HC Deb 02 February 1847 vol 89 cc697-8

Sir, I wish to take the earliest opportunity of communicating to the House a matter of very great importance connected with its privileges. It will be recollected that some time ago an action was brought against the Sergeant-at-Arms for having, in obedience to the warrant of the Speaker, issued by authority of this House, arrested a Mr. Howard, and brought him to the bar for the purpose of being examined. In that action the Sergeant, by leave of the House, pleaded a justification—that he had acted under its authority; and, issues in law having been raised, the argument took place in the Court of Queen's Bench, and after considerable time taken by the court to deliberate upon its judgment, a majority of the court decided against the justification. The judgment itself was not more unfavourable to this House, than the principles upon which it proceeded; and which, if they had been allowed to be considered as settled and established law, would have placed our most important privileges at the mercy of the courts of justice. The subject having been brought to the attention of the House, a Select Committee was appointed, for the purpose of considering the best course to be adopted in vindication of those privileges; and after very careful consideration of all the circumstances, looking to the grounds upon which the judgment proceeded, and the Committee being exceedingly desirous not to recommend any extreme measures in assertion of our privileges as long as any hope remained of having them decided by a legal tribunal, a report was presented to this House recommending that a writ of error should be brought upon the judgment. Upon a division, a majority of the House acquiesced in that recommendation. A writ of error was accordingly brought. In the course of last year the question was argued before the Court of Exchequer Chamber; and I have the satisfaction to inform the House that this very day that court has unanimously pronounced a decision, reversing the judgment of the Court of Queen's Bench. It may be important to mention, that although, in obedience to the wishes of this House, the question as to its right to declare what were its privileges, was argued before the Court of Appeal, yet the nature of the case was such that it was unnecessary for that court to pronounce any decision upon that important subject; but I may be permitted to say, that the result of this inquiry, confirming and sanctioning, as it does, the recommendation of the Committee adopted by the House, places us in a much more favourable position for the future in asserting and vindicating our privileges, without apprehension that there will be hereafter any assumed control or authority of the courts of law to interfere. If the House will permit me, as it is desirable that it should be fully informed of all these proceedings, I will take the liberty of moving that it be furnished with a copy of the shorthand writer's notes of the argument and of the judgment of the Court of Exchequer Chamber in the case of Gossett v. Howard, for the purpose of their being printed for the use of the House.

Motion agreed to nem. con.