HC Deb 05 February 1851 vol 114 cc138-43

in moving a resolution acknowledging the services of John Henry Ley, Esq., late Clerk to the House of Commons, said, that he need make but few remarks. Mr. Ley was one of a succession of public officers whose services had been of great value to the House and to the country. Mr. Ley himself had served for 49 years at the table of the House, and every one who was acquainted with the business transacted in it for many years must be aware that he had a mind stored with information relating to every subject by which the order and procedure of the House were regulated: and every person must likewise know that nothing could exceed the readiness and courtesy with which he communicated to every Member of the House the information which he possessed, and of which they desired to be informed. In the Committees of the House his services were of great value in preparing and putting in due order and form those amendments which in the course of debate were proposed to be inserted in Bills of great public importance. Every Member of the House must be aware how useful it was to the regularity of their proceedings and to the correctness of their decisions to have at the table a Clerk so well furnished with the knowledge which it was requisite should be possessed on these subjects, and how often their deliberations had been aided by that knowledge being communicated to the House. He did not think be need say any more except that the House would do itself credit by placing on its records an acknowledgement of those services, arid never, he believed, would that acknowledgment have been better bestowed. The noble Lord concluded by moving the following Resolution— That this House entertains a just and high sense of the distinguished and exemplary manner in which John Henry Ley, Esq., late Clerk of this House, uniformly discharged the duties of his situation, during his long attendance at the table of this House, for above 49 years.


I second the Motion of my noble Friend. It is, I hope, not an act of presumption on my part, but a duty, which the older Members of the House ought to be the most forward to discharge, in proportion to their longer experience of the services which the resolution is designed to acknowledge and record. But the youngest Member of the House has seen enough of the services of the late Mr. Ley to justify me in anticipating an unanimous vote on this occasion. In the fulfilment of his important functions, Mr. Ley displayed, for nearly half a century, strict and rigid impartiality, punctuality, accuracy, knowledge of business. There are few of us who have not, individually, had the benefit of his aid. His labours had increased greatly during the course of his public service. That increase might be tested in various ways—by the increase in the number of Bills, or in the number of petitions. In a certain sense, every petition passed before him; in the strictest sense, every Bill passed through his hands. It may not be uninteresting to the House itself to know the facts. Take the case of petitions. When Mr. Ley first sat at the table, the number of petitions, in the five years ending 1805, was 1,026; in the five years ending 1815, the number had more than quadrupled—4,498; in the five years ending 1831, the number was 24,492; in the five years ending 1842, they were 70,072; in the five years ending l847, they were 81,985. Those who have had the privilege of possessing such an officer as the late Mr. Ley ought to value him when living, and to honour him when dead. It was a cheap reward of public service to adopt the resolution of the First Minister of the Crown. But when I talk of cheapness, I mean no vulgar reference to money, but to honours—the cheap defence of nations. It is due, indeed, to ourselves, as much as to the memory of Mr. Ley, to place on the records of our proceedings this testimony to our sense of the value of his services; and the honour is as graceful to those who confer it, as it is to him to whose name it is offered. It is some consolation to those who in private life mourn him; and it is an encouragement to others so to act as to win for their posterity the honours of such a memorial as a Resolution of the greatest deliberative body in the world, commemorating the public services of one of its officers, preeminently bestows.

The Resolution having been put,


said that, having had frequent opportunities of observing the admirable manner in which Mr. Ley had performed his duties, he cordially and entirely agreed with this vote. His attention to the duties of the office rendered him acquainted with the forms and manner of their proceedings, and often the Speaker had had the benefit of his great experience in matters connected with the business of the House. He (Mr. Hume) had therefore much pleasure in expressing his approbation that the great services of Mr. Ley were to be formally acknowledged in their Journals. But it was with extreme pain that he felt called upon to complain on the part of the public of the manner in which the Prime Minister had filled up the vacancy. He considered that every word which the noble Lord used, such as large experience, extensive knowledge, long servitude, told as a severe satire against himself, for they found that the person who occupied Mr. Ley's situation was a gentleman who had not a single day's experience to recommend him to the office. He did not wish to say anything against that gentleman as an individual, but a know-I ledge of his office could only be obtained by the continued practice and long experience which the noble Lord had adverted to, and therefore he did complain of the manner in which the noble Lord had exercised his patronage. Offices of this nature should always be filled up with a view to the public benefit, and when a vacancy occurred, due attention should be paid to the merits and capabilities of the party appointed to it. That rule applied with double force to the office in question, for young Members, ignorant of the forms of the House, could only make themselves acquainted with them through the assistance of the Clerk at the Table. It was, therefore, of the utmost importance that they should be able to apply to an officer who could give them information such as Mr. Ley was always ready to afford. For his part he (Mr. Hume) never applied to that gentleman for information without obtaining it, or without being put in the way to find it. But what did Sir Denis Le Marchant know of the rules and practice of this House? What qualifications had he for a situation embracing so many important duties as those which the noble Lord had pointed out? It was a painful duty for him to make these observations, but it was a duty which he owed to the House of Commons and the country, to state unhesitatingly to the noble Lord what he had heard remarked out of doors. The noble Lord might not have heard these re- marks; but other appointments connected with that House had also been remarked upon; but this was especially objectionable, because it affected their everyday duties in that House. Sir Denis Le Marchant possibly might be a very able man. Judging from the number of situations he filled, he certainly ought to be possessed of a pretty general knowledge. But what means had he of acquiring a knowledge of the routine and forms of the House, except that he had been for a short time one of its Members? The noble Lord bad not, in his opinion, exercised due discretion in the exercise of his patronage in the present instance. To-morrow the noble Lords speech would go forth to the public, and he would venture to affirm that whoever read the record of it would agree with him in saying that a sarcasm more severe, or a reflexion more cutting and condemnatory, than that which it conveyed on this appointment of Sir D. Le Marchant could hardly be conceived. Where was his experience? Where was the time which be had devoted to the business of the House—and let hon. Members remember that the business of the House was not to be learned in a day. Even in the simple duty of presenting petitions, Members of ten years' standing often looked very foolish from not knowing and observing the forms of the House; and it was of importance that the Clerk at the Table should be well versed in these matters, so as to place them right when necessary. He did not mean to make any charge against individuals, but he had no hesitation in saying that many fitter men might be selected for the appointment. Judging from the manner in which the present appointment had been made, they might form an opinion how lamentably the business in other departments must be conducted.


did not think the matter which had been introduced by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was suited to the present occasion. He was, perhaps, above all others, qualified to bear his testimony to Mr. Ley, and to the knowledge and advantages derived from his experience, for having come into office soon after his entrance into Parliament, he had been saved, by the experience and knowledge of Mr. Ley, from falling into those errors which, as a young Member, he must otherwise have unavoidably fallen into. He owed him a deep debt of gratitude for the information which Mr. Ley had afforded him from time to time. He had great pleasure in supporting the resolution.


hoped the House would allow him to say a few words in answer to the attack made upon him by the hon. Member for Montrose. Of course, it was the duty of the Prime Minister to consider the qualifications of the person whom he recommended for any particular office, and be would do wrong if he took the opinion of persons who had no responsibility, and disregarded his own convictions on a matter of this kind. Now, his conviction was, that be could not have made a better selection than that of Sir Denis Le Marchant. To say that he had no experience of the business of the House, was to say that which might be said of every person who filled the more important situation of Speaker of that House, for every Speaker when first chosen must necessarily be a person without experience in the arduous duties of that office. But with regard to this particular office there was a recommendation by a Committee of the House, with respect to the office of counsel to the Speaker—an office connected with the House, to which a salary of 1,200l. or 1,500l. a year was attached. When this office was first created, it was one of great responsibility and labour, and the gentleman who filled it had been induced to leave fair prospects at the bar for the purpose of taking this situation. But the course of business in the House had afterwards changed, and another Committee, over which his right hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Vernon Smith) presided, recommended that the office should be abolished on the next vacancy, and that the salary should cease. It then became a question of considerable embarrassment to Mr. Booth, not that he thought these duties could not be dispensed with, but he felt that he held an office which stood in the way of a reduction in the public expenditure. It, therefore, seemed to him that if he appointed a gentleman fully qualified, from long habits of business, to discharge the duties of Clerk to the House, and removed Mr. Booth to the Secretary-ship of the Board of Trade, he could thereby effect a saving of 1,200l. or 1,500l. a year. It was with a view to economy that he thus acted; and he had always thought that the hon. Member far Montrose would support whatever promoted public economy.


differed from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University in the opinion that this was not the right time to bring the subject introduced by the hon. Member for Montrose before the House. If it was not discussed then, there would be no other opportunity for doing so. If it was true, as the noble Lord stated, that any new Speaker must be always without experience of the forms of the House, it was the more necessary to have a Clerk who had experience of them.

Resolution was agreed to nemine contradicente.