HC Deb 06 March 1843 vol 67 cc300-4
Mr. Ferrand

said, before the House I went into committee of supply, he wished to call its attention to what he conceived to be a very extraordinary breach of its privileges. Last Thursday week, when the hon. Member for Nottingham brought the subject of the Poor-laws under the notice of the House, he thought it his duty to refer to the conduct of Mr. Clements, who was an assistant Poor-law Commissioner in the north of England. He on that occasion was obliged to state that Mr. Clements had, at the board of guardians at Halifax, conducted himself in an insolent and overbearing manner, and that he had treated those who had passed a great number of years in the service of the public, as guardians of the poor, most unbecomingly, in telling them that it was their duty to employ the working classes in cutting down hills, and stating that if the place were five miles from the workhouse, so much the better, as it would keep them out of mischief. Now he found that on Wednesday last, at a meeting of the board of guardians at Halifax, Mr. Clements, the assistant Poor-law Commissioner, was present in his official capacity. At that meeting preliminary steps were taken for the erection of a treadmill in the workhouse of the union, which was to be used as a rag-tearing machine; and a resolution was passed by the board, under the sanction of Mr. Clements, for the purpose of preventing him (Mr. Ferrand) and the public ever after being furnished with an account of the proceedings of that board, it being a resolution for the exclusion of reporters from all future meetings of the board. Moreover, Mr. Clements, who was a public officer, receiving a salary out of the public funds, assisted at the same board for the purpose of passing a resolution condemnatory of his conduct in that House for employing the terms he had used in reference to the conduct of Mr. Clements. Now, he wished to ask hon. Members whether he had not a right to express an opinion upon the conduct of a public officer, who, as an assistant Poor-law Commissioner, had sanctioned the purchase of a hill by a board of guardians, in order that they might employ the poor to cut it down—who had countenanced the erection of a treadmill in the union workhouse, to inflict upon poor men who asked for relief a punishment similar to what was inflicted upon criminals in the public gaols? He would ask whether these proceedings were not calculated to disgust the people, more especially of the north of England, and whe- ther it were not high time for the House to put down the tyranny of the triumvirate at Somerset-house? He had thought it his duty, as a Member of the House, to make this statement, and he should leave any further proceedings upon the question in the hands of the House. It was necessary, he believed, that he should move as an amendment, That Mr. Clements be called to the Bar of the House to explain his conduct.

Mr. Walter

seconded the amendment.

Mr. Hume

considered, as a matter of form, that it was necessary to lay on the Table of the House the grounds of complaint against the individual who was to be called to the Bar of the House. He did not understand why any individual should be called to the Bar of the House without some reason being assigned.

Mr. Ross,

having the honour of knowing Mr. Clements, felt called upon to say a few words, in reply to the observations made by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. From his (Mr. Ross's) know ledge of the high character of Mr. Clements, he felt confident that that gentleman was entirely incapable of the misconduct which had been imputed to him. On Mr. Clements reading a report of what had been said in the House of Commons respecting his proceedings at Halifax, he wrote a letter to a quarter from which he (Mr. Ross) had learned it, stating that everything which had been alleged by the hon. Member was founded on a statement made by a local newspaper, of a most false and audacious character, and that in con sequence of his calling the attention of the board of guardians of the union of Halifax to it, that board came to a determination, that reporters who could report such false statements should no longer be admitted. If the hon. Member for Nottingham had not seconded the present motion, he (Mr. Ross) should have felt it his duty to have done so, on the part of Mr. Clements himself, because that gentleman was exceedingly desirous that everything should be known by the House with regard to his conduct and character.

Mr. Ferrand

wished, in explanation, to say that the hon. Member for Belfast had misunderstood him, if he thought that he (Mr. Ferrand) meant to make any attack upon, or misrepresentation of, the character of Mr. Clements. He had but referred to the public conduct of an officer of the Government on an occasion of his assisting at a board of guardians, when a vote of censure had been passed by them upon his (Mr. Ferrand's) conduct as a Member of that House.

Colonel Wyndham

would certainly support the motion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, as he conceived that Mr. Clements had much overstepped his duty in bringing forward a motion to censure the hon. Member.

Sir James Graham

said, on a former occasion the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Ross) had declared that he knew Mr. Clements, and that he believed him to be incapable of the conduct imputed to him. He (Sir J. Graham) certainly did, on a former occasion, express his regret that such imputations should have been made. He stated, at the time, that it did appear to be a great stretch of the privilege of the House, that any hon. Member, speaking of a Gentleman in his absence, should use an expression so strong, and as he believed so unjustifiable, as that which fell from the hon. Member for Knaresborough. He knew nothing but what he had heard from the hon. Member respecting this case; but, as he understood it, the hon. Member for Sussex (Colonel Wyndham) had misunderstood what had fallen from the hon. Member for Knaresborough. Mr. Clements made no motion whatever respecting the conduct of the hon. Member for Knares-borough. In the discharge of his duty, Mr. Clements had the opportunity of at tending the board of guardians, when the topic now before the House was discussed by them; and taking their own view of the matter, they thought that the expression of the hon. Member was not justified by the demeanour or the conduct of Mr. Clements. Though technically it might be a breach of privilege to notice what took place in the House of Commons, yet those guardians having known Mr. Clements, which the hon. Gentleman had not—they having seen him in the execution of his duty, which the hon. Gentleman had not — they knowing perfectly well his conduct, which the hon. Gentleman knew only by hearsay—came to a resolution directly negativing the assertion of the hon. Gentleman, namely, that the conduct of Mr. Clements was insolent and unjustifiable. The brunt of Mr. Clements' offence, as it appeared to him was, that when the resolution was put he did not withdraw. He could not conceive that Mr. Clements offence could be carried further. Now, he could not say, that, according to the doctrine of privilege, Mr. Clements might not have acted somewhat irregularly when such a resolution was put by the Board, in not withdrawing. It was possible he might have acted irregularly: he did not mean to say, that such was his opinion; but, as far as the present question was concerned, he was quite prepared now, at the present moment, while not attaching too much confidence to the hon. Member for accuracy, yet, taking the hon. Gentleman's statement as it now stood, he (Sir James Graham) was quite prepared to come to a vote, that it was not expedient to carry this matter further, and to support the motion that the original words should stand part of the question.

Mr. Ferrand

rose to explain: When he should have been a public character as long as the right hon. Baronet had [cries of " Order, order—explain!"]

The Speaker:

The hon. Member must confine himself strictly to explanation.

Mr. Ferrand:

The right hon. Baronet stated that, without placing too much confidence in what I had stated, he should resist the present amendment [" Order."] I have risen only to explain. The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I stated [" Order]. The board of guardians at Halifax was not convened specially for the purpose of passing the resolution condemnatory of what I stated in this House; but this resolution was brought forward by a Member of that Board without any notice being given to any of the other Members, and what I complain of is, that Mr. Clements, as an assistant Poor-law Commissioner sat at that Board, and assisted at the passing a resolution respecting words used by me as a Member of this House, and reflecting upon my character.

The House divided, on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question — Ayes 195; Noes 6: Majority 189.

List of the NOES.
Borthwick, P. Wyndham, Col. C.
Colville, C. R.
Crawford, W. S. TELLERS
Douglas, J. D. S. Ferrand, W. B.
Sibthorpe, Col. Walter, J.

[It seems sufficient to give the names of the minority only.]

Question again put.