HC Deb 18 April 1842 vol 62 cc714-7

On the Order of the Day, for going into Committee on this Bill,

Mr. Leader

objected to the measure. He should have opposed it at an earlier stage, but no discussion had taken place and he had not at first been aware of the extensive manner in which the bill would affect the rights of the new corporations. Unless the bill had been considerably altered, he should feel it his duty to oppose it, as no good reason was assigned for some of the clauses.

The Attorney General

was surprised at the opposition of the hon. Gentleman, as he held certain clauses in his hand, the insertion of which, he had understood, would meet the objections of the hon. Gentleman. The bill was intended to protect from penalties those persons who, holding leases under corporations, had accepted the office of town councillor, on the understanding, that such leases did not come within the meaning of the law which prohibited persons who held contracts from corporations, acting as members of such corporations. When the clause in question passed, it was the undoubted opinion of the law officers of the Crown, and of legal men on both sides of the House, that the word contract did not include leases held from corporations. They had all agreed—and two of the gentlemen who concurred with the opinion now held seats on the Bench—that a person holding a lease did not come within the terms of the prohibitory language in the 28th section of the act. That reading of the law was acted on for four years, when somebody raised a speculative point of law, A quo warranto information was moved for against a town-councillor of Bridgewater, for having acted in that capacity while holding a lease from the corporation. Pending the trial of that information, he (the Attorney-general) had drawn the attention of the then Government to the circumstance. The opinion was unanimous, that the information could not be sustained. Scores of persons holding leases of the same kind had taken the office of town-councillor, and the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) answered, that he had information, that there was not the least chance of the decision going against the party complained of—that the point was quite clear. The result, however, was, that the information issued, and, to the surprise of every one, the Court gave judgment in favour of the information. He (the Attorney-general) did not mean to impugn the decision of the learned Judges. He bowed to that decision. But it was only an act of common justice to give to these persons who had taken office, under the opinion of the House, indemnity against any penal consequences which might ensue from that course. The object of the bill was to prevent the penal actions from going on, which, in consequence of the circumstances that had taken place, might be brought forward in hundreds. Provision was made by the bill for paying the costs of any actions brought up to a certain time. Provisions were likewise introduced with regard to actions brought after that given time had expired, and for securing those persons who had been elected to offices. The bill was a short one. It provided, in the first place, that the word "contract" should not be taken to extend to a lease, purchase of lands, or loan of money. It was further provided, that persons who had already incurred penalties under the decision of the Judges, might apply for indemnity as to the penalties and the costs. He had had various communications from various quarters, and his invariable answer was, that the object of the bill was to do an act of justice, and, therefore, that he could not admit any other matter into it. But it being considered, that the bill was defective without some provision for the prevention of jobbing, he had admitted the clauses which had been drawn up by his hon. Friend, the Member for Worcester. He wondered, however, at the opposition of the hon. Member for Westminster, as the hon. Member had given his concurrence to the clauses on the subject being mentioned to him.

Mr. Leader

explained. He had only mentioned to the hon. and learned Gentleman, that there would be less difficulty in carrying the bill, if such clauses Were introduced; but he had never seen them in a formal shape. He, therefore, suggested, that they should be printed, because the bill as it stood, repealed the 38th section of the Reform Act; and it was necessary for hon. Members to know the provisions which were to be introduced.

Sir F. Pollock

suggested, that the bill should be suffered to pass through the committee pro formâ, and that the clauses might be printed, and added on bringing up the report. He declined, however, to make it a declaratory act, as had been suggested.

Sir R. Fergusson

wished to know if the provisions of the bill would be extended to Ireland

Lord Elliot

said, he was sure his hon. and learned Friend would have no objection to do so with his bill, if it was deemed necessary.

Sir F. Pollock

thought it would be more regular to confine the operation of the measure to England, as it was in England alone the mischief had occurred.

Mr. Bernal

suggested a short bill to be applied to Ireland.

Sir R. Peel

If the words of the English and Irish Municipal Acts are the same, and the principles identical, surely, it would be much better to introduce the amendments as regards Ireland into the present bill, than to bring in a separate bill for the purpose. I think the unneces- sary multiplication of acts of Parliament a very great evil.

Sir F. Pollock

would, as he had stated, go through the bill that night; and when it was reported, he should move its recommittal. The amendments ought to be printed between those periods, and, in the meanwhile, he should consider some clauses as regarded the extension of the measure to Ireland.

Mr. Hodgson

said, that having attended several nights to propose the amendment of which he had given notice, that the words, "office, or place of profit," in the bill, should not extend to the office of sheriff, he should certainly press its adoption upon the committee, unless some objection were stated to it.

The Attorney General

said, that he must object to the clause, not as improper in itself, but as opening the door to the introduction of all sorts of amendments of the Municipal Corporations Act, into a bill which professed to have no such object.

Bill went through committee pro formâ, and was reported.

House adjourned.

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