§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, that yesterday he took the liberty of asking the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General whether, under the provisions of what was commonly called "the Contractors' Act," Baron Rothschild had not vacated his seat for the City of London, by having entered into a contract with Her Majesty's Government for a loan of 16,000,000l. for the public service, and whether, consequently, a new writ ought not to issue for the City of London? His hon. and learned Friend then answered that, if the question were put to the House, not in a speculative, but in a practical form, he would give his 163 opinion upon it. He now rose for the purpose of bringing the matter before the House in a practical form, and he had, therefore, put a Motion to that effect on the paper. He might have moved that the matter be referred to a Select Committee, but that would have been a sneaking and cowardly course, entertaining as he did a strong conviction that, according to the common sense and literal construction of the Act of Parliament, Baron Rothschild had vacated his seat. The House would recollect when the Act in question passed, and the purposes for which it was designed. The Act passed in 1782, and was brought forward with the avowed object of promoting the freedom and independence of Parliament. When the Rockingham Administration came into office they took up that Bill, which had been before Parliament for two or three years, and gave it their warmest support on the principle that the House of Commons was getting day by day more corrupt and the people of this country were becoming more dissatisfied with it. He would not insult the memory of the Rockingham Administration by calling them "Administrative Reformers." They were something more, for they were Parliamentary Reformers. They struck at the root of the evil, for they said that, if there were corruption in the State, it must be the fault of the House of Commons, and so far as they could remove that blot they would do it by reforming the House itself. That Administration contained among its Members Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Dunning, who had previously moved the well-known Resolution, that the power and influence of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. He should show by the Act itself, and by the debates upon it, that it was the intention of those who framed the Act, and of the Parliament that passed it, that contractors of Government loans should vacate their seats in Parliament, and he contended that the case of Baron Rothschild came clearly within its meaning. The heading of the contract was—The contract entered into by Baron Lionel de Rothschild with Her Majesty's Government, on or about the 20th day of April last, for a loan of 16,000,000l. for the public service.Now, the preamble of the Act said—For further securing the freedom and independence of Parliament, be it enacted by the King's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons in this present Parliament 164 assembled, and by the authority Of the same, that, from and after the end of this present session of Parliament, any person who shall, directly or indirectly, himself, or by any person whatsoever in trust for him, or for his use or benefit, or on his account, undertake, execute, hold, or enjoy, in the whole or in part, any contract, agreement, or commission, made or entered into with, under, or from the Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, or of the Navy or Victualling Office, or with the Master General or Board of Ordnance, or with any one or more of such Commissioners, or with any other person or persons whatsoever, for or on account of the public service; or shall knowingly and willingly furnish or provide, in pursuance of any such agreement, contract, or commission, which he or they shall have made or entered into as aforesaid, any money to be remitted abroad, or any wares or merchandise to be used or employed in the service of the public, shall be incapable of being elected, or of sitting or voting as a Member of the House of Commons, during the time that he shall execute, hold, or enjoy any such contract, agreement, or commission, or any part or share thereof, or any benefit or emolument arising from the same.The Act also went on to say—And if any person, disabled and declared incapable by this Act to be elected, shall, after the end of this present Session of Parliament, presume to sit or vote as a Member of the House of Commons, such person so sitting or voting shall forfeit the sum of 500l. for every day in which he shall sit or vote in the said House to any person or persons who shall sue for, the same in any of His Majesty's courts at Westminster.It was contended by some that Baron Rothschild, not being ineligible by reason of this contract at the time of his election, had not incurred the penalties of the Act, and that, because for other reasons he had not sat or voted in that House, he had not forfeited his seat on that account. But he apprehended that there were very few hon. Members who would maintain that opinion, because, supposing for an instant that fifty or sixty Members held contracts with the Government for twelve months' duration, would the House say that they had not forfeited their seats because for that period they might abstain from sitting or voting in the House? The case of the Jewish question was a very different one. The hon. Member was incapable of sitting or voting in that House because he could not use the words "on the true faith of a Christian," and in that case the House was not justified in issuing a writ. But the hon. Member stood in a very different position as a contractor. It was alleged by some that hon. Members might contract for money, although they could not enter into contracts with the Government for ships or provisions. When the Bill was 165 under discussion, it was at first proposed that contracts for loans should be excepted, but if hon. Members referred to the debates they would find that that proposal was scouted by the House. Mr. Fox said, he rejoiced to see that a new sprit of government seemed to be rising, and that a period was approaching when corruption would be banished from the Senate; and those who had the management of public affairs might safely trust to the merits of their measures for support, without having recourse to corruption. He (Mr. Duncombe) did not know whether the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter) would be disposed to indorse that opinion. Mr. Fox moved that the exception in the Bill should be withdrawn, and that no contractor whatever should have a seat in Parliament. It was also contended that contracts for money were more dangerous than any other species of contract. The exception was withdrawn upon the understanding that a special Bill should be brought in for the purpose. No Bill, however, was brought in for the purpose, and the only Bill bearing at all upon the subject confirmed the view which he had now stated—the 48 Geo. III., chap. 1, wherein persons were exempted from losing their seats who entered into any contract with the Government for Exchequer Bills on behalf of the Bank of England. If they entered into such contracts on their own behalf, they were not exempted; so it was quite clear that Parliament, with its eyes open, had intended by the 22 Geo. III., chap. 45, that no contractors whatever should sit in Parliament. He could not possibly understand how there could be any doubt upon the subject, and, as Baron Rothschild by other circumstances had been prevented from sitting and voting in the House, he had incurred no penalties, and so far the loss to him would not be, and ought not to be, very great. He particularly wished it to be understood that he made this Motion entirely upon public grounds, and without any reference whatever to the Jewish question. For eight Sessions Baron Rothschild had been nominally a Member of the House of Commons, but the question of Jewish emancipation did not seem to have been much advanced thereby. A short time since he asked Her Majesty's Government whether it was their intention to introduce a measure in the present Session for the removal of Jewish disabilities, and the answer he received was, that they had no such intention. The noble Lord the 166 Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) had since addressed a letter to some of his constituents, in which he told them fairly it was a hopeless case, in consequence of the decisions which had been come to in the House of Lords, and he believed the noble Lord was perfectly right in forming that estimate of the position of the question. He believed the prejudice elsewhere was so great, and the indifference of the public out of doors was also so great, that during the present generation, at least, there was not the remotest chance of gentlemen of the Jewish persuasion sitting in that House, so long as the House of Lords had any voice in the matter. Therefore Baron Rothschild had been thus long disabled, and the citizens of London had been deprived of their fourth Member. If three Members were quite enough for the City of London, let the House be told so, and let them give that Member to some other place. But this very disablement of Baron Rothschild had relieved him from any penalties with regard to this contract. What he said was, that from the moment a Member entered into a contract with the Government, not only was he disabled from sitting and voting, but his seat became vacant. He should be extremely glad to hear the opinions of hon. and learned Gentlemen upon this subject, but he contended that, according to the honest and fair interpretation of the Act, it was quite clear there was a vacancy in the City of London at the present moment, and would so continue, as far as regarded Baron Rothschild, until the 18th of December next, when the contract ceased. Under these circumstances, therefore, ought not the House to issue a new writ? They did not want any peddling or quibbling opinions. He knew lawyers could make that opaque which was clear to all minds but their own, but he hoped that would not be the case on this occasion, and he appealed to the House to restore to the citizens of London the power of electing a forth representative by agreeing to the Motion he now proposed, that the Speaker be instructed to issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the City of London.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Citizen to serve in this present Parliament for the City of London, in the room of Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, who, since his Election for the said City, has entered into a Contract for the Public Service.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said: My hon. Friend, having brought this matter before the House in a practical shape, has the undoubted right to call upon me to state to the House the views which I entertain upon the subject. I have in consequence given to the subject the best attention, with a view to form an honest opinion upon it, and I am perfectly prepared to state that opinion to the House if I could only understand the course which the House might feel disposed to pursue in dealing with the subject. The first question which arises is, whether the House will deal with the subject immediately, as proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury, or send the case to a Select Committee. I understand that the latter is the course which is the most proper to be pursued upon the present occasion, and I have had put into my hand a precedent which is immediately in point. It is the case of Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey, who accepted the office of Registrar of Hackney Carriages. Upon that occasion it was moved that the hon. Member had thereby vacated his seat, and that a new writ should be issued. Upon that Motion an Amendment was moved to the effect that "the papers relating to the appointment of Daniel Whittle Harvey, Esq., to the office of Registrar of Hackney Carriages, be referred to a Select Committee, and that such Committee be directed to report its opinion whether Daniel Whittle Harvey, Esq., has vacated his seat by the acceptance of the said office." That Amendment was agreed to, the Committee was appointed to take the papers into its consideration for the purpose of reporting to the House upon the subject, and in due time it did so report. Now it is a serious question whether that would not be the correct course to pursue in the present instance. Upon the best consideration which I have been enabled to give to the subject, I think the Statute is tolerably clear though not altogether free from doubt. There may be some parts of the clause which carry some degree of ambiguity, but these are not of sufficient force to override the general purport of the Statute. But there are one or two circumstances deserving of consideration in connection with this subject. In the first place, I am told that since the passing of the Contractors Bill, although a vast number of contracts for loans have been made by the Government, in almost every one of which some Member or Members of this 168 House have been concerned as contractors, it never occurred to any one to put this Statute in force against them. I am aware that it does not follow, because a Statute has never been put into operation, that it should therefore be considered as inoperative when the House is called upon to enforce the law. But if, throughout this long series of years, no person has ever thought of putting the law into force, it may be well worthy of consideration whether there may not be something in its conditions which may give to these contracts something of an exceptional character. I do not say that it is so, but I certainly think it is worthy of consideration. There is another circumstance which I confess also weighs in some degree upon my mind. Baron Rothschild cannot take his seat in this House, and cannot, therefore, answer for himself, nor do justice to his own case by any explanations which he might offer. If the course of appointing a Select Committee be a proper one, I think the circumstance of Baron Rothschild not being in this House to speak for himself might be an additional reason for agreeing to the proposal. I will submit, therefore, to the consideration of the House whether, in lieu of the Motion, it would be desirable to agree to the Amendment which I shall propose, that this matter be referred to a Select Committee, for the purpose of considering whether the entering into this contract by Baron Rothschild has affected his seat in this House? If the House is of opinion that that course should not be adopted, I am ready at once to state my opinion as to the construction of the Act, and its bearing upon this contract, without regard to political or personal considerations. I believe, however, that the course which I have suggested would be the best for the House to pursue.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, he would second the Amendment, because he considered that the matter ought to be investigated by a Select Committee before the House gave any decided opinion on the subject. An instance had occurred of his hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring) having entered into a similar contract with the Government in the case of the Irish loan, but no notice whatever was taken of the subject by any hon. Member of the House, for it appeared to be understood that that loan did not come within the terms of the Act. He thought, coupling the fact with the absence of Baron Rothschild from the House, and his consequent 169 inability to offer any explanations, that the wisest course to adopt would be to refer the subject to a Select Committee, as recommended by the hon, and learned Attorney General.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Contract entered into by Baron Lionel de Rothschild with Her Majesty's Government, on the 20th day of April last, for a loan of sixteen millions for the Public Service, be referred to a Select Committee, and that they be directed to report their opinion whether Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild has vacated his Seat by his entering into the said Contract," instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. FRENCH
said, if the only reason for objecting to the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury was that Baron Rothschild had not taken his seat, and consequently was not in a position to defend himself, he (Mr. French) would remind the House of the case of Mr. O'Connell when elected for Clare, who was allowed to speak from the bar of the House. It was impossible for any one who had looked at the Act of Parliament to get rid of the fact, that any person who entered into a contract for the public service with the Lords of the Treasury thereby vacated his seat. Such was the case brought forward by the hon. Member for Finsbury, and he (Mr. French) could see no ground for the doubt or delay which had been raised by the hon. and learned Attorney General. That hon. and learned Gentleman told the House he had considered the question and was prepared to give his opinion at once if necessary, and it was, therefore, most reasonable that that opinion should be ascertained before the House came to a decision.
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
said, he felt himself in some difficulty from having to express a different opinion from that enunciated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole). He should be sorry to disturb precedent, or to adopt any proceeding upon the present occasion different from the course pursued in former similar cases, but he must say that he considered the precedent which had been alluded to was hardly applicable to the present occasion. He apprehended that the House was not in 170 the habit of sending matters to Select Committees unless there were some doubts upon questions of fact upon which it required information, and which the Committee was called upon to obtain and to report to the House. With respect to the case of Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey he was not acquainted with all the circumstances connected with it, but he presumed there was some question as to whether the peculiar nature of the office was such as to render the vacation of the seat in that House a necessary consequence, and that therefore the House desired to have the matter investigated and a Report from a Select Committee upon the facts, in order to come to a decision of the cases. But upon the present occasion what was there to refer to a Select Committee? The facts were all before the House, they depended entirely upon a Return which had been made to the House, of "a contract which had been entered into by Baron Rothschild, for the public service, with Her Majesty's Government." Was it suggested there was any other fact which, by referring the matter to a Select Committee, could be ascertained, by the House? Whatever the precedent might have been in Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey's case, or whatever the course of precedents might have been, it would be almost absurd in a case like the present, when the facts were so simple and already ascertained, that the House should delegate any portion of its functions to a Select Committee, it being clear that, when the Report of that Committee should be made, the House would be in no better position to decide the question than it was at present. Was there a single lawyer who entertained any doubt upon the subject that by a plain construction of the Act of Parliament the seat of Baron Rothschild had become void? The hon. and learned Attorney General had adverted to the circumstance that there had been several previous instances of persons who had been contractors for loans to the Government, and were also Members of that House; but the hon. and learned Gentleman had answered his own observation by saying, a blot was not a blot until it was hit. So he (Sir F. Thesiger) thought the House was indebted to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) for discovering the objection and bringing it forward, and, the attention of the House having been called to the subject, it ought now to decide whether, upon a proper construction of the Act of Parliament, Baron 171 Rothschild's seat was or was not vacant. He asked again, could any one entertain the slightest doubt upon the matter? The hon. Member for Finsbury had omitted to call attention to the second clause, which enacted that if any person, being a Member of the House of Commons, should directly or indirectly, himself or by any other person in trust for him, or for his use or benefit, or on his account, enter into, agree, undertake, or execute, wholly or in part, or accept any such contract, agreement, or commission, the seat of every such person in the House of Commons should be, and thereby was, declared void. Well, then, the question was, had Baron Rothschild accepted any contract, agreement, or Commission? His (Sir F. Thesiger's) proof was a Return made to that House of the "copy of a contract entered into by Baron Lionel Rothschild with Her Majesty's Government, on or about the 20th of May last, for a loan of 16.000.000l. for the public service." The Act of Parliament in question declared that any person who directly or indirectly undertook, executed, held, or enjoyed any agreement with Her Majesty's Treasury was by the first section disabled from sitting and voting in Parliament, and by the second section his seat was declared void. The only doubt as to the first section which had been suggested arose from a subsequent portion of the clause which alluded to persons who in their own and others' names made agreements to furnish money to be remitted abroad, or merchandise to be used for the public service. But it was clear that, the moment the contract was entered into, from that moment the penalty attached to the contractor, who was disabled from sitting or voting, and his seat void; but, inasmuch as it was possible that contracts might be entered into, not in the Member's name, but for his use and benefit, to provide against any evasion of the Act the provision had been introduced, that any Member who should contract to supply goods, merchandise, or remit money abroad for the public service, should be in the same predicament of forfeiting his seat. No doubt could be entertained therefore that the clauses were perfectly distinct. The first related to the contract; and the moment that was entered into, although nothing might actually be supplied, yet from that moment the penalty attached and the seat became void. That was not a lawyer's question. There was no difficulty 172 in construing the Act of Parliament, even to non-professional men, and it would be extraordinary if, after sitting there night after night making laws, they should not be able to construe those laws when they were made. He thought the case was so clear that no person, whether lawyer or not, would say he entertained any doubt, and therefore, regretting to differ from the hon. and learned Attorney General and the right hon. Member for Midhurst, he thought this was not a case in which there was any necessity to resort to the machinery of a Select Committee. The case in his view of it was fully before the House, and he was quite prepared to vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, if all the Members of this House were as learned as the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the House, or as my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, it might, perhaps, be proper for the House to come at once to a decision upon this subject upon the best consideration which it was able to give to the question. But I must put in a claim on behalf of the great body of the Members of this House who have not that learning which the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) possesses. When the hon. and learned Gentleman says that if we make laws we ought further to be able to interpret them, I think he goes rather beyond what is a fair claim on the Members of this House. I confess for one, that if after a law were passed any one should ask me to give a legal interpretation of it, I should decline to do so, on the ground of my inability, and should refer him to some Member of the legal profession of which the hon. and learned Gentleman is so great an ornament. What appears to me to be a difficulty in this case is, that many years ago since this Act was passed numerous instances have occurred of persons contracting loans without the subject having been brought to the notice of this House, or their having been alleged to hare forfeited their seats thereby. Now, it is quite true to say that a blot is not a blot until it is hit; but let the House take a case in point as an instance. There was the Royalty Loan of 1797; great numbers of the Members of the House of Commons were concerned in that loan. Mr. Sheridan said on that occasion that those hon. Members came forward for the purpose of profit. Mr. Pitt said that it was not so; but he afterwards 173 brought forward proposals of giving 5 per cent interest to all persons who had subscribed to that loan. No question was raised in the House as to whether those hon. Members had forfeited their seats; but one question was raised, which was for a long time discussed, that was, that no person who was interested in the loan should vote for the measure which accorded them the interest. Not a word was said about hon. Members subscribing to that loan having forfeited their seats. The right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) was contractor for a loan, and again the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring) was contractor for a loan in 1847. I was at the head of the Treasury when the loan was contracted. Taking these facts into consideration, it does appear to me that the practice which has hither to existed in the House might justly warrant the appointment of a Select Committee. They will consider, no doubt, not only the case as affecting Baron Rothschild, but the whole meaning of that Act, and also arrive at some opinion as to how far it extends. Taking this case, 10 per cent has been paid of this loan, any person who buys Omnium in the market thereby makes an engagement to the Government to pay the remaining 90 per cent of the loan. I think it hard in this case. Baron Rothschild has only engaged with the Government to pay 10 per cent of the loan. Those who buy Omnium are the persons who are engaged to pay the remainder, and not Baron Rothschild. It is the great body of the subscribers who are answerable for paying the remainder of the loan. Where is the House to stop in this matter? Is it to apply the Statute to other persons who take up part of this loan. Or is the House to say that every person who takes up a part of it disqualifies himself for a seat in this House?
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
Sir, my difficulty is to make up my mind whether the disqualifying clauses are to stop with Baron Rothschild. He has admitted a great number of persons, possibly Members of this House, to have shares of this loan, to enjoy what the Act calls the "profits, benefits, and emoluments arising from the same." Now, all these Members enjoy the "profits, benefits, and emoluments" arising from the loan, and, if I have taken a correct view of this Act, they are in jeopardy as well as Baron Rothschild, and it would be competent for him or any other hon. Member, if the House at once agrees 174 to the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, to find out some hon. Member upon this list and take the House by surprise to-morrow evening, and move that a new writ be issued for the borough or county which he represents. We must therefore be cautious in this matter. For myself, I confess I have no particular knowledge of the law. I have read the Act, and I understand from it that any person who enjoys any benefit arising from the loan, either directly by having contracted himself, or indirectly through another, is equally affected. What I wish to direct the attention of the Government to is, the question as to how far they have discharged their duties in this matter. We have seen copies of the contract which the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury has laid upon the table, and which I understand it is the duty of the hon. Gentleman to draw up. Now, the Act states, with respect to the mode in which this contract should be drawn up—Be it enacted that in every such agreement, the contract or commission to be made, entered into, or accepted as aforesaid, there shall be inserted the express condition that no Member of the House of Commons be admitted to any share or part of such contract, agreement, commission, or any benefit which may arise therefrom.The Secretary of the Treasury has therefore laid himself open at least to the information of this House in not having carried out the provisions of the Act. But, still more, the Act applies to any person having made this contract with Government, enacting that any person who, having made such contract with Government, shall admit any Member of the House of Commons to any share or any benefit or emolument arising from this contract, renders himself liable to a penalty of 500l. for each person admitted. This penalty may be sued for by any common informer, so that for each person who is a Member of this House whose name appears upon the list of Baron Rothschild, who has derived so much premium from the omnium, Baron Rothschild is liable to a penalty of 500l. It is to be hoped that those Gentlemen who have enjoyed such emoluments and advantages, will make some sacrifices among themselves in order to pay the Baron's large penalties. Under these circumstances, I shall vote for the Select Committee. I cannot see my way—it is full of difficulty. I doubt, indeed, whether the contract is legal if in drawing it up you have not inserted all the conditions which 175 the Act requires to be inserted in it. There is one point not yet cited in connection with the question before the House. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) made some remarks about the Jewish question, and stated that in his opinion it would not be settled during the present generation. Now, I do not despair of its being carried out, and I believe if the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) were at the head of the Government, and made it a Cabinet question and took it up in earnest, it would have obtained the assent of the House of Lords, and we should have seen, as we yet shall see, Baron Rothschild taking his seat and voting in this House.
§ MR. HILDYARD
said, he could not allow such immorality as had just escaped from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester to pass without notice. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the Act of Parliament might affect half the Members of that House, and therefore they should be cautious how they acted. Was that the morality of the Manchester school? He had long been of opinion that it was, but he had never heard it so completely and distinctly enunciated before. How different was the nature of those remarks as contrasted with those which fell from the hon. and learned Attorney General. That hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was our bounden duty, without fear or favour, to expound the law, and we were doubly bound to do so in a case where large numbers of that House might be affected. As for the statements of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, he was astonished that he should state in that House that any one who comes into the market to purchase scrip in the new loan becomes thereby a contractor to Government. It was nothing of the kind; all that a purchaser of scrip did was this; he offered to pay a part of the loan or lease the scrip. Such a doctrine laid down by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London particularly surprised him. The Act contemplated that the Government might not only debauch any Member of the House of Commons, but also that any hon. Member having this contract with the Government might use the influence of that contract for the purpose of affecting the proceedings of other hon. Members in the House; and the Act therefore imposed, not disabilities as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) had stated, but prohibitions upon the contractor against making such use of their contracts. 176 He thought that the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) had put the case very fairly before the House. Was there a contract or was there not? Was Baron Rothschild a Member of that House or was he not? The contract lay upon the table of the House, and Baron Rothschild, although a Member, could not sit or vote in the House, was clearly brought within the provisions of the Act of Parliament, and he thought that the House had nothing to do but to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.
§ THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL
said, he wished the House to observe that it was dealing with a Statute which had not been enforced or applied for a long space of years. It was reasonable to suspect, therefore, some impediment or obstacle in the way of its application. If any Gentleman were bold enough to pledge himself to the opinion that the law had not been affected by any of our legislation subsequent to 1782, he might be competent to pronounce upon this question at once; but he (the Solicitor General) could not be so confident. The mistake committed by the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) should teach him to be more diffident, for when he said that in the latter part of the section the first alternative was intended to apply to persons who, under a contract made by others, supplied money to be remitted abroad for wares or merchandise for the Government, he entirely forgot that it contained these words, "in pursuance of any such agreement, contract, or commission which he or they shall have made or entered into as aforesaid;" so that it was impossible to apply this to a contract made by another; and it was confined to the same contract before mentioned. There might be a question as to whether the second alternative did not put a certain interpretation upon the first, and prevent us from arriving at the conclusion that merely entering into the contract, where nothing might have been done to fulfil it, was a sufficient disqualification. Another hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken of the Act of Parliament as if it did not at all apply to any individual Member of the House who had taken a part of the contract, but the words of the Act were express upon that point—"Any one who has been admitted to a part or share." He (the Solicitor General) would beg the House to remember that it was dealing with a Statute which had not been enforced upon similar grounds for more than 177 seventy years. Now in all cases of this kind every lawyer understood that the non-enforcement of the Act might reasonably be expected to be owing to some impediment or obstacle in the way of the Statute being carried into effect, and he did not think that any hon. and learned Gentleman would rise in his place and pledge his reputation that no Act had been subsequently passed which interfered with or modified in any way the provisions of the Act which was now under the consideration of the House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, it appeared to him that a subject of this nature should be considered with great calmness, and that the House should not rashly adopt any course upon it without due deliberation. Now, what he felt was that they wanted that distinct proof which should be in the possession of the House, and which could be easily obtained, before they could come to a decision on a question of such consequenee. The hon. and learned Solicitor General said that there could be no doubt that Baron Lionel de Rothschild had contracted with Her Majesty's Government, and then he took up a contract, and pointed to it as containing that proof. But he (Mr. Disraeli) was not satisfied on this point; for if that was the only proof that the hon. Member for the City of London had entered into a contract with Her Majesty's Government, the evidence was very imperfect, as the contract bore not the signature of Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, but of N. M. Rothschild and Sons. He thought that the question should be thoroughly proved, and that the House should not be placed in a position of being liable to a doubt on a matter capable of distinct proof. That doubt was in his mind sufficient for inducing him to think that the matter should be referred to a Select Committee. The House had not the proof that the hon. Member for London had entered into a contract with Her Majesty's Government; but, on the contrary, the House had primâ facie evidence that Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild had not signed such contract. He only said that it was of consequence that the House should have, in cases of this kind, complete evidence that the Member of the House so charged actually had entered into a contract with the Government. He would not refer to the other points which might influence the House on the present occasion. There was great ambiguity in the words of the Act. They 178 might be law, but they certainly were not English. If also they found that there was a prescription in that House, by which members who had entered into contracts of the kind had not been made to vacate their seats, although that might not be a conclusive argument, in the present instance, still it was good ground for supporting an investigation, so that they might clearly understand what the law was, and under what circumstances contractors should be obliged to vacate their seats. However, in the present instance he would confine himself to the point he had stated—that the contract on the table was not signed by the hon. Member for London as a reason sufficient for referring the matter to a Select Committee.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he wished to ask a question of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. Notwithstanding the assertion of the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) it would appear that not even lawyers—those learned in the law—could agree as to the interpretation of the Act; for the Solicitor General, who was a very clever lawyer, and the hon. and learned Member for Stamford who was as able, differed as to its interpretation. He was convinced, therefore, that they would be doing much better by referring the question to a Select Committee. But there was another point—it appeared to him that the time was about to come when the whole of this Act would have to be taken into consideration. It might operate now so as to turn Baron Rothschild out of that House, as it had operated to turn out Sir Samuel Peto some time ago, and recently the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Price) on whose behalf the Bill was brought in to save him from penalties, and then he was re-elected. A few years ago he remembered a Friend of his, Mr. Dixon, was returned for Carlisle; but he did not vote, because he learned that some collieries in which he had a little interest had been supplying a few chaldrons of coal for the use of the barracks at Newcastle and Carlisle. Now, it was well known that there were modes, either by the transferring of contracts or otherwise, of avoiding all difficulties; and he rose for the purpose of suggesting to the noble Lord that whatever might be the issue of the matter with regard to Baron Rothschild, it would be becoming in the Government to take into consideration the question of the Act, with a view of putting it on a more satisfactory 179 footing or of abolishing it altogether. Not long ago the noble Lord said it was very desirable that the army should remain under the control of the Crown, and not, like other public departments, liable to the interference of the House of Commons. He did not dispute that, but they all knew there were Members of that House receiving emoluments for military services, and who were themselves directly dependent for their promotion, not on the ministers, but upon the Commander in Chief, and through him upon the Crown. That was a sort of dependence which he thought might be urged as a reason for excluding such Gentlemen from the House. He believed they might abolish the Act altogether with perfect safety, for the influence of the press and public opinion, and the greater morality which prevailed among all classes of people, and eminently amongst Members of that House—upon all matters of this kind—would be complete safeguards against the occurrence of the dangers which the Act originally contemplated. He thought the House would act wisely in appointing a Select Committee, but mainly with a view of considering the repeal of the law on the subject.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he thought that what had fallen from different Members in the course of the debate showed that it would be expedient to refer the question to a Select Committee. If they had to discuss the application of a law which had been invariably applied in similar cases, and upon the interpretation of which no doubt could arise, there would be no necessity for a Select Committee. If they had a case in which a distinct application of the law was clear, and that on the interpretation of the law no doubt could arise—if hon. Members could get up and say that in consequence of an hon. Member's accepting an office under the Crown there was no doubt about the vacating of his seat, in such a case the House might proceed to a direct decision. But this was a case of a different nature. Many hon. Members were of opinion that there was no doubt as to the application of the Act; but there were others who might entertain considerable doubts on the subject. He himself was not prepared to express any opinion, but he thought that it was a question which was open to argument both ways, more especially when they considered the extensive collateral application of the Act which might flow through 180 the principal contractor. It appeared from what had been stated, that there was an almost unbroken chain of precedent against the application of the Act. At the same time, he did not say that that was any reason why the law should not be deemed to be applicable to the present case; but he thought that it was a ground upon which the House might fairly require to have that deliberate, calm, and dispassionate consideration of the case which an inquiry before a Select Committee could alone insure. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) that matters of this description were not conveniently or usefully discussed in debates in that House. The audience was composed of a great number of Gentlemen, who, from their education and habits of thought, were not qualified to be judges in such matters; and he could not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) that, because Parliament made the laws, Parliament was, therefore, the fittest authority for interpreting the laws. Such a duty was quite at variance with the functions of that House and with the acknowledged principles of the constitution. Upon the whole, he thought that the House would be disposed to agree with the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, and for himself, he certainly thought that they would best consult their own proper functions by referring the investigation of the subject to a Committee, especially as there was no immediate necessity for coming to a decision with regard to it. The suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) was well deserving of consideration. This Act arose in times when the habits of public men were very different from what they were now, and the general principle of disqualifying persons for their seats in Parliament was in the abstract objectionable, and ought not to be had recourse to without strong grounds for so doing. He expressed no opinion on the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Manchester, but thought that it was one well deserving the consideration of the House and of the Government.
§ MR. G. BUTT
said, he would beg to suggest to the hon. Member for Finsbury that he had better not press his Motion, as it appeared to be the general wish of the House that this matter should be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, that he was 181 entirely in the hands of the House with reference to this question. If there was to be a bonâ fide appointment of a Committee to inquire into the state of the law—though he thought it was clear enough—he should have no objection to such a course being taken. He considered that the statement of the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) but an ad misericordiam argument for the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring). This question had no sooner been mooted than the House had taken alarm; and he was afraid that it would stop in the Committee to be appointed; but if it did not stop there he was confident that the Committee would have to recommend that a new writ should be issued for the City of London, in the room of Baron Lionel de Rothschild.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that, as the Motion now stood, it stated that the contract had been entered into by Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, though there was nothing on the face of the contract to show that such was the case.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild did not in his presence sign this contract.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think the question just put to me is a proof of the inconvenience of discussing this question in its present form. I did not mean to state that it was not Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild who had virtually entered into this contract with the Government, but my remark merely applied to the wording of the Motion which states Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild entered into the contract with the Government, of which there was no evidence on the face of the contract.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
But that is no answer to my question. I put a direct and straightforward question, and asked the right hon. Gentleman whether Baron Lionel de Rothschild did not in his presence sign the contract in question.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he objected to the question put by the hon. Member for Finsbary, which, if it were sanctioned, would place it in the power of a Minister who wished to turn a Member out of his seat to get up and put a question, having previously agreed upon the answer which would be given by one of his supporters, and they all knew how ardent a supporter of the Government was the hon. Member 182 for Finsbury. The question put by him was most unconstitutional, and one which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be justified in answering.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, that an hon. Member had been prevented from referring to a debate which had taken place on a previous night, and now the hon. Member for Finsbury wished an implied declaration which had been made in that House to be taken as the ground for their proceeding on the question before them. He (Lord J. Russell) thought that they had better proceed on the papers which were before the House.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he begged to inform the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire that, however ardent a supporter he might be of the Government, there had been no collusion between himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the purpose of turning a Member out of that House.
§ Amendment and Motion by leave withdrawn.
That the Contract entered into by Messrs. Rothschild and Co. with Her Majesty's Government, on the 20th day of April last, for a loan of sixteen millions for the Public Service, be referred to a Select Committee, and that they be directed to report their opinion whether Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild has vacated his Seat by reason of the said contract.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he thought that it had better be decided at once whether the Committee should be nominated by the hon. Member for Finsbury. [Mr. T. DUNCOMBE: I decline to do so], or by the Attorney General, or by the Committee of Selection.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that as the hon. Member for Fiusbury had thrown some doubt on the bona fides of the House in appointing the Committee, it would be satisfactory to the House if he would conjointly with the Attorney General name two Members who were to sit upon the Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the House could not entertain that question without previous notice having been given.