct of the Chartists, arising from a want of caution and firmness on the part of the Government. They had heard a great deal of the improvement of the people, and yet last year was the first time for the creation of this new office. Then it was said that this gentleman was to hold no other office, and yet this very gentleman, against whom he (Colonel Sibthorp) would say nothing, as he was personally unknown, had held for eleven years, and did still hold, the office of secretary of bankrupts under the Lord Chancellor. By one of the returns, too, it appeared that a Mr. Vizard was deputy-registrar of bankrupts but he was informed that it was a Mr. John Vizard, and whether he was a son or brother he did not know. He had inquired into the emoluments of Mr. W. Vizard, and he found that, as secretary of bankrupts, he received since 1835, a salary of 1,200l. a year, and he also received the 1,500l. a year from his present appointment. He had received, since his appointment as secretary of bankrupts, during a period of eleven years, no less than 18,141l.17s.9d for fees and salary. The gentleman, therefore, was pretty well paid without any further appointment; yet he was to have an additional 1,500l. a year from the period of his first appointment, when there was no knowledge of the appointment. As a guardian of the public purse, no necessity for the office being shown, he(Colonel Sibthorp) must pursue the straight-forward course of objecting to the appointment. The noble Lord ought to have come down to the House, and asked its sanction to the creation of this new office. It had been promised that Mr. Vizard would resign his former appointment in the Bankruptcy Court, but he (Colonel Sibthorp) was prepared to assert, that that Gentleman had no intention of doing anything of the kind. He should conclude by moving, that it is the opinion of the House that the creation of a new office, as Solicitor to the Home Department, is unnecessary, and that no sufficient reason has been shewn to the House for the appointment of Mr. W. Vizard to that office. He should certainly take the sense of the House upon this resolution, and if he were defeated upon it, he should reserve to himself the opportunity of again opposing this appointment on the salary being voted in the estimates.

Mr. F. Maule

said, that in meeting the motion of the hon. and gallant Member with a direct negative, he should occupy the attention of the House for as short a time as possible, whilst he stated the grounds upon which he considered the appointment of Mr. Vizard, as Solicitor to the Home Department, was justified. For some time past a great increase of business had fallen to the share of the Home Department, arising out of a great number of new acts of Parliament Which had been passed of late years, as, for instance, the Municipal Corporations Act. For the convenience of the. public applications and questions relative to the construction of these enactments had been submitted to that department, and the points involved in those applications were such, that although it was not considered necessary to refer them to the law officers of the Crown, still it was considered absolutely necessary that they should be referred to some one competent to give a legal opinion upon them. For some time the Home Department availed itself of the services of the Solicitor to the Treasury, but at length it was represented to his noble Friend, that such matters did not properly fall within the duties contracted for by that Gentleman; and that he could not, consistently with the due discharge of his regular duties, undertake them in addition. It was then found that almost every other department of Government had a solicitor of its own to conduct its business, and it was determined that the Home Department should, in like manner, appoint a solicitor of its own. With respect to the expenses of such appointment, he would only state two important items which the solicitor appointed would have to undertake, and the amount of which alone would nearly pay the salary allotted to that appointment, namely, the drawing of contracts, amounting in the last five years to an average of 300l, and expenses connected with the police commissions, amounting to about 800 l a-year. Now, with respect to the charge made by the hon. and gallant Member, that this appointment was hurried to completion immediately after the close of the last Session of Parliament, lie would only state, that the subject had been for a long time under discussion, and that the appointment only bore date the 1st of January. The appointment was such, that the whole of the time of Mr. Vizard, was at the disposal of the Home Department. With respect to Mr. Vizard's holding at the same time another office under the Crown, he would observe, that it was no new practice for a person holding the office of Secretary to the Bankruptcy Court to hold another appointment under the Crown. When, however, Mr. Vizard received the appointment of Solicitor to the Home-office, it was put to him that he should give up his office as Secretary to the Court of Bankruptcy; and it was only on account of the unsettled state of the whole of the question relating to the affairs of the Court of Bankruptcy, that Mr. Vizard had not yet made his election between the two offices. A bill, however, was about to be brought in very soon by the Lord Chancellor, which would regulate the whole of the business of the Bankruptcy Court. By that means, the office of Secretary to the Court would be altogether abolished, and it was only for the convenience of the public that Mr. Vizard held the office in the interim. He thought he had now said sufficient to establish the expediency of the appointment of Mr. Vizard as Solicitor to the Home-office, and was content to leave the question entirely in the hands of the House.

Mr. Hume

, before the House came to a division, wished to ask the Attorney-general, whom he saw in his place, whether he had. correctly understood the fact from the hon. Member, the Under Secretary of the Home Department, that a bill to regulate the Court of Bankruptcy was about to be brought forward by her Majesty's Government.

The Attorney General

said, he believed it was true, that the Lord Chancellor would, in the course of the present Session, bring forward a bill to regulate the proceedings of the Court of Bankruptcy, and he hoped when it was before the House, it would be such as to meet with general approbation. With regard to the appointment of Mr. Vizard as Solicitor to the Home-office, he (the Attorney-General) had taken no part, directly or indirectly, in that appointment, but, at the same time, he felt bound to say, that he knew of no person who could more efficiently perform the duties of that office than that person, who was a gentleman of the highest honour and integrity.

Mr. Goulburn

suggested to his hon. and gallant Friend, that the question could be more conveniently brought forward when the time came for voting the money to be paid to the officer of whose appointment he complained. Without intending to say anything in the slightest degree disparaging to Mr. Vizard, he did not consider that sufficient grounds had been made out for the appointment by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he (Mr. Goulburn) would rather have the opinion of the Attorney-general on important points relating to the municipal law and other matters of a like nature, than the opinion of any solicitor whatever. He would, however, advise his hon. and gallant Friend not to press his motion for the present, but reserve it until the estimates were brought forward, though, if his hon. and gallant Friend did divide, he should vote with him.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, that at the present hour, when hon. Members were all so anxious to get home to dinner—he should not trouble the House by a division, but comply with the suggestion of his right hon. Friend.

Motion negatived.—Adjourned.