HC Deb 20 September 1841 vol 59 cc658-64

On the question that the sum of 10,750l. be granted to her Majesty to complete the payment of the salaries and expenses of her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department,

Colonel Sibthorp

said, he felt it to be his duty again to object to the expense attendant upon a new appointment which had been made by the late Government of a gentleman, with whom he (Colonel Sib- thorp) had no acquaintance, to the office of solicitor to the Home Department. After no less than eighteen changes in the Government of the country since the year 1798, no such appointment had been thought of, and it was only during a recess, in which Parliament could not interfere, that her Majesty's late Administration had thought fit to make the appointment. Then it was that he found, that Mr. William Vizard had been appointed to the new post of solicitor to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. But on looking to the communications which had passed between the Home-office and the Treasury, he found that the noble Lord at that time at the head of the Home Department, when appealed to on the subject of this appointment, stated, that the business of the office would require the undivided attention of a professional man of experience and talent; and yet the noble Lord had, in point of fact, appointed a man who held another valuable situation—that of secretary of bankrupts, with a salary of 1,200l., a man who during the period he had held that situation had received no less than 18,141l. 17s. 8d. To this appointment he (Colonel Sibthorp) had taken an objection on a former occasion, and he wished now to know from the right hon. Baronet, whom he rejoiced now to see at the head of the Home Department, whether it was the intention of her Majesty's present Government to cancel that appointment; and, above all, whether, in the event of their continuing that office, it was their intention to retain in it a gentleman who held, besides it, the office of Secretary of Bankrupts?

Sir J. Graham

said, he could not forget the jealousy with which the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln had regarded the creation of, and the appointment to, the office to which his hon. and gallant Friend had alluded. He differed from his hon. and gallant Friend in no one particular, but he felt bound to say, that Mr. Vizard had been for twenty-five years his solicitor and private friend, and yet, from a sense of public duty, and concurring with his hon. and gallant Friend, he (Sir J. Graham) had not been in the office he had now the honour to fill forty-eight honrs before he sent for Mr. Vizard, and told him that it was not his intention to interfere with the vote to which Parliament had come last Session, and by which Mr. Vizard's salary was provided for up to the 5th of October next; but he had announced to Mr. Vizard that it would be the duty of her Majesty's Government scrupulously and carefully to review the mode in which the law business of the Home-office was carried on, and in that review he should cordially act in concert with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; that his appointment was not to be held as a bar to that review, and that, as at present advised, he did not think it desirable that the office he (Mr. Vizard) held under the Home Department should be continued.

Sir T. Wilde

was satisfied that the result of the review to which the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department had alluded, would be that the public service at present demanded and would continue to demand the continuance of the office to which allusion had been directed. Of such an appointment as that of Mr. Vizard he had no knowledge until it had been made; but this he did know, that his hon. and learned Friend Sir John (now Lord) Campbell, then the Attorney-general, and himself had designed making a representation in furtherance of such an arrangement to the proper department of the late Administration. The duties of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, were not only most numerous but onerous in connexion with the Administration of the law. There were very few days indeed upon which the Secretary of State for the Home Department, did not receive letters from magistrates and others requiring instruction and advice upon the construction of various acts of Parliament. Some of these inquiries required the earliest possible attention, in order to save magistrates from committing themselves, or to prevent other similar and equally unfortunate evils. The course had been, it was true, that when the Secretary of State had been asked for advice, for that public functionary to apply to the Treasury in order to obtain the opinion of the solicitor of that board upon the particular point upon which advice was solicited. Now, the Secretary for the Home Department, had various other important duties connected with the Administration of Justice to perform, and yet he had under the old system first to solicit the advice of the solicitor to the Treasury; that solicitation answered, many statements as to the law and facts, frequently elaborate, were es- sential; above all, an early answer was necessary, and upon most of them no man was more competent to give such an answer than was Mr. Vizard himself. Such was the real state of affairs, and on the score of economy, he was of opinion, that the saving of fees to the Attorney and Solicitor-general upon such points would go considerably, if not wholly, to make up the amount of Mr. Vizard's salary. For Mr. Vizard, he was not prepared to speak; but thus much he would add, that he did not believe that a dozen cases could be sent from the Home-office without requiring the party referred to, not only to wade through acts of Parliament, but to examine law authorities—a duty which none but a professional man could discharge. He could also state, that since Mr. Vizard's appointment there had been a great diminution of points and cases referred to the law officers of the Crown. But with regard to prosecutions, admitting as he did the high qualifications possessed for such purposes by Mr. Maule, the present solicitor to the Treasury, than whom a more diligent, indefatigable, and intelligent man never filled the office—still, even that Gentleman, pressed as he must have been with the affairs of his own department, had found it absolutely necessary to employ others to conduct prosecutions which the public safety and protection demanded. At the period of the machine-breaking in the Midland Counties, Mr. Tallents, of Newark, had been so employed, and must have made, as he deserved, a large demand upon the Treasury. Again, the late prosecutions in Wales were of such a character and importance, as to demand an attention upon the part of the solicitor to the Treasury which, consistently with his other avocations and duties, it was impossible he could discharge. And hence, he was satisfied that not only public economy, but public justice, would be advanced by the appointment of such an officer as the solicitor for the Home Department. He knew that no situation required more skill and attention. With regard to Mr. Vizard personally he could say, that with 1,000l. a-year for himself, and 500l. a-year for an assistant, he had renounced all private professional practice in the courts. He would only add, that during his practice as a Queen's counsel, and also during the period he had held the office of Solicitor-general, the public in terest demanded, and still continued to demand, the constant attention of a solicitor for the Home Department. The Customs, the Excise, the Mint, each had their separate solicitor, and, that being the case, why should the Secretary of State, before he could act, be compelled to wait for the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor-general, when, with such an officer near him, the Secretary of State could get, if not the best, at least very competent advice upon such questions within twelve hours? He trusted that the whole matter would be duly considered in the course of the review of the whole subject to which the tight hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department had alluded.

Sir R. Peel

said, he should be sorry at once to pronounce a positive opinion upon the subject, but having filled the office for some years of Secretary of State, he must at present stale that he did not think such an office as that which the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had eulogized was absolutely required. During the time he had held the office of Home Secretary he had an Under Secretary (Mr. Hobhouse), who, though brought from the Treasury, discharged all those duties which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had overlooked, as belonging to an under secretary of state. He spoke with the greatest respect for Mr. Vizard, when he said, that with the assistance of such a man as Mr. Phillipps, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had little to require even upon the most intricate and delicate construction of statute law. And of Mr. Hobhouse he must add, that he very well remembered Sir Vicary Gibbs, remarking, that he would not hesitate to put his name to any legal opinion given by that gentleman. He repeated, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had apparently overlooked the permanent nature of the appointment of the under Secretary of State, and that the office was usually, as at present, filled by gentlemen of legal eminence. He (Sir R. Peel) was of opinion that the sum of 2,500l. per annum was quite enough to secure sufficient legal experience and talent to the Treasury and to the Home-office. Without, however, pronouncing a positive opinion now that an inquiry was to be prosecuted, he would say, as the result of his personal experience, that it was better to have an able under Secretary of State rather than a solicitor as legal adviser to the Home-office.

Colonel Sibthorp

entertained the highest opinion of Mr. Vizard, but the hon. and learned Member for Worcester had not quite satisfied him as to the propriety of, or necessity for, the appointment.

Colonel Rolleston

had applied to the Home-office for information, in his capacity of magistrate, and had always obtained the advice he sought. In his judgment there was no necessity for the appointment of a solicitor to the Home-office.

Sir T. Wilde

would bow to the opinion of the House if, after inquiry, the result should be unfavourable to the continuance of the appointment; but he was bound to observe, that it was an unsafe practice to trust the expositions of legal questions and elucidations of acts of Parliament to any one who was not conversant with what was passing daily in the law courts. Mr. Hobhouse, no doubt, was very talented; and Mr. Phillipps, the present under Secretary, was also talented; but they had been out of practice several years, and, though each might give a very respectable opinion on many legal points, yet he doubted if ever Mr. Phillipps would venture to give an opinion as to the construction of an act of Parliament, without first consulting the Secretary of the Treasury. Sir William Grant, when only out of practice six months, declared his incompetency to give a legal opinion.

Sir R. feel

The hon. and learned Gentleman had told them that Sir W. Grant, after having been out of legal practice for a period of six months, considered himself unqualified to give an opinion upon any legal point that might be submitted to him, and yet the first condition that he had imposed upon Mr. Vizard was, that he should give up his court practice on taking the office of solicitor to the Home Department; and if, as was the fact, he had now been out of court practice for two years, how could he be better qualified to give an opinion than was Sir W. Grant, after only six months' cessation from practice? Let it also be remembered, that the Home-office had an Attorney-general and a Solicitor-general constantly practising in the courts, to whom they could at all times apply for a legal opinion when necessary.

Sir T. Wilde

did not imagine that Sir W. Grant meant to say, that the mere fact of his having been out of practice for six months incapacitated him from forming an opinion; but that what he meant to infer was, that a person who was not constantly in the course of professional practice and professional reading was not the most safe adviser. It was true, that Mr. Vizard had been required to give- up his private practice on his appointment to the office in question, but he had not, therefore, given up his professional reading, and could the right hon. Baronet say, that the under Secretary of State for the Home Department had time to read the law reports, and to keep up that course of professional reading which was necessary to enable him to give an opinion as to the construction of acts of Parliament? He (Sir T. Wilde) knew that, from the nature of his official duties, he had no leisure for such a purpose; and that from the moment he entered upon his office he must cease to be a professional man. But it was perfectly reasonable, that Mr. Vizard should give up his private practice, and yet be able to devote himself to such reading as was sufficient to enable him satisfactorily to perform the duties of his office.

Vote agreed to.