HC Deb 11 March 1843 vol 67 cc707-12
Sir James Graham

, in fixing the Dropped Order for the committee on the Registration of Voters Bill for Monday next, felt that some explanation was due to the hon. and learned Member for Chester, with regard to the not making a House on the previous evening, as that hon. and learned Member had, as he (Sir J. Graham) understood, at considerable inconvenience to himself, come up from the circuit, for the purpose of taking part in the discussion on the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, which had been fixed for the preceding evening. It would be recollected, that the House had been engaged to a late hour on Tuesday and Wednesday, in the discussion of the Scotch Church question, and on Thursday, also, the House had sat very late; under these circumstances, he believed, that there was a general feeling among hon. Members on all sides, that there should be no House on Friday night. ["No, no !"] He could not fix the second reading of the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill for Monday, because the hon. Member for Oxford University, who was opposed to the measure, and was very desirous of taking a part in that discussion, would not be able to be in his place on that Day. He would, therefore, fix the Registration of Voters Bill as the first general order for Monday.

Mr. Jervis

hoped the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill would be postponed until after the circuits were over, as it was desirable Members of the legal profession should be present during the discussion. He had remained in town until Monday last, at great inconvenience; he had then been informed by the right hon. and learned Member for Cardiff (Mr. Nicholl) that the second reading of the bill was positively fixed for Friday, and he had accordingly posted up from Montgomeryshire, in order to be present. There were, last evening, upwards of thirty Members in the library, and many more were in the lobby, he was, therefore, much surprised to find that there was no House, and that at four o'clock there was only one Member of the Government present. Had the right hon. Baronet been in the House yesterday afternoon, and had he explained to those Gentlemen who usually supported the Government the nature of the agreement entered into with him (Mr. Jervis), he had no doubt but that they would at once have come in, so as to have made a House, and that the discussion could have proceeded. He hoped the bill would now be postponed until the circuits were over.

Colonel Sibthorp

had also remained in town on Monday, at great inconvenience, to oppose both the bills—the Registration of Voters Bill, as well as the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. He had, much as he hated railroads, left town at railroad speed, in order to attend the assizes in Lincolnshire, and had returned again by railroad, at the risk of his neck, to attend in his place yesterday to oppose both these bills. The Members of the present Government used constantly to be finding fault with the late Government for postponing measures; he should, therefore, like to know why the Members of the present Government had not been in their places yesterday? The House and the country had a right to know where they were, in order to ascertain whether they had not been passing their time in places where it was improper for such Gentlemen to be. They received the country's money, and the country had a right to ascertain whether that money was spent in an improper manner. He believed, that with regard to the Doctors Commons job, it had been the intention to take the country entirely by surprise. Let the House have a fair, honourable, and undisguised declaration from the right hon. Baronet, as to when he would bring this measure forward. He had found, that all parties in the city of Lincoln were as strongly opposed as he was to this greedy, dirty. Doctors' Commons job.

Mr. C. Buller

did not wish to lay too much stress upon the importance of the attendance of Members of the legal profession in that House; but there was a class of bills in respect to which it was most desirable that the House should have the assistance of the Members of the bar; and he thought, that neither the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, nor such a bill as that for the registration of voters, should be discussed in their absence upon circuit. By discussing such measures in their absence, the House deprived itself of a large store of very valuable experience. He could not but observe, that the Government had frequently fallen into this practice, and had brought in bills connected with legal matters at the time that the circuits were going on. They allowed, last Session, three important bills to lie for months upon the Table, and then brought them forward at the end of the Session, just before the commencement of the summer circuit. The two bills now referred to by the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) had been some time upon the Table, and had been allowed to remain there until now, when the circuits had commenced. He did not say, that the bills were put off designedly, in order that they should be discussed in the absence of the Members of the common-law bar, who had seats in that House; but whilst it was easy to bring them on before the circuits, it had been managed that they should not come on until the circuits had commenced. The bills were not such as the common-law bar could have any interest in, beyond a wish to give the House the assistance of their experience in the discussion of measures upon the working of which they had more practical knowledge than any other set of men. He could not well understand how the Government could refuse, under the circumstances, to postpone the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill till after Easter.

Mr. Escott

, being strongly opposed to the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill could only rejoice at any circumstance that had the effect of postponing its progress. So far, therefore from finding any fault with the Government for not making a House on the previous evening, he thought that that circumstance should be regarded by all the opponents of the measure as a matter of congratulation. He begged to join with the hon. and learned Members for Chester and Liskeard in urging upon the Government the propriety of deferring the second reading of this very objection able bill until after Easter.

Mr. R. Yorke

must denounce both the bill and the conduct of the Government in reference to it. It was impossible that it could be properly discussed during the absence of the members of the legal profession. He insisted, therefore, upon the necessity of postponing it until after Easter. The Gentlemen now upon the Ministerial Bench used to charge the late Government with preventing a House for the purpose of getting rid of unpleasant questions. He now charged the present Government with the same practice. How else was it possible to account for the circumstance of there being no House on the previous evening?

Dr, Nicholl

was not disposed to bandy hard words; neither would he be betrayed by the strong and almost personal language of the Gentleman opposite, into any preliminary discussion of a measure which was not then under the consideration of the House. He regretted the inconvenience to which the hon. Member for Chester had been put, but it was occasioned entirely by accident—by circumstances which he could not have forseen. He came down last evening, fully expecting to take part in the discussion, and little anticipating that there would not be a House. He must say that he could not understand the demand now so pressingly made, for an extension of time for the further consideration of the Ecclesiastical Courts' Bill, seeing that the bill was, in fact, the very same that had been before Parliament now for many years, and had received the sanction of no less than three of the noble and learned Lords who, since the year 1832, had sat upon the woolsack. The House and the country had had ample time to make themselves acquainted with all the provisions of the measure; and as the bill of the present Session had now been upon the Table for a considerable length of time, he could not recommend the House to defer the second reading of it beyond Friday next.

Mr. Ferrand

considering the objection able nature of the bill must protest against so early a day as Friday next being appointed for the second reading, as no time would be afforded to the country to petition against it.

Mr. Jervis

having left Montgomery for the special purpose of being present at the discussion of the bill on the previous evening, when the Government, if they pleased, might easily have made a House, and having to return to the assizes, it was impossible that he could be present on Friday next. He should move, therefore, that the second reading of the bill be deferred till Friday the 7th of April.

Sir James Graham

said, that the objection of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller), if carried to the extent to which he seemed anxious to urge it, would have the effect of excluding all discussions upon questions in which changes of the law were involved, except upon occasions when it suited the convenience of the Members of the legal profession to be present. In that case, the period for the discussion of such measures would be extremely limited, seeing how much of the six or seven months during which Parliament usually sat, was occupied by the spring and summer circuits. With regard to the Ecclesiastical Courts' Bill he agreed with what had fallen from the Judge-advocate. He would not then discuss the merits of it, as he thought it would be inexpedient. He and every Member of the Government were equally responsible with the Judge-advocate for the introduction of the bill. It was, strictly speaking, a Government measure. It had met with the approbation of the late Lord Chancellor and of many learned judges. The provision with respect to wills, bequeathing property of email amount, had been introduced, in accordance with the recommendation of a committee of the House of Lords. It was undoubtedly desirable that the decision of the House should be taken as soon as possible upon the principle of the bill; but at the same time he admitted that upon a question of this nature it was very desirable that there should be a full attendance of the Members of the legal profession. He would, therefore, under all the circumstances, make no objection to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chester, and would defer the second reading of the bill, not to Friday, the 7th of April, but to Monday, the 10th of April. Whilst he assented to this postponement in deference to the convenience of the Gentlemen of the legal profession, and whilst the bill remained undiscussed in that House, he must protest against the terms in which it had in many quarters been spoken of—terms which he could only designate as opprobrious, unfounded, and false.

Mr. C Buller

begged to thank the right hon. Baronet for the very handsome manner in which he had acceded to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Chester.

Colonel Sibthorp

wished to know whether the words "opprobrious, unfounded, and false," which the right hon. Baronet had employed were intended to apply to anything that had fallen from him.

Sir James Graham

assured the gallant Member that he had no intention of applying those words to anything that had fallen from him. They applied solely to what he had seen and read of the motives of his right hon. and learned Friend (Dr. Nicholl) in introducing the bill.

Second reading of the bill fixed for April 10th.

Adjourned at a quarter before six.

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