HC Deb 27 June 1844 vol 76 cc16-9

On June 24th the following Report, was made by the undermentioned Committee to the House:— That a Member of the House now sitting in Committee on the Middle Level Drainage and Navigation Bill, namely, the hon. Eliot Yorke, one of the Members for Cambridgeshire, had received an intimation that he ought not to vote on questions arising thereon, by reason of his interest in the said Bill; That the said Member has voted upon all questions coming before the Committee up to the 19th day of this instant June: That the said Member has placed his situation before the Committee; and at his request, the Committee desire the decision of the House on the following question, which fully declares the facts of the case:—Whether a Member of the House of Commons having property within the limits of an Improvement Bill, which property may be affected by the passing of the Bill, has such an interest as, in the judgment of the House disqualifies him as a Member of the House, and the representative of general local interests, from voting on all questions affecting the Preamble or Clauses of the said Bill?

Mr. E. Yorke

had then moved "That the vote of Mr. Eliot Yorke upon the Middle Level Drainage Bill is a good vote."

Mr. Greene

had moved as an amendment thereon,— That the rule and practice of this House is, that no Member shall vote upon any question in which he has a direct pecuniary interest: That where any Member has voted in violation of this rule, such vote when challenged in the House, has been disallowed: That every rule of the House applies equally to all Committees of the House: That a Member of the House of Commons having property within the limits of an Improvement Bill, which property will be affected by the passing of the Bill, has such an interest as disqualifies him as a Member of the House, and the representative of general local interest, from voting on all questions affecting the Preamble or Clauses of such Bill.

A debate had then taken place, which was adjourned and now resumed. On the question being again put,

Mr. Estcourt

suggested that the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Greene) should be withdrawn, and that the following Amendment should be adopted:— That it is the undoubted rule and uniform practice of this House, that no Member shall vote (either in the House or in any Committee thereof) upon any question in which he has a direct pecuniary interest, separately belonging to him; That a Member having property, the value of which may be directly affected by the passing of a Private Bill, so as that the value of such property may thereby be improved or injured, had such a separate and direct pecuniary interest in regard to such Bill as would disqualify him from voting upon any question relating to the proceedings on such Bill, whether in the House or in any Committee thereof.

In the discussion which ensued,—

Mr. Wakley

observed, that the longer his experience in that House extended, the more he was convinced that it was one of the most extraordinary assemblages in existence. From the nature of the discussion which had occupied the House for the last hour, it would appear that the Members here were the most immaculate body of men in the world, and that they evinced great and laudable anxiety lest any Member should be allowed to vote on a matter in which he had a personal and private interest. Now, if the assertion of that principle were worth any thing—if hon. Members were really sincere in urging its adoption, what became of the decision of the House last night on the question of the Corn Laws? Why, two-thirds of those who voted against the repeal of those laws consisted of men who had a direct personal and private interest in the question. There was also the Sugar Duties Bill, which, by the way, stood on the orders for that evening. What became of the majority of those who voted on that Bill? Were they not men who had a direct personal interest in the question on which they had voted, and were again about to vote? And was any exception taken to the vote of any one of those hon. Members. Yet could any one get up in that House, and assert that these hon. Members had no interest in the matter? The interest of the one class was to have dear corn, and of the other to have dear sugars—that by high rents and high prices of sugar, they might put money into their own pockets out of those of the other classes of the community. Seeing these things, he must say, that it was a perfect mockery to try and make the public believe that Members of that House were not allowed to vote on any matter in which they were personally interested.

Colonel Sibthorp

would beg to ask the hon. Member for Finsbury, who seemed so ready to attribute interested motives to others, whether he himself had ever voted on a question in which he was personally interested? Had the hon. Member voted in favour of a Bill which gave increased mileage fees to county coroners

Mr. Wakley

was glad that the hon. and gallant Member had put that question to him, and he hoped that he and his hon. Friends around him, would be benefited by the answer he was about to give. He could state, then, that whenever the County Coroners Bill was before the House, and on every question of increased mileage fees, he made it a rule to retire from the House, without voting at all. Having got his answer, he hoped the hon. and gallant Colonel and his Friends would follow his example on other and more important questions.

Both the Amendment and Motion were withdrawn.

Mr. Gladstone

moved that it be an Instruction to the Committee, that the rule of this House relating to the vote, upon any question in the House, of a Member having an interest in the matter upon which the vote is given, applies likewise to any vote of a Member so interested in a Committee.

Mr. Warburton

thought that there would be a difficulty in the Committee deciding on the rejection of a vote, and that therefore each case should be reported to the House for its decision.

The Speaker

said, there was no doubt that the rules of the House, so far as they applied, were equally binding on Committees. It had been so decided in 1836, when the question was raised whether the Chairman of a Committee could give a casting vote. The hon. Member for Oxford had referred to Mr. Speaker Abbott's decision in 1811, since which time there had been several decisions to the same effect. Certainly, if a Member had a direct pecuniary interest—a separate interest—in a question before the House, and in like manner before a Committee, his vote ought not to be allowed.

Sir R. Peel

said, the question was, who should decide on the Member's right to vote? Was the decision to be by a majority of the Committee? He feared that some decisions might not in that case be quite satisfactory.

Sir G. Grey

observed, that it would be difficult to ascertain what was a direct pecuniary interest. An indirect interest might sometimes be more influential than a direct one. The only means of preventing the difficulty would be by referring the Bills to a Select Committee, chosen indifferently from the House, instead of to the Speaker's Lists, on which usually were the County Members, who in most cases must have an interest in the Bills sent before the Committee.

Sir R. Peel

observed, that it was an important constitutional question how far a Committee ought, without a special delegation, to have the power of depriving a Member of his vote.

Mr. Wakley

observed, that the Speaker's opinion applied to the printed rules of the House. The practice was different. How was it possible to decide when Members had a pecuniary interest? Suppose, with respect to the subject of opening letters in the Post Office, a vote of want of confidence should be proposed, could the Members of the Government vote against a Motion, the effect of which would be to deprive them of their offices? If that rule was to be observed, no Member of the Government would be able to vote on such questions.

The Speaker

said, the rule did not apply to public matters. If the only interest of a Member in a question was such that it could not be separated from the interest of the public, his vote was not affected by it.

Lord J. Russell

said, a Member was often more interested indirectly than directly. He had an interest of some 8l. or 9l. a-year directly affected by the Bill out of which the discussion arose; but the Duke of Bedford had an interest of some thousands. Might not he feel indirectly influenced? Yet his right of voting was not impaired. He certainly thought the decision ought to lie with the House in such a case, and not with the Committee.

Resolution agreed to.

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