HC Deb 07 May 1858 vol 150 cc260-73

said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the recent appointment of Justices of the Peace for the City of Canterbury, and to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether Mr. John Pout had been appointed one of such Justices, and whether he is the person mentioned in schedules C and F of the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at the Election of Members to serve in Parliament for that City in the year 1852, and at previous Elections? He would not go into any detailed reference to the proceedings of the Commission which sat in 1853 to inquire into the corrupt practices that took place in Canterbury at the general election of 1852 and at the previous general election; but he believed there was no difference of opinion either as to the necessity of that inquiry or the conclusions to which the Commissioners came. Indeed it was unnecessary for him to refer to those proceedings as the evidence on which he relied was entirely documentary and a matter of record which could not be in any way controverted. He was sure the House would agree with him that it was their duty to mark their disapproval of every appointment to the magistracy that savoured of party objects. The House would bear in mind that in the appointment of magistrates for boroughs it was the invariable custom of the late Lord Chancellor to examine the names of the parties recommended to him, and carefully to abstain from appointing gentlemen of only one side in politics. ["Oh, oh !"] Hon. Gentlemen on the other side cried "oh, oh!" but he believed the facts would bear him out in the assertion that, with very few exceptions, the magistrates appointed by the late Chancellor were carefully selected, so many from one political party and se many from the other. If hon. Members, who seemed to doubt this were able to bring forward exceptions let them do so; but he would venture to affirm that if they went through the whole list of magistrates appointed during the five or six years the late Chancellor was in office, they would not find so many objectionable appointments as had been made during an equal number of days by the present Chancellor. It was the general complaint that the magisterial appointments of the present Government were all from the one side of polities; that throughout the country Tories only had been appointed, and that in almost every borough where the hand of power could place itself there was no exception to this rule—in no case had any Liberal been appointed. Hon. Gentlemen Opposite were right, perhaps, in endeavouring to prop up their party, and by making appointments of magistrates in the towns and boroughs from their own party endeavouring to obtain that influence which they did not at present possess. He (Mr. Locke) objected to this, for whatever might be done in that House to promote party purposes, the fountain of justice ought, at least, to be kept pure; and even if the contrary practice had prevailed in times past, it was high time that a stop should be put to it. It was stated in the Kentish Herald, of the 16th April, that six magistrates had just been appointed for the City of Canterbury, all of whom were Tories, and that amongst them was John Pout. Rather a singular name that, and one once heard not easily forgotten. Now this man—for he had no doubt it was the same—figured, by name, in the Report of the Commissioners who were sent down in 1853 to inquire into the corrupt practices that had taken place at Canterbury, and various other places. He would not quote any extract from that Report, but only the headings of two of the schedules, and show the way in Which this John Pout was connected with those practices. Schedule "C" was a list of persons who had paid money to voters to induce them to vote—for the Conservative candidates of course—at the general election of 1852. In that schedule was the name of John Pout. Again, schedule "F" was a list of persons who had given money to voters to induce them to vote—also for the Conservative candidates—at the general election of 1847; and here, too, they found the name of John Pout. It would be found the Report that this John Pout had figured in all the elections of late years, but for his efforts at these two particular elections he had been ticketed. Now, with that ticket upon him, it was rather extraordinary that the Chancellor should have selected him for the magistracy—for, talk as they might, it was practically the Chancellor who made these appointments. He made no charge against the hon. Member for Canterbury—for they might all be desirous to put forward au active partizan to the magistracy if the opportunity offered. But what he contended was, that those who were in authority, and were responsible, ought not to allow themselves to be led away to make appointments of this description for the benefit of their party. If there were a duty more responsible than another resting upon those who were high in authority—more especially the first Judge in the land—it was to take care that the administration of justice from the highest to the lowest office should be pure; and it ought to be their duty to protect it in its purity. Let them recollect that this man whose name appeared so ticketed in the schedules of the Commissioners' Report, would have to sit on the magisterial bench at Canterbury; and it might so happen that after an election a person might be brought before Justice John Pout charged with bribery. Sitting on the bench its a justice of the peace, he might be called upon to administer justice, and carry out the law against both bribers and bribed. In that case the briber might recriminate upon the magistrate. He might say—"This is not a proper bench of justices to decide my case, and to determine whether I ought to be committed for trial or not." And whose fault would it be if so unseemly a circumstance occurred in a court of justice? Would it be the fault of Mr. John Pout? Certainly not. The fault would be with those in high places, who bad appointed him. But there was another case—that of a Mr. Thomas White Collard. He was not so distinguished as Mr. Pout. But why? Because his name only appeared in one schedule. He believed it was in reference to the election of 1852 that Mr. Collard appeared ticketed for having given money to voters for the purpose of bribing them. He (Mr. Locke) had given notice of his intention to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole); but he almost thought, from what he had heard since, that that question, would be entirely superfluous. There was no doubt, he believed, that the John Pout referred to in the Schedule was the person who had been appointed by the Chancellor as one of the justices for the city of Canterbury, and since the notice of his (Mr. Locke's) question had been given he believed some steps bad been taken in the matter. He had given no notice in reference to the case of Mr. Collard, for he was not aware that he bad been appointed to the magistracy at the time; but Pout being so extraordinary a name, he thought there could be no mistake about him. Some inquiry, he understood, had been instituted, and he believed that his question would, in consequence, be answered by the right hon. Gentleman in the affirmative.


said, be was not going to find fault with the hon. and learned Gentleman for bringing a matter of this kind under the notice of the Rouse. On the contrary, if anything likely to interfere with the proper administration of justice had taken place, the sooner it was corrected the better. The hon. and learned Gentleman had made two charges against his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor—the one, a particular charge in reference to the appointment of Mr. Pout—the other, a general charge, that his noble Friend had—to use a strong word—perverted the administration of justice, by making appointments of a political and party complexion in several towns and boroughs in various parts of the country. In answering those charges he would merely deal with facts, for it was unnecessary for him to enter into any general vindication of the motives by which his noble and learned Friend had been actuated in these appointments, inasmuch as he did not believe any one would impute to him the doing anything which he believed to be improper, or calculated to impair the due administration of justice. The facts in reference to the appointment of Mr. John Pout were these. Some time after his noble and learned Friend had entered upon his present office his attention was called to the state of the magistracy in the City of Canterbury. It appeared there were at that time several vacancies not filled up. There were eleven magistrates on the list, whereas there had usaally been sixteen, and sometimes more. Of these eleven magistrates in Canterbury, eight were on the one side of politics and three on the other. Eight were what were called Liberals and three what were called Conservatives. The Lord Chancellor received several recommendations sent to him from the local authorities of Canterbury, and from persons well acquainted with that city. Of the names so sent to him, his noble Friend objected to one on the ground that the party was a solicitor, it not being usual to place such gentlemen on the bench, and a second he objected to for some other reason; but the other appointments, to the number mentioned, were filled up on the recommendations so submitted to his noble and learned Friend. Among the names so placed on the list of magistrates were unquestionably the two the hon. Gentleman had mentioned—those of Mr. Pout and Mr. Collard. His noble Friend was, however, not in the least degree aware that the names of either of those persons was in the Schedule of the Commissioners' Report to which reference had been made. And the moment the case of Pout was brought to his attention by the notice of the hon. and learned Gentleman he caused inquiry to be made. His noble and learned Friend was also informed of the case of Collard, in regard to which, however, no notice had been given; and, finding that the parties were the same as were implicated in the transactions referred to in the Commissioners' Report, he instantly sent down to Canterbury to say that he should require both those gentlemen to resign. The reply to that requisition had not reached his noble and learned Friend when he (Mr. Walpole) entered the Rouse; but he had no doubt that by this time it bad arrived, and that the resignations had been sent in. If not, the hon. Gentleman and the House might rest assured that his noble and learned Friend would take such steps as were necessary for the vindication of the pure administration of justice. But the hon. Gentleman had also brought forward a general charge. He had understood when the notice was given that it simply had reference to the case of Mr. Pout; but, fortunately, he had requested his noble and learned Friend to furnish him with a statement of the magistrates he had appointed in boroughs and towns since he had been in office, and he had accordingly in his hand an account of all the appointments that hail been made, with the names of the boroughs in which such appointments had been made—the political character of time magistracy in those towns and boroughs now, and what was its political character previous to such appointments—and it would be seen from that account that his noble and learned Friend had not been influenced by any desire to give an undue preponderance to the Conservative party in connexion with the magistracy. The first place on the list was Norwich. There there were fifteen magistrates of the Liberal party, and thirteen Conservatives. [An Hon. MEMBER: But how many have been appointed by the present Government?] Did the hon. Gentleman wish to have the whole statement read? He was quite prepared to give the whole of the particulars. The number of new magistrates appointed in Norwich was 6. There having been previously 15 Liberals and only 7 Conservatives, 6 Conservatives were put upon the Commission—leaving the total 15 Liberals and 13 Conservatives, The next borough was Warwick. When the Government came into office the state of the magistracy here was 3 Liberal, 1 Neutral, and 1 Conservative. His noble and learned Friend had put on 4 Conservative magistrates and 1 Liberal, leaving the state of the case in Warwick now—Liberals, 4; Conservatives, 5; Neutral, 1. In Poole there were, previous to any new appointments, 11 magistrates—8 Liberals and 3 Conservatives. His noble and learned Friend had put on 3 Conservatives, leaving now 8 Liberals and 6 Conservatives. The next was Shrewsbury. There there were, before the change, 13 magistrates—10 Liberal and 3 Conservative; 8 Conservatives had been added to the list there, making 10 Liberals and 11 Conservatives. He was simply stating facts, leaving hon. Gentlemen to draw their own inferences. At Gravesend there had been 3 Conservatives and 6 Liberals—4 Conservatives had been put on, leaving 6 Liberals, and increasing the Conservatives to 7. At Bath the relative numbers had been 11 Liberals to 4 Conservatives—7 Conservatives had since been put on. The result being, that where a preponderance had existed one way before. the change had brought the matter almost to a balance, but still leaving 12 Liberals to 11 Conservatives. At Bury there was no Conservative magistrate, but 3 Liberals; 4 Conservatives had been put on, leaving 4 Conservatives and 3 Liberals. In Carmarthen there were 4 Liberals, 2 Neutrals, and 3 Conservatives; 5 new magistrates had been added, and the state of the case now was 6 Liberals, 2 Neutrals, and 7 Conservatives. The last on the list was Canterbury. The original numbers were 8 Liberals and 3 Conservatives. His noble and learned Friend had put on 5 additional magistrates, leaving the balance still in favour of the Liberals by 9 to 8. [An Hon. MEMBER: Liverpool.] He had not the return of Liverpool. He had given all the information he had. He had intended merely to make a statement of fact in answer to the charge; but in consequence of the hon. Gentleman's observations he had gone into these details, and certain indications of opinion which he could not mistake tempted him to put it to the House whether these returns showed that an undue political preponderance of opinion had not previously been allowed to prevail in the appointment of magistrates to the various towns and boroughs. The cause of that preponderance no doubt was that the recommendation of the magistracy was left to the local authorities where the Conservatives were in a minority. But it was of immense importance, whatever Government was in power, that such a preponderance should not be allowed to continue, and if his noble Friend had inadvertently and from misinformation made improper appointments, he had certainly not acted wrongly in bringing the relative political state of the magistracy nearer to an equality.


said, there had been some cheers on both sides of the House during this short discussion, and he suspected after hearing the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that the present Lord Chancellor had only followed in the steps of his predecessor. He could not explain on any other grounds the fact that in some of the cases so few magistrates represented the Conservative party. The plan upon which the Lord Chancellor appeared to have acted was to balance accounts; but there was one thing that had been forgotten—namely, that a very large majority of the population of those towns did not happen to belong to the Conservative party. At a moderate computation three-fourths of the population of the towns were not Conservatives. ["No!"] Hon. Gentlemen seemed enthusiastic in their belief to the contrary, but the multiplication table remained as it was, and in the boroughs the Conservatives were generally in a minority among the electors, and always in a minority of the population. In the counties by far the largest number of magistrates were Conservatives, and it was not unreasonable to suppose that in the boroughs the majority of magistrates ought to be Liberals. He did not complain of it, for with the rapidity of conversion which had been found to prevail, Conservatives becoming neutrals, and neutrals becoming Liberals, in a very short time the preponderance even in those boroughs would remain with the Liberals. When the Municipal Reform Bill passed the House of Commons, he believed there was a clause in it which gave the Corporations the power of recommending persons for magistrates to the Lord Chancellor, or the Home Secretary, or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. When the Bill went to the House of Lords the clause was struck out. He believed that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), when at the Home Office, adopted the plan which the Government of which he was a member recommended in the Bill; and the noble Lord no doubt entertained hopes that that course would be adopted by those who succeeded him in office. There would be great advantage if the present course were given up. The moment there was a change of Government, letters and deputations came up from boroughs, and there was a general scramble to put a number of men upon the bench, in order to balance political parties. As soon as the Government went out there was another scramble, and in that manner many unfit men were placed upon the bench, and in many towns the bench was much more numerous than was necessary. If the present Home Secretary would, during his career in office—and he did not particularly wish that it should be a short one—adopt the plan which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London began, of allowing the Corporations to have the recommendation, and if his successor would follow the same course, the custom would become established, and there would be no necessity to pass a law upon the subject. He thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) was as well disposed as any man in the House to put the matter on a right footing, and he believed there would be a very great advantage throughout the country if they removed the appointment of magistrates beyond what he called the discreditable scramble which took place whenever a new Government came into office.


said, he must throw himself upon the indulgence of the House whilst he said a few words in explanation of the course he had taken in this transaction, and he believed he could easily satisfy them that no blame could attach to the Lord Chancellor. There had been a great want of magistrates in the city of Canterbury, and the Mayor of the city sent up to him a list of gentlemen for appointment. He also sent strong recommendations of the two gentlemen in question. They were men of the highest standing in society—men of great respectability. He would convince the House of the truth of this assertion. He went with the recommendations to the Lord Chancellor, and told his Lordship that these were men of the highest respectability. The Lord Chancellor inquired of him the character of each gentleman severally. He assured his Lordship that each man of them stood high in the estimation of his fellow citizens. And that was the fact. [Laughter.] Why Mr. Pout was and had for some time been chairman of the income tax commissioners in the city of Canterbury. He was also one of the guardians of the poor. Mr. White Collard was chairman of the sanitary commission, of the finance committee, and of other boards. When such men were sent up, so respectably recommended by their fellow citizens, could lie have refrained from it? He assured the House, honestly and sincerely, that when he recommended those men to the Lord Chancellor, on his word and honour, he quite forgot their names were in the schedule. So much time had gone by that really the thing never entered into his mind. Since then he had spoken to the gentleman who was chiefly instrumental in the recommendation from Canterbury. He said "Oh, it is years since; no one remembers it; I assure you, Mr. Butler Johnstone, I never once thought of it." He assured the House he had not thought of it, or he should not have backed the recommendation. As to the matter being viewed in a party light, the Conservatives only preponderated by one in the magistracy. Looking to the station these gentlemen held, and the recommendation that came up with them, he would ask any hon. Member in the House to change places with him, and then say that he would not have acted as he (Mr. B. Johnstone) had done. He should say that he thought the case a very hard one. These men had come forward and given evidence before the Committee. He was no lawyer, he was sorry to say; but by the 9th sec. of the 15 & 16 Vict., c. 57, it was provided that persons who so gave evidence shall be released from all "penal consequences, difficulties and incapacities." That being the state of the law, he (Mr. B. Johnstone) said that it would be perfectly illegal to strike these men off. [Laughter.] He did assert that. Such a striking off came under the term "incapacities," according to his weak mind. He was extremely obliged to the House for the attention they had paid to his explanation, which was, he hoped, satisfactory.


said, the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) led him to address a few words to the House. He was about to allude to a borough with which he had had some connection, the Members for which were no doubt in the House—he spoke of the borough of Bath. The hon. Member for Birmingham had stated that by a clause in the Municipal Reform Bill, which was struck out in the Lords, the town councils or corporations were to have power to recommend persons for appointment as magistrates. Soon after the late change of Government took place, there occurred the scramble which the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) had described, and the town council, acting on the idea in question, sat, and sent up a list of names to the Lord Chancellor. At the same time a clique of the Conservatives of Bath also prepared a list, and both lists were sent up to the Lord Chancellor. The list of these latter gentlemen alone came down accepted by the Lord Chancellor. Every name sent up by the town council was passed over, and every one of those recommended by the clique of Conservative gentlemen was sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor. A remonstrance was made; and he (Mr. Roebuck) thought some alteration took place. It was the first effort of his Lordship's mind to throw himself into the arms of those Conservative gentlemen on the question of an appointment of persons, for what? To administer justice in the city of Bath. He considered his hon. Friend (Mr. Bright) was quite right in his remarks about the majority of the people being Liberals. He agreed with him that two-thirds of the inhabitants of the towns were Liberals. The Conservative part of the population were small compared with the Liberals; but he was bound to say they were "very select." The hon. Member for Canterbury had told the House that, by Act of Parliament, all persons giving evidence before a Committee, such as that which had been referred to in this case, were protected from all incapacities which might be incurred on account of their evidence. Now, he (Mr. Roebuck) did not think those who passed that Act intended that the fact of a man's being bribed should be a recommendation to him. What was wanted in the appointment of magistrates was, that the parties selected should be gentlemen of high character and unblemished reputation, from whose hands the administration of justice should be received without remonstrance. Could that be said of persons branded—of persons who had been notorious for having bribed at an election? If the hon. Member for Canterbury assured the House that he did not know of the bribery in this case, he (Mr. Roebuck) was bound to believe him. [Mr. B. JOHNSTONE: I did not think of it.] As to the hon. Member saying that he did not think of it, he should like to know what the hon. Member was thinking of? What he ought to have been thinking of in the discharge of his duty, when recommending people for the magistracy, was as to whether they were free from all blemish; and one of those very men had been before a Committee as a person branded with having been, in a former election of the hon. Member, concerned in the distribution of large sums in bribery. The hon. Member escaped himself on that occasion. He said he knew nothing about that distribution of money. The Committee believed and exculpated him; but, when the hon. Member said that he did not recollect the circumstance of that charge—that it had slipped out of his memory—he (Mr. Roebuck) should arrive at the conclusion that the recollection of his duty had slipped out of the hon. Member's recollection also.


observed, that knowing that this question was of extreme importance, he wished to say a word upon it, more particularly as a wholesale appointment of nine Conservative magistrates had been made in Dublin. He could not understand the reluctance of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Home Department to grant a Return which he (Mr. O'Brien) had given notice he would move for, and which he had supposed would be unopposed until he had a conversation with the hon. Gentleman a short time ago, when he was told that the Government were not in a position to give him the information he wanted. What was his surprise, then, to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary get up, and by the desire of the Lord Chancellor give the House the very information which he had intended to move for. it was for the Liberal party to see that the proper administration of justice was regarded in these appointments, and he trusted the House would not endorse the creation of magistrates merely for party or political purposes.


said, he thought it fair that it should be understood that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had not produced a complete list of the places where new magistrates had been appointed, for in the pure borough (Maldon) which he (Mr. Western) represented, six new magistrates had been appointed, making twelve in all, which was at the rate of a magistrate to every criminal which was brought before them. He had no objection to the gentlemen who had been appointed, but he thought it right to mention the fact.


said, that the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. P. O'Brien) had, to his great astonishment, charged him with a breach of faith. In a conversation with the hon. Member, he (Mr. Hardy) told him that his Motion, which stood No. 6 on the paper, was on the face of it an attempt to cast an imputation on the Lord Chancellor, as it asked for a Return of the names of gentlemen appointed magistrates in England and Wales since the 1st of March last, but that, if he chose to make it a Return extending over five years, he (Mr. Hardy) would have no objection to it. He never told the hon. Member that they had a Return which they would not furnish. He at the same time told the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. J. Locke) that his Return would be granted also if he made it one for five years. The Government could not join in an imputation upon themselves; but it was quite a mistake to suppose that they had any objection to put the House in a position to judge of their appointments to the magisterial bench. The hon. Gentleman's imputation, therefore, was totally unfounded. He should be very glad if the whole question of the magistracy were examined into, for, so far as he had had an opportunity of ascertaining the facts during the short time he had been in office, there had hitherto been a very unfair preponderance, and it was high time that the best men should be selected, without reference to their political opinions, so that there might be no suspicion of party bias when questions involving party interests came before them.


said, he wished to explain that the hon. Member had misinterpreted him. He made no imputation of a want of faith, but had merely alluded to the circumstances; but there did not seem to be that concord between the head of his department and himself which might have been expected.


had no doubt that the hon. Member who brought forward this matter was actuated simply by a sincere respect for the administration of justice, and his anxiety for its purity. The hon. Gentleman had quoted front a blue-book; and he (the Attorney General for Ireland) was sure he would learn with surprise and regret that in that book was to be found the name of another respectable gentleman duly ticketed, but the circumstances of whose case had entirely escaped the research of the hon. Member. In page 22 of that book there was a passage in the Report of the Committee which sat on the Canterbury election of 1850. It was this:— We find that at the election which took place in 1850 in consequence of the elevation of Lord A. D. Conyngham to the peerage, the sum of £37 10s. was paid by Mr. Alderman Brent to a voter for the purpose of inducing him to give his vote for Colonel Romilly; but that this was done without the knowledge of the said Colonel Romilly. Then when he (the Attorney General for Ireland) turned to the schedule he found the name of Alderman Brent. Now he subscribed readily to the doctrine that it was a mistake to recommend the gentleman whose name was now under discussion, and he concurred entirely in what the Lord Chancellor had done the moment the facts reached his knowledge; but what was to be said of those who, having this Report before them "ticketing" the worthy alderman as a briber, had allowed him to remain in the magistracy from 1850 up to the present time? How did it happen that the zeal of the hon. Gentleman for the pure administration of justice had not induced him to bring this case under the attention of the House? No doubt the alderman was a truly Liberal politician, or he would long ago have been displaced. But that was not all. There was a more startling fact to come. This gentleman had not only been allowed by the purists of the Liberal side of the House to remain a magistrate, but he had absolutely been appointed a deputy lieutenant. He begged to direct the parti- cular attention of the hon. Member for Southwark to this, for there was no knowing that the worthy alderman's promotion would stop at the deputy lieutenancy. Judging from the past it was not Clear that, if some one like the hon. Member for Southwark did not interpose, that the gentleman might not yet reach his full lieutenancy in consequence of this fresh publication of his virtues.


said, that but for the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) he should not have troubled the House. The case as brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Southwark was that of certain gentlemen recently appointed to the commission of the peace. The case of Alderman Brent was a totally distinct and different one—and the right hon. Gentleman could charge no one with being guilty of an improper act with regard to Mr. Brent. But the case of the right hon. Gentleman was, that Mr. Brent had not only remained a magistrate of Canterbury, but that he had received a higher reward, being appointed a deputy lieutenant for the county of Kent. In the first place that was not a Government appointment, and for it neither the Lord Chancellor nor the Home Secretary was responsible. He would, however, contradict the statement which had been made. Mr. Brent was a particular friend of the late Earl Cowper, who, as a mark of respect, made him a deputy lieutenant in 1852, and the Commission to inquire into the Canterbury election did not sit until June 1853. He had disposed of that part of the case. With regard to the general question, his hon. Colleague had stated that there was a great want of magistrates it, Canterbury. It might be so. He (Sir W. Somerville) had not sufficient local knowledge of the borough to say that it was not so, but he had never heard of it. With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham on the subject of appointments to the magistracy by the Lord Chancellor, he could say that since he had represented Canterbury he had made only one application for an appointment to the magistracy to a Lord Chancellor. On that occasion the names of two gentlemen came up to him recommended by the corporation, one of whom was a Conservative and the other a Liberal. The Lord Chancellor made inquiry into the character and position of the two gentlemen, and both were appointed.