HC Deb 11 July 1855 vol 139 cc749-52

said, he rose to move that Baron Lionel do Rothschild should be at liberty to appear by counsel on Monday next before the Select Committee, now sitting up stairs, on the London Writ. The reasons which induced him to make the proposition were these. When the Committee came to consider the question, they found they had some evidence as to circumstances, and some as to facts, respecting the supposed contract or loan which Baron de Rothschild had entered into with the Government, and they would, of course, have to deliberate upon a question of law. As Chairman of the Committee he had received a letter from Baron de Rothschild requesting that he might be heard by counsel. That application had been very much discussed, and the Committee were of opinion, that inasmuch as Baron de Rothschild's seat might be affected by the Report they would have to submit to the House, it would be more satisfactory that he should be heard in the manner in which he thought his interests might best be promoted. The Committee, nevertheless, had had considerable difficulty in coming to that conclusion, as they felt that by hearing counsel on the one side and not on the other, they would not be in a position in which the inquiry might best be conducted. At the same time, the application of Baron de Rothschild appeared so reasonable that the Committee consulted Mr. Speaker as to the course of proceeding they ought to adopt, and he was good enough to furnish them with a precedent in the case of the late Mr. O'Connell. Mr. O'Connell had been returned, but was unable to take his seat because he could not take the Oath of Supremacy, and he applied to be heard by counsel. He was heard by counsel; but it was at the bar of the House. The difference in the two cases was, that Mr. O'Connell applied to be heard at the bar, and Baron de Rothschild before the Committee. There was no doubt whatever, he believed, that the House might adopt either course, or delegate its authority to the Committee. As Chairman of the Committee, he did not wish to express any opinion. He simply made the Motion; it being, however, the opinion of the majority of the Committee that the request of Baron de Rothschild should be complied with.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild be at liberty to appear before the Select Committee on the London Writ, by his Counsel and agents.


said, he disclaimed the slightest wish to prevent Baron de Rothschild being heard by counsel upon a matter so nearly concerning his rights and interests; but he entertained very considerable doubts as to whether the course proposed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst was the correct one; and whether, if Baron de Rothschild was to be heard by counsel, he ought not to be heard at the bar of the House according to precedent. Just let the House consider what were the functions of the Committee to whom the question was delegated. The House might remember that he (Sir F. Thesiger), from the first, opposed sending the matter to a Committee. The House had sent the matter to a Committee, but he did not understand that it had delegated its authority to the Committee in the sense that the Committee was finally to decide the question, because he apprehended the Report of the Committee must come back to the House for its decision upon it. His right hon. Friend applied for Baron de Rothschild to be heard by counsel before the Committee. Of course the Committee would be considerably influenced by the arguments of counsel, and it would report its opinion with regard to the question; but, at the same time, the House had not delegated its authority to the Committee, nor would the House be bound by the Report of the Committee. Well, then, if the House took upon itself to decide that Baron de Rothschild should be heard by counsel before the Committee, Baron de Rothschild might fairly complain that his case had not been fairly heard by the House, but by the Committee. The House would not have heard the arguments, and would have no opportunity of deciding on such arguments. He therefore thought, as the rights and interests of Baron de Rothschild were materially involved in the matter, that he ought to have every opportunity of being heard fully upon a question which so materially concerned him. If he was heard by counsel before the Committee, he might claim to be again heard at the bar of the House. The most practical course, therefore, in his opinion, would be for Baron de Rothschild to present a petition to be heard by counsel at the bar. He, therefore, begged leave to move, as an Amendment, that Baron Lionel de Rothschild be at liberty to be heard by counsel at the bar of the House.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "before the Select Committee on the London Writ," and insert the words "at the Bar of this House," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he did not think that the hon. and learned Member (Sir F. Thesiger) had correctly stated the object for which the reference of the question had been made to a Committee; which was not as to Baron de Rothschild having forfeited his seat by entering into a contract with the Government, for many Members had entered into such contracts, and their right to retain their seats had never been questioned. It was clear that a question of law, as well as of facts, had been referred to the Committee.


said, he should support the Amendment. There were many hon. Members who, not having leisure or inclination to weigh the force of the legal arguments for themselves, would defer entirely to the verdict of the Committee; and it would therefore be far better that those legal arguments should be offered in the House, where there would be hon. and learned Members to answer them, if they thought it necessary to do so.


said, he thought the proposal that Baron de Rothschild should be heard by counsel before the Committee just, on two grounds; first, it was just to Baron de Rothschild; and, in the next place, it would tend much to the elucidation of the legal difficulty. He trusted the House would accede to the inquiry, because if it should turn out that the Committee came to the conclusion that the Baron de Rothschild had forfeited his seat, he might fairly complain that he had not had an opportunity of stating such views to the Committee as would have induced them to alter their report.


said, he was of opinion that the best course for the Committee to be directed to pursue was, to report upon the facts, and let the House itself once, and for all, have the question argued by counsel at the bar. If there were no technical difficulty to that course, he would throw it out for adoption.


said, if the House should determine to hear Baron de Rothschild through his counsel at the bar, it would be much better to take the whole matter into its own hands, to discharge the order for the Committee, to proceed at once to hear counsel at the bar, and then decide on the question.


said, he thought it just, that as the seat of Baron de Rothschild had been impeached, he should be heard by counsel. The course suggested of hearing counsel at the bar would be beset with difficulties, and he could see no valid reason for resisting the inquiry asked for by the right hon. Member for Midhurst.


said, his only object was to ascertain the wish of the House as to the precise course to be pursued, and if the House thought it preferable that Baron de Rothschild should be heard by counsel before the Committee, he would withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild be at liberty to appear before the Select Committee on the London Writ, by his Counsel and agents.

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