HC Deb 05 February 1845 vol 77 cc134-7
Mr. Young

moved the usual Sessional Orders.

Mr. Williams

observed that he had this time last year called the attention of the House to the strange and anomalous stale of the Sessional Orders. One of them stated that No Peer of this realm, except such Peers of Ireland as shall, for the time being, be actually elected, and shall not have declined to serve for any county, city, or borough of Great Britain, hath any right to give his vote in the election of any Member to serve in Parliament. Now he wanted to know what there was in the statute law to exclude a Peer from voting for the election of a Member of Parliament? In fact, a large portion of the Members of this House were elected by direct influence of Peers of the realm, in direct contravention of this Order. How could they enforce this Standing Order? What was their power? What were their means of enforcing it? They had no such power—no such means. What, then, was the use of keeping up these mere show regulations, which every body knew had no force in reality? It would be better to deal plainly and honestly with the country, and say nothing at all in their Standing Orders about the power of Peers to vote, only proceeding against them like other individuals if they were found guilty of irregular practices at elections. He hoped that the Government would take the subject into consideration, and make the Sessional Orders more in accordance with the real position of the House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think the "Government," as a Government, more interested in the matter than any individual Member of the House. The privileges of the House were the privileges of the whole body of the people, as represented in the House. They possessed by Act of Parliament tribunals for deciding upon their rights as Members of the House, and as such they had—sitting in these tribunals — the right of declaring whether any person, whose name appeared upon the poll books of an election, was really qualified to vote or not, and they had by virtue of these privileges decided that the votes of Peers for Members of Parliament were not to be admitted. The hon. Gentleman had stated that this was contrary to the law of the land. He was no lawyer himself, but he did deny, or at all events he entertained most grave doubts of the validity of the hon. Gentleman's doctrine. This House was the judge of its own privileges, and must act according to its own resolutions and determinations; and, independently of that, he would take upon himself to affirm that if a Peer had a right to vote at the election of a Member of Parliament, the House of Commons possessed the right to reject that vote, should it see fit. He saw no use for making the suggested alteration in the Sessional Orders. They maintained that it was light to exempt Members being returned from the influence of Peers and persons in authority, and the Sessional Order to this effect was one which he should be sorry to see subjected to alteration.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that he should renew the notice which he had given last Session—and as certainly take the sense of the House upon it—he meant his notice of moving for a Select Committee to inquire whether in any county or borough in England having a right to send Members to the House of Commons, such Members were returned through the illegal and unconstitutional interference of Peers. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that he would be sorry if any alteration were made in this Resolution. Therefore, nothing would of course horrify him more than the idea of any Peer violating the Resolution. Why, he knew well that there was not a single county Member, and very few borough Members, either behind him or before him, who did not, previously to their election, consult some Peer or other to obtain the influence of that Peer, and did not, either by letter or personal application, almost by supplication on their bended knees, entreat him to concern himself in their election. Nay, he was ready to say, that as to some of the vacancies which had recently taken place in this House, that Peers had been consulted and requested to concern themselves in the election of Members previous to their acceptance, on the part of the then Member, of office. Ay, and if one of these Peers had not given his consent to the re-election of one of these individuals, he ventured to say, that we should now be deprived of the services of a Secretary for Ireland. But knowing all this, in spite of all this, the Chancellor of the Exchequer got up in his place, and with a solemn face, and still more solemn voice, expressed his wish and hope that no alteration in this Resolution should take place. He would test the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity, for when he moved for his Committee, he would prove to the House, that (as he said before) scarcely one county Member, and very few borough Members sat in it, in whose election Peers had not concerned themselves. How the right hon. Gentleman could say what he had said, and yet manage to preserve his gravity, was to him utterly inconceivable. Why, if these Resolutions were to be put in force, he would venture to say, that they would bring the House in contact with three-fourths of the Peers and two-thirds of the bishops. What a mockery to pass these Resolutions—what an insult to the common sense of the country, for the right hon. Gentleman to get up and make such a grave speech. He thought the time had come when these Resolutions should either be acted up to or abolished. This was a matter which had been discussed before, and he had voted for these Resolutions being expunged and against repeating such farces. So far as he was concerned, he would rather that Peers did vote for Members of Parliament—that they did appear upon the hustings. The more they came in contact with the people the better. It would do away with many of the prejudices which they laboured under at present. They would find humble mechanics now unjustly deprived of votes — possessing equal ability and more love of country than themselves; and they would find men, too, who would not wish or care about gaining seats in this House in order to obtain some dirty star or garter, or for the paltry purpose of securing a peerage, or the still more paltry one of procuring a baronetcy. He should have great pleasure in expunging the Resolution altogether; but if they adopted it, let not him or others be blamed for holding up to public indignation those Peers and prelates who concerned themselves in elections contrary to the Resolution of that House.

Mr. Hume

had often appealed to that House not to stultify itself. He agreed with his hon. Friend that artisans would never allow such a Resolution to disgrace the proceedings of their meetings. It was said the Minister had no more power to decide this question than any Member; but the Minister acted as fugleman to fifty Members behind him. The distinction as to Peers should be kept up in strictness, or at once abandoned.

The Order was agreed to.