HC Deb 23 June 1842 vol 64 cc432-4
Mr. O'Connell

was not aware whether any objection would be offered to his now bringing forward the motion which he had introduced yesterday at the instance of the committee on the late Belfast election. That committee had unanimously reported their opinion, that an agent ought to be appointed on each side for assisting in the inquiry intrusted to them. They felt that they could not hope to proceed with a reasonable and sober prospect of doing justice in the case unless they were enabled to nominate agents, one to act for each of the parties. By that mode they would obtain their end, that of a full investigation of the case, without the unpleasantness of appearing as prosecutors, defenders, and judges. Instead of acting from their own impression, they thought that it was better to bring the matter before the House for their decision. This proceeding was the very reverse of being a party motion. Indeed, if any partisan feeling were entertained, it would rather be shown by a desire not to have agents appointed. He should, without further observation move:— That the select committee on the Belfast election be at liberty to appoint an agent on each side to assist them in the inquiry into the matters to them referred.

Sir R. Peel

said, it appeared to him, on the whole, that it would be better and more advantageous, for the committee to look into precedents, and see what was done on former occasions, in the cases of Stafford and Great Yarmouth for instance, and then to decide as to the course which they should take, instead of coming at once to the House for new authority. The committee, he had no doubt, would act with the utmost desire to conduct the inquiry in a satisfactory manner, so as to arrive at a just and proper conclusion. As to the payment of the expense which would be incurred by the employment of agents, that was a point with reference to which he must reserve himself. He trusted, however, that the committee would not hold out to agents any expectation of a very large remuneration. He certainly would not pledge himself that the public would defray such a charge. This was one of those cases in which he thought that it would be attended with ill effects to hold out very large inducements to agents. He hoped therefore that the committee would most studiously avoid holding out to agents the prospect of very large remuneration, which might have the effect of procrastinating the inquiry.

Mr. S. Worthy

said, the object of the report of the committee was to get the authority of the House for the appointment of an agent on each side to assist in the inquiry, and had no reference as to who was to meet the charge. With respect to precedents, many of them were most inconsistent and irregular. Instances could be shown were agents were paid by the Treasury, and others where they were not so paid. The committee appointed on the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath was different altogether, for in that case there was a bill of indemnity. All the committee wanted in this and in the Southampton case was to derive such power from the House as would enable them to conduct the inquiry in a satisfactory manner.

Sir R. Peel

still remained of opinion that it would be better for the committee, after due consideration, to act for itself. Surely the committee ought itself to select its mode as well as its time of proceeding. That was the course heretofore taken by the Stafford and Great Yarmouth Committee. As to the expense, he must reserve to himself the right of exercising his discretion on that point hereafter, with a due regard to public economy. He was perfectly willing to confide in the decision of the committee. In his opinion the House was not called on to interfere. The committee could proceed on their own authority, looking to the course which had been adopted by former committees.

Mr. W. Patten

thought the committee might conduct the inquiry without the assistance of agents.

Mr. Shaw

thought, that unless agents were appointed it would be impossible to proceed satisfactorily, or fairly to meet the justice of the case. Parties would be prepared to advance charges on the one side, but on the other there' would be nobody present to take proper care of the interests of those who were accused. The proceeding would be like that before a grand jury when they were about to find a bill. It would be entirely ex parte. Evidence would be called in to support the charge, but there would be no person present, on the part of the accused, to cross-examine the witnesses and to sift the evidence. As the House had delegated to the committee the right of inquiry, surely they ought also to concede to them such powers as were necessary to conduct tha inquiry to a satisfactory result. It was the unanimous opinion of the committee that the House should sanction their appointment of agents, and he thought that such an opinion, most deliberately expressed, ought to have considerable weight with the House. To place a case before the court on one side, and not to afford means of fully meeting it on the other, was contrary to every idea he had ever formed of a judicial tribunal.

Mr. Protheroe

did not approve of the responsibility which the right hon. Baronet wished to throw on the committee in the appointment of agents. He was ready to proceed with the inquiry, but he entirely objected to the principle laid down by the right hon. Baronet, that they should exercise their judgment as to the appointment of agents, leaving the question of expense to be settled hereafter. They were called on to proceed with a new species of inquiry, and he must say, as a member of the committee, and viewing all the difficulties which they had to encounter, that they ought to receive the utmost support from the House. He was sure the right hon. Baronet was actuated by the best motives in recommending the course which he had done, but he protested against the responsibility that would be thus thrown on the committee.

Mr. O'Connell

said, after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, and as the House had intimated its opinion that the committee should exercise their own discretion, he was ready to adopt that course, feeling confident that, unless they exercised a very unsound discretion, unless they used a discretion egregiously wrong, the House would sanction their proceedings.

Sir R. Peel

thought it would be much wiser if the House were to place confidence in the judgment of the committee. What might be ultimately done with regard to the expenses he could, of course, not undertake to say; yet the resolution of the Lords of the Treasury in the Yarmouth case was to this effect:—

"That they felt the necessity there was of guarding against the increase of charges of this kind; but, considering the peculiar facts of that case, the agents having been recognised, the main facts of the accusation having been proved, and a prosecution having resulted, they were of opinion that the amount of the bill reduced by a certain sum therein named should be paid out of the monies appropriated to the expenses of committees."

Motion withdrawn.

Back to