HC Deb 20 May 1845 vol 80 cc601-5
The Solicitor General

moved to nominate the following Members as the Select Committee on Printed Papers:—Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Mr. Solicitor General, Sir Thomas Wilde, Mr. Attorney General for Ireland, Sir George Grey, Sir Robert Harry Inglis, Mr. Francis Baring. Viscount Mahon, Mr. Warburton, Mr. Wynn, Mr. Bernal, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Pigot, and the Lord Advocate.

Mr. T. Duncombe

begged to ask a question of the hon. and learned Member. Another action, he had been informed, was brought against the Sergeant by the clerk of Mr. Howard, and he wished to know whether that was also to form a subject of inquiry before the Committee about to be appointed? The question had been now before the House during three Sessions, and it had been bandied to and fro between the courts and that place for a long period of time; he begged to know to what purpose or with what useful result? The Attorney General had formerly expressed in that House a very strong opinion that the decision of the Courts would be in favour of that House. [The Solicitor General: No.] He begged the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon; but if he referred to the speeches made on the occasion, he would find what he had stated to be the fact, and that, indeed, was the only reason which had induced the right hon. Baronet to advise the House to allow the Sergeant to plead to the action. They had now arrived at the stage of proceeding where a decision had been given against the House. What would they do? No one had taken a more active part than he had done in bringing the matter to an issue; but that proceeding related to a subject quite distinct from the present, being upon the question of publication; and in order to test the point whether the officers of the House were to be empowered to print and circulate libels against any individual without being liable to give satisfaction for so doing. That question was tried by the Court of Queen's Bench; and in consequence of the decision then the House was obliged to get an Act of Parliament passed by the Legislature in order to protect its officers. The case before the House stood upon a totally different ground. They were about to refer it to a Select Committee; but they would only delay the evil hour by that step, and not avert it. It was very childish work to refer such matters to a Committee upstairs, which could in no respect or degree aid the House in the situation in which it was placed. What he wished to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman was, whether the action brought by Mr. Pearce, the clerk of Mr. Howard, against the Sergeant, was to be subjected to the consideration of the Committee?

The Solicitor General

said, that the hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct in stating that another action had been brought by a person named Pearce, who was, he believed, a clerk to Howard, against the Sergeant-at-Arms; but under what circumstances the action was brought, or what was the form of the warrant, it was impossible for him to inform the House. He believed, however, that the warrant in the case of Pearce differed in many material respects from the other. But he did not know what was the object of the hon. Gentleman on the present occasion. Did the hon. Gentleman mean that they should rescind the vote of the House for a Select Committee to report to it on the subject of the action of Howard v. Gossett. His reasons for asking for a Select Committee were neither childish nor puerile, for at the present moment he was not aware of the grounds on which the judgment of the Court of Queen's Bench proceeded. It would be premature to discuss the subject till they knew the grounds of the decision which had been come to. He knew it was necessary they should act promptly, but at the same time with due deliberation. He mentioned yesterday that there were other actions pending, and he stated that as a reason for proceeding with caution on the present occasion. The House had already resolved to refer the matter to a Select Committee, and he trusted the hon. Gentleman would, from the circumstances stated, see the propriety of the course adopted.

Mr. Hume

had from the first been opposed to any reference of such a question as the present to a Committee. He looked upon that to be only one mode of delaying the final settlement of the question. The House must take some decisive step to vindicate its own authority. It would appear that the highest tribunal in the kingdom had no means of carrying its own orders into effect. Every other court was endowed with such a power; but, from what had occurred, it seemed that the House of Commons was destitute of such a power.

Sir R. Peel

said, the House could come to no determination as to the steps which it would be advisable to take until the writ was actually served upon their Sergeant. That step had not yet been taken; when it was accomplished the House would be informed of it by their officer, and then would be the proper moment for resolving what to do. The House would take no proceedings in the matter until it had a full knowledge of the judgment that had been pronounced by the Court. At the same time, he must recall to the recollection of hon. Members the fact that he had anticipated the judgment which now formed the subject of consideration, on an occasion when a noble and learned Judge had referred in another place to a speech which he had made on the subject, and he had anticipated that the decision would, as it had done, turn upon a technical point, and not upon the merits of the case.

Mr. Ward

said, it was necessary for the House to act with caution in regard to the issuing of warrants, after the language that had been heard from the Bench by a Judge upon whose calmness of disposition, and whose learning and qualifications, the House had every reason to rely with implicit confidence. The learned person to whom he referred—Mr. Justice Coleridge—who had a written judgment in the case recently decided in the court where he sat, and who, in the course of that judgment, expressed the greatest doubts whether a messenger of that House might not be murdered with impunity by any person whom, in obedience to the orders of the House, he might attempt to take into custody upon the authority of the Speaker's warrant—that learned Judge expressed himself to be doubtful whether such an act as killing a messenger under such circumstance could be held to be a crime. If anything would operate as a warning to the House to proceed with caution in any future steps it might take, such an opinion as the one he had referred to ought to have that effect. And, considering that the hon. Member for Montrose had given notice of his intention to persevere in his Motion for a call of the House on the 22nd of the month, and that the probable consequence would be to send messengers to Ireland to bring over the absent Members—the sooner that question was decided the better.

Sir R. Inglis

said, that had the present conversation taken place on the preceding day, when the Committee was first proposed by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, it would have been appropriate; but the House having consented to nominate a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject, he thought it was ill-timed. The question before the House was, whether the Motion which stood No. 14 on the Paper should proceed, and the names proposed by the hon. and learned Member and from the Chair should be those which were to constitute the Select Committee; in his opinion every question should stand on its own grounds, and not be mixed up with other extraneous matters. The question to be examined into was the nature of the decision, and the grounds upon which the Judges had decreed that the proceeding of the House was wrong. It was impossible for them to remedy the defect in their own proceedings. Nothing could eke out a defective warrant. If the warrant was illegal from informality, the person who resisted was justified in law. To try a principle, extreme cases should always be selected, and in the present instance that seemed to be the result that would be derived from the proceeding.

Lord J. Russell

said, that that did not appear to him an improper opportunity for raising the present discussion; for, although the House had consented, on the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, to appoint a Committee, yet no time had been afforded it to deliberate upon the proper course to pursue; and, therefore, if the step that had been taken in agreeing to a Committee, appeared, upon mature reflection, to be a hasty or an improper one, the House would be perfectly right in reversing its decision, and it would be highly expedient to do so. But he certainly considered it extremely advisable for the House to have all the facts clearly before it, and also, that it should have an opportunity of calmly examining what the judgments were which had been pronounced by the Court of Queen's Bench. The question was of great importance, and he must certainly declare that he was not yet sufficiently informed upon the subject, and for that reason he was prepared to go into a Committee upstairs, and to acquire the necessary knowledge to enable him to deal with the matter in that House.

Motion agreed to. Committee nominated.