HC Deb 16 March 1853 vol 125 cc254-8

said, he wished to call the attention of the House, in accordance with the notice given by him yesterday, to a difficulty which had arisen in the proceedings of the Committee to inquire into alleged bribery in the borough of Rye, under the Act 5 & 6 Vict., c. 102, which was brought in by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London in 1843. The House was probably aware that this was the first time that any Committee had proceeded under the regulations of that Act, and, as far as the Rye Committee had yet exercised it, he feared that Act would be found very defective. The House, he felt certain, would agree with him in the necessity that existed for amending the Act, and rendering it more effectual. That Committee, on reassembling yesterday for further inquiry, in pursuance of the Act, within fourteen days after their Report had been presented to the House, found that two of their Members were absent; one hon. Gentleman having, he believed, gone to Ireland, and another being in a distant part of England. He regretted, under the cirstances, that those Gentlemen had left London—aware as they must have been that their attendance would be required within fourteen days—without communication with him as the Chairman of that Committee; but in their absence it might be necessary to consider how far the Committee-were, under the Act in question, an Election Committee. Their first intention had been to proceed under the Act regulating Election Committees, and under the terms of that Act to have reported to the House the absence of the two Members in question. After taking however, the best opinion to which they had access, the Committee came to the conclusion that they were, in fact, no longer an Election Committee, but a Select Committee, instructed by the House to prosecute a particular inquiry. Under these circumstances, and looking to the enactment which required them to re-assemble within fourteen days, they had felt it necessary to apply to the House, because if they were still an Election Committee under the Act, all their Members must be present before they could transact any business; while on the other hand, if they were not an Election Committee, a quorum of the Members might be authorised to proceed. One of the first things they had to do was to meet within fourteen days of the decision of the Election Committee, and then to adjourn until they were in a position legally to proceed. He wished to impress upon the House distinctly that he did not think it at all desirable that such a Committee should conduct such an inquiry without the whole of their Members being present; and, therefore, in the proposal which he now made to the House, that three be considered the quorum of the Committee, it was only with a view of enabling them to take some action previous to the holidays; for, unless the Committee were enabled to adjourn before that time, their powers would inevitably lapse altogether. He would therefore, beg to move the Resolution of which he had given notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Three be the quorum of the Committee re-assembled, under the Act 5 & 6 Vict., c. 102, to inquire into alleged Bribery at the last Election for the Town and Port of Rye.


said, he wished to know what notice had been given to the Members of the Committee with respect to the day on which they were to re-assemble.


said, that the provision of the Act requiring the Committee to re-assemble in fourteen days after its Report to the House had been frequently discussed by the Committee, and was, he thought, well known to them, and he did not, therefore, anticipate that any Member of it would leave town without communicating with him (Sir John Pakington) as the Chairman. He had directed the Committee clerk to issue summonses for a meeting at the latter end of the last or beginning of the present week.


said, he fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that, as the Members of the Committee knew the provisions of the Act, they should have taken care to have been within reach of a summons. At the same time, the fourteen days had not, he believed, yet expired. [Sir J. PAKINGTON: They date from last Monday week.] Then they would not expire till Monday next. He thought that the clear intent of the Act was, that the same members who had tried the Rye Election Petition should re-assemble to pursue the further investigations, and that the House would therefore be exercising a most hazardous power in declaring three Members to be a quorum. The best course to take under the circumstances was, he thought, to assume that, under the Act, the Committee was that appointed to try the Rye Election Petition; they might then report the absent Members to the House, who could, on reasonable cause being shown, grant them leave of absence; and then the three other Members could sit on under the Act for the regulation of Election Committees.


said, that the Committee had had the best advice that they were not an Election Committee, and he did not see how they could, therefore assume that they were.


said, that in that case the best way would be to bring the matter regularly before the House, who might then, if it thought proper, give the Rye Election Committee power to re-assemble with a minimum number of three Members.


said, he thought that Members should not be permitted to be absent from so important a Committee without being reported. Five was the smallest number of Members to whom such an inquiry should be committed; and he hoped, therefore, that if the Members did not attend, the Committee would report the circumstance to the House, and let them deal with it as was considered best. He must remark, however, that the time of Members was now so much occupied by the private business of the House, that public business of great importance was necessarily passed by and neglected. He thought that some arrangements should be made to remedy this serious evil.


said, that the great point was not to dissolve the Committee, or render its future proceedings illegal, by taking any step not in conformity with the Act of Parliament. He would suggest that the House should, upon the statement of the Chairman of the Committee, that there was some obstacle to its proceeding on the day appointed for its re-assembling, direct that it should stand adjourned to some particular day after the holidays.


said, that until the preliminary question—whether this was an Election Committee or not— was settled, it was certainly difficult to decide what course should be followed. Assuming, however, that it was an Election Committee, he thought that the best course was that recommended by his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey). If a Report was even then made in a formal manner of the non-attendance of these Gentlemen, the House might give them the leave of absence required. Until, however, such a Report was made, in conformity with the directions of the Act, the House would hardly be said to have exhausted the powers which it conferred upon them.


said, he believed that if the Committee met on Monday next (the last of the fourteen days), and found that any of their number were absent, it would be sufficient if they reported the fact to the House when re-assembled after the holidays.


said, that as this was a complicated case he had taken the opinion of the law adviser of the House, as he might term the counsel to the Speaker. That Gentleman had looked into the Act, and was of opinion, that although it was the intention of the Act to reconstitute this as an Election Committee, yet, as the Committee had made their Report, they had only now the power of examining witnesses upon oath, and of sending for persons, papers, and records. In all other respects the Committee were reduced to the power and functions of an ordinary Committee of the House. It appeared to follow that if the Committee should report any Members for being absent, they could not be punished by the House, as they would be if they were Members of an Election Committee. The difficulty was to get the Committee together to agree upon a Report, and this might be surmounted by the House ordering the attendance of the Members of the Committee in their places on Friday next. The House might then give such orders for the sitting of the Committee during the holidays as might seem desirable.

Motion, by leave, withdawn.

Ordered—That Matthew Elias Corbally, esquire, and Robert Charles Tudway, esquire, do attend this House in their places upon Friday next.

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