HC Deb 05 May 1845 vol 80 cc166-71
Mr. Sotheron

appeared at the Bar, and stated that he had to Report from the Select Committee QQ, that the Committee having met that day at twelve o'clock, Mr. Bickham Escott, one of the Members of the said Committee, was not present, and did not attend the Committee.

Mr. B. Escott

said, if it was the wish of the House, he was perfectly ready to state the reasons why he had not been present. If he had been aware that such notice would be taken of his non-attendance, he would certainly have been prepared with the correspondence which had passed between himself and the officer of the Select Committee on that subject; and he was quite sure that that correspondence would have satisfied any hon. Member that he had pursued the only course which, consistently with his duty, he could take. He would endeavour to state the substance of what had passed. He received a letter from a gentleman of the name of Creed, the officer, he believed, of the Committee of Selection, informing him that he had been appointed on a certain Committee for that day. He wrote back to Mr. Creed, stating that he should be unable to attend on that Committee, inasmuch as he was already engaged on two Committees, and that attendance on two Committees, added to his other Parliamentary duties, would not admit of his attending to any other business. He was informed by a second letter from that gentleman, that his letter had been submitted to the Committee of Selection, and that that Committee did not consider the excuse given for his non-attendance a suffi- cient one. In reply to that letter he said, that he did not desire to be excused from performing any duty whatever, but that he thought he was the best judge as to whether he could discharge this additional duty, consistently with the proper performance of the other duties which devolved upon him. After making that second statement, he told his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, who, he believed, took a prominent part in the Committee of Selection, that it was utterly impossible for him to attend the Committee on that day; and had hoped that his simple statement that he was engaged on other Committees would be sufficient. He would only add, that he had not the slightest wish to get himself excused from any duty which the House in its wisdom thought fit to impose upon him; and if the House said that he ought to attend a Railway Committee, instead of attending the Committee on Scotch Prisons, he would be prepared to accede to their wish. It was quite impossible that he could attend both.

Mr. Estcourt

was not sorry that this subject had been brought forward, as it was one of considerable importance with reference to the proper carrying out of the plan which the House had adopted with respect to Railway Bills. If his hon. Friend had objected to the panel, a great deal of inconvenience might have been saved. It must be apparent to the House that if a Gentleman deferred the announcement of his inability to serve on a Committee till a late period, it was impossible that he could be excused. The Committee of Selection having taken into consideration the hon. Gentleman's statement that he was serving on another Committee, thought, that though technically an excuse, it was not a sufficient one. All that the Committee wished for was, that the House would express its opinion on the subject, and by that opinion they would be ready to abide.

Mr. Labouchere

said, it was perfectly obvious that the House had intended that attendance on these Committees should be compulsory; and an hon. Member's being upon another Committee, therefore, did not form the slightest excuse for his non-attendance. It would introduce great doubt and uncertainty to allow the reason which had been assigned as a sufficient excuse for absence.

Mr. Hume

differed from the right hon. Gentleman altogether on this subject. There were two kinds of duty which hon. Members had to perform—one of a public nature, relating to Bills in which the public at large were interested; the other affecting private Bills and private individuals. He could not understand why public business should stand still, in order that private Bills might be proceeded with. He had felt the inconvenience of a system by which Members who were on a Public Committee were obliged to leave it, in order to attend a private one. He thought that no Member appointed to serve on a Public Committee ought to be put on a private one while that Public Committee was sitting. In his opinion there should be a call of the House, and every Member who was absent should be compelled to attend. It was not right to allow the public business to stand still while more than a hundred Members were absent, without, as far as he knew, any reason being assigned.

Sir. J. Tyrrell

said, that if what had occurred was to be considered as an indication that there was a short supply of members for the Select Committee to resort to, and if an impartial rule were to be adopted, those Members who were in Ireland should be called upon to take their fair share of duty.

Lord J. Russell

thought it was extremely desirable that this matter should be settled by the House on fair terms to all parties. He did not consider it a sufficient excuse that a Member was engaged on a Public Committee, because they all knew that attendance on Public Committees was not compulsory, and that Members after being appointed on them were at perfect liberty to leave London, and to absent themselves during the time of their sitting, and thereby might escape compliance with that Order, which the House intended should be compulsory. He agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose that, as they had adopted the rule of compulsory attendance, to say to one class of Members, "You shall attend on these Railway Committees, and your attendance shall be compulsory," while other Members, without any leave of absence, or any known and recognised cause, were absent from the House, was unjust; for it was obvious that their absence rendered the duties of other Members more onerous. He thanked the hon. Gentleman very much for raising this question; and he hoped that if compulsory attendance were to be continued, some means would be adopted to secure the attendance of those who were absent without leave, and without any known reason or excuse.

Lord G. Somerset

said, that as he was the original Mover of the Resolution, the House might expect him to say something on the subject. He certainly did understand, when that Resolution was carried, that the attendance on Railway Committees was to be compulsory, although it was true that Members had small thanks and very great trouble in attending those Committees. The attendance of the hon. Member for Winchester on the Committees he had mentioned, was not in his opinion of that stringent character which prevented his attendance on the Railway Committee; and he thought the hon. Member ought to give up his attendance on the other Committees, and obey the requisition of the Committee of Selection. There were no inquiries of more importance at present to the public than the various inquiries pending before Railway Committees; and, therefore, he thought it was not asking too much of the House to require the attendance of Members on Railway Committees, although they might be members of other Committees of a public character.

Dr. Bowring

would put it to the House to consider of what value would the inquiries before Public Committees be, and what weight the Reports would have with the public, if the best Members were draughted off to serve on Railway Committees. It was plain Public Committees in such circumstances could not do their duty. He thought Public Committees ought to be constituted of a less number of members than at present.

Mr. John S. Wortley

urged the importance of adhering to the rule already laid down with respect to attendance on Railway Committees.

Mr. P. M. Stewart

thought this rather a tantalizing discussion to some hon. Members. He thought the question had been settled some time ago. He had been on the Scotch Prisons Committee, and the Colonial Accounts Committee, when he received the Order of the Committee of Selection, which plunged him into a Railway Committee, where there were ten bills and twenty lawyers. The Chairman of the Committee of Selection told him that he had no locus standi as a Member of Public Committees to claim exemption from serving on Railway Com- mittees. If the House reversed their judgment, he trusted the operation of the reversal would be retrospective, so as to include himself and hon. Members who had been placed in similar circumstances. The best course, however, would be for the House to support their previous determination, and put their shoulder to the wheel, as had been said in moving the Resolution, otherwise the business could not be got through.

Captain Berkeley

said, however anxious hon. Members might be to do their duties, the willing, certainly, ought not to be called to take a distasteful duty, because the unwilling kept out of the way. It seemed to him extraordinary that those hon. Members who thought proper to attend the Repeal Association, had not been summoned on one of these Railway Committees.

Mr. Sotheron

thought some decision ought to be come to with respect to the hon. Member for Winchester, before the House proceeded further.

Mr. Shaw

was of opinion that unless the Resolution were continued, and the attendance on Railway Committees made compulsory, it would be impossible to get through the business during the Session of Parliament.

Sir G. Grey

said, that as the Chairman of the Committee would, according to the Orders of the House, have to report the absence of the hon. Member again tomorrow if he did not attend the Committee, he should move, if the noble Lord opposite did not, that the hon. Member be ordered to attend the Railway Committee of which he was a Member.

Lord G. Somerset

said, that if the hon. Member would not make a declaration that he would attend, he should be ready to make a Motion to that effect.

Viscount Castlereagh

wished to ask the noble Lord what course would be pursued with respect to those Members who had thought fit not to attend this Session; and whether he would be prepared to call on the House to order the Sergeant-at-Arms to take into custody such Members as refused to attend the Railway Committees on which they might be placed by the Committee of Selection, and whether the Sergeant-at-Arms would be sent over to Ireland take Members into custody. He agreed entirely that some understanding ought to be come to as to the mode of enforcing these attendances; and he could not help expressing his opinion that it was extraordinary that no name from among those who absented themselves had been appointed by the Committee of Selection.

Mr. M. Milnes

thought it would be very well if the House understood, without any possibility of misapprehension, what would take place if a Member refused to attend.

Lord G. Somerset

said, that if any hon. Member refused to obey the Orders of the House, he ought to be committed by order of the House to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. The question had not arisen, and therefore the House had not made any Resolution on the subject of the question now before them; but the House undoubtedly had the power, and if it should be necessary to call upon the House to put that power in motion, he was sure he should be supported by a very large majority in making that appeal.

Viscount Castlereagh

said, his question was, whether, in the event of any of those Members who were now in Ireland refusing to attend, the Sergeant-at-Arms would be ordered to take them into custody?

Lord G. Somerset

said, that if any Member, whether in Scotland, Ireland, or England, did so refuse, he should be ready to move that such Member be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Sir G. Grey

said, as the hon. Member for Winchester did not seem disposed to make any declaration, he moved that the hon. Member be ordered to attend the Railway Committee on Group Q to-morrow.

Mr. B. Escott

thought his explanation had not been understood. It was not that he preferred serving on one Committee rather than another, but that he found his attendance on the Railway Committee would be absolutely incompatible with his other duties. If the House, on dividing, should direct him to attend this Railway Committee, he would be most willing to do so.

No division, however, took place. The hon. Member was ordered to attend the Committee sitting on Group Q of Railways.

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