HC Deb 17 July 1857 vol 146 cc1684-91

said, that he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Horsman), who acted as Chairman of the Bath Election Committee, whether it was true that, regardless of expense to the petitioner and the sitting Member, he adjourned the Committee at two o'clock on Thursday, for the purpose of attending a meeting to take into consideration the claims of the Jews to sit in that house?


The question of the noble Lord implies more than can be answered by a mere affirmative or negative; for it implies that, as Chairman of the Bath Election Committee, I did, on my own Motion, without notice, take on myself to adjourn the Committee, to the great inconvenience and expense of the parties before it, for the avowed purpose of enabling me to attend the meeting in question. The noble Lord, then, will be glad to learn that I did not pursue any course so unusual and so improper, and if I had attempted it, the other Members of the Committee were gentlemen who knew their duty too well to permit it. I will state what occurred. It was on the Wednesday morning that I first knew that this meeting was likely to take place, and on the assembling of the Committee I conversed with two of the Members, and we discussed the probability of being able to attend it. In the course of that day's pro- ceedings I stated that if an adjournment could take place next day without inconvenience, possibly such a thing might be suggested. To that intimation I received that courteous answer which hon. Gentlemen, members of the same Committee, were likely to give to one another; but we all felt the matter depended on the convenience of the parties before the Committee. I then asked the counsel if, in the event of the state of business permitting it, a proposition should be made to adjourn the Committee next day at two o'clock, any inconvenience would result. The counsel on both sides stated that, so far from such a step being felt as an inconvenience, it was the course they would both desire to be taken. I begged them to be assured that the Committee sat there for no other purpose than to consult the convenience of the parties before it, and that unless it suited their convenience and duty, there would be no suggestion for an adjournment. They replied that they would themselves have proposed that course, and that they had no objection to it. I then stated that, after that expression of opinion, and as it appeared that counsel, candidate, and agents were all of one accord in stating that they preferred the course I suggested, I would propose an adjournment next day at two o'clock. Nothing was said to the effect that the object of the adjournment was to enable any one to attend the meeting on the Jewish disabilities. No question was asked, and the suggestion I made to the counsel and agents was received, not only with ready concurrence, but with alacrity. Thus twenty-four hours' notice was given of the adjournment, and not one shilling of additional expense was caused by it. The adjournment having been agreed to, I certainly did attend the meeting in question, which was a most interesting meeting, and if the noble Lord had been present he would have been in a position to acknowledge its important character.


As a Member of the Committee, I feel bound to state my impression of what occurred; but to put myself in order I will just move, pro formâ, that the House at its rising do adjourn till Monday. When the Chairman of the Committee stated that he could not sit longer than two o'clock on Thursday, not the slightest intimation was given that he was going to attend the meeting on the Jewish disabilities. Had I been aware of the reason, I, for one, would have divided the Committee on the subject. I think it is a very unfair practice, particularly in respect to Election Committees, the parties attending which are put to great expense, to lose two hours; and in this case it does so happen that we have concluded the business exactly in two hours, and might, therefore, had it not been for the adjournment, have concluded it on Thursday. With respect to the counsel, I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman did ask them whether it was to their convenience that the adjournment should take place, and they replied in the affirmative; and no doubt it was, for to have two hours in one committee-room and two hours in another was a great convenience to counsel. It did so happen that the counsel engaged before this Committee were employed in two other rooms. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have had no concert with the noble Lord in raising this discussion, and, without wishing to find fault with the right hon. Gentleman, I may express a hope that the course taken by him will not be made a precedent in future cases.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will, at the rising of the House this day, adjourn till Monday next."


observed that the sitting of the Committee to-day commenced at eleven o'clock, and did not terminate until four, so that it occupied more than two hours. When the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman) proposed the adjournment, no objection was made by any one. He (Sir H. Verney) knew what the right hon. Gentleman's object was, and he was sorry to say that the counsel on both sides said they were very glad of the adjournment. In fact both sides consented to it readily.


said, the course pursued with regard to the adjournment of the Committee was directly opposed to the usual practice. It might have been fortunate for the meeting that a gentleman possessing the experience of the right hon. Gentleman occupied the chair, but the object of that meeting seemed to have been to disturb the proceedings of the House. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought that he might be excused for making the observation, because he remembered some unfortunate scenes which had taken place in the House, and he knew that many hon. Members of experience, and many right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, were most anxious to avoid the repetition of proceedings which might bring the authority of the House in collision with the authority of the law. He wished to ask the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) to what day he meant to postpone his Motion, because so long as it remained upon the paper, it must occasion some anxiety.


said, he had inadvertently made use of the expression two hours, but he meant to imply that had the Committee sat for two hours longer on Thursday, they might have finished the business, whereas by the postponement, they had to examine another witness, who was not present on that day, and was only produced this morning.


said, his right hon. Friend had stated to him his reason for wishing that an adjournment should take place, and the counsel engaged in the case expressed their willingness to accede to the suggestion.


I wish to notice an observation made by the noble Lord (Viscount Galway), He said if he had known the object with which the adjournment was proposed, he would have divided the Committee. It is clear, therefore, that the division would have taken place, not on account of the parties concerned, but on account of the feeling of the noble Lord with regard to a particular question. Not knowing the precise object for which the adjournment was desired, the noble Lord made no difficulty in assenting to it; but if he had been aware of that object, he would have opposed the proposal. It is clear, therefore, the object of the meeting would have been the only ground on which the noble Lord would have opposed the adjournment. It is clear, for the fact is acertained, that when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hors-man), the chairman of the Committee, proposed the adjournment, he did so in the hearing of the counsel and the parties. The noble Lord (Viscount Galway) has insinuated—for he has not openly stated—that counsel assented to the adjournment for their own private interests. I say the noble Lord has cast a slur upon those counsel which he had no right to cast upon them [A laugh]. This may be a laughing matter to the noble Lord. You pelt frogs; it is an amusement to you, but it is death to them. [A laugh]. It may be an amusement to the noble Lord to cast reflections upon honourable men who get their bread by intellectual labour. I say the imputation of the noble Lord was not justified. I don't know the names of any of the counsel engaged in the case. I say that it being clear the parties to the inquiry were present when the adjournment was suggested, that it was made in their hearing, and in the hearing of their counsel, that they absented to it, and that, as has been stated by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Horsman), neither party has been subjected to one shilling's expense in consequence of the adjournment, the noble Lord's assumption that the adjournment was improper, is wholly attributable to his having subsequently discovered the object of that adjournment. He was not careful of the interests of the parties until his own feelings were concerned.


I do not think it is either the interest or the wish of the House to prolong this discussion, but as a member of the Committee I wish to state, that I believe the facts are these:—The right hon. Gentleman communicated to the members of the Committee, who sat near him, the object for which he desired an adjournment. All I heard passing in the Committee, and all my noble Friend heard, was, that the right hon. Gentleman addressing us said, "It is quite impossible for me to attend to-morrow." The right hon. Gentleman repeated that statement with considerable emphasis. I must say, when that language was used, I for one supposed there was some insurmountable obstacle to the right hon. Gentleman's attendance. I supposed he had some engagement in connection with public business in this House, or at least of extreme importance, and that he therefore felt it necessary to the parties and to his colleagues to adjourn under the peculiar circumstances of the case. I do not think that any one would have anticipated from the right hon. Gentleman's language, that his only object was to preside over a public meeting. I may further say that while under any circumstances I should be unwilling to put parties to the extreme inconvenience and expense which the adjournment of an inquiry must occasion, I certainly would not have consented to the adjournment in this case, if I had known the ground upon which it was proposed, whatever the object of the public meeting might have been. It is perfectly true that the parties to the inquiry, as well as my noble Friend and myself, consented to the adjournment; but it was put to us almost as a matter of impossibility that the right hon. Gentleman could attend. I should not have troubled the House with these observations, if I had not felt that we are to a certain extent culpable for having assented to an adjournment upon such a ground.


I trust I may make one remark upon the extraordinary statement of the noble Lord. I trust the House will permit me to do so, because it is very painful to be at issue as to a matter of fact with gentlemen who ought to be so well informed as the noble Lord (Viscount Galway) and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. FitzGerald), I am, however, fortified by the presence of two other members of the Committee, and by my own distinct recollection and positive knowledge, when I say there is not the very smallest foundation in fact for the assertion that I stated that it was impossible for me to attend on the day in question. On the contrary, it was not until after the adjournment had been agreed to that I came out of the Committee-room, saw my friends, and consented to take the chair at the meeting, and if the slightest objection had been made to the adjournment I should not have been able to attend the meeting at all. I stated to the counsel three times over that, if it was quite for their convenience, a suggestion for an adjournment might be made, but I said not one single syllable about my attendance next day. I gave neither the counsel, the agents, nor the parties the least reason to know whether it was for my convenience, or for that of the noble Lord, or the hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. FitzGerald), or any other member of the Committee, that the adjournment should take place. I can only account for the statement now made by supposing that the hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord, after sitting so long on a scrutiny, have brought into the House a great deal of the confusion as to facts which had been displayed before the Committee.


Is the right hon. Gentleman confining himself to an explanation?


The confusion as to facts to which, after a lengthened sitting upon a scrutiny, we are very liable—I make no charge against hon. Gentlemen, but I say that such confusion as to facts may lead to assertion for which there is not the smallest foundation. No person in the Committee-room, except two hon. Gentlemen now sitting near me, knew that it was for my convenience that the adjournment took place. I feel how unfair and unjust it is to the parties that inquiries before Committee should be protracted one day longer than is absolutely requisite, or that they should be subjected to a shilling of unnecessary expense. I should be extremely sorry and unwilling to subject them to any inconvenience; and when I stated to the parties in this case, that an adjournment might be proposed, I took care to say there was no strong wish on the part of the Committee on the subject. I told them three times over that we consulted their convenience, and their convenience only.


then rose and said, that he thought the House could have no wish that this discussion should be continued; and he therefore begged to put a question to the Secretary to the Treasury.


also rose to address the House, with the apparent view of continuing the discussion, but gave way when

SIR GEORGE GREY rose to order, and submitted that it was irregular on the part of the hon. and gallant Member, (Colonel Knox) to interpose between the House and the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington), after the Speaker had called on the right hon. Gentleman to proceed with the question which, stood on the paper in his name.


said, he had risen to ask his question under the full impression that it was the wish of the House to put and end to the discussion. The question to which he wished to direct their attention was one in which the convenience of hon. Members was involved to no small extent. He understood a rule had lately been made on the recommendation of the Printing Committee, by which papers presented by command of Her Majesty were no longer to be distributed to hon. Members of the House in the usual way, but were to be accesible to hon. Members on application at the Vote-office. No hon. Member could be more anxious than he was to see the expense of printing the papers of the House lessened, but he was still of opinion that if there was one thing of more importance than another in the performance of their functions as Members of that House, it was that all possible information should be accessible to them on all occasions. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), had lately given notice of his intention to move for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the existing laws respecting vaccination. The Government, on the other hand, had given notice that they were about to introduce a Bill to amend the existing law on that subject, and a most important paper in reference to the prevention of the spread of smallpox had recently been presented to the House by command of Her Majesty. Under the new rule, however, to which he bad referred, that paper had not been distributed to Members in the usual way, and he himself had only heard of its existence in an incidental way. He believed, certainly, that the fact that papers had been presented was to be set forth in the Votes, but hon. Members could not, in the present pressure of public business, daily examine the Votes for the purpose of ascertaining whether they contained that particular information. He wished, therefore, to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, whether he (Sir J. Pakington) had been correctly informed as to the nature of the rule in question?


said, that the rule in question had been adopted in consequence of a Report of the Printing Committee. It had not, however, been adopted on the sole authority of that committee, but in pursuance of a recommendation of a Committee of the House, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) was Chairman. The object of the rule was to prevent an unnecessary outlay of public money by the distribution of papers which were in many cases never read; but if hon. Members should think that the new arrangement was productive of inconvenience it would of course be proper that it should be re-considered.