HC Deb 11 March 1859 vol 153 cc14-22

said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can explain the cause of the recent large addition to the Magistracy of the county of Huntingdon. They were all Reformers now, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would feel great pleasure in answering the question. Huntingdon appeared to be one of the most favoured of counties; at the present moment it possessed more magistrates than it did policemen. The population of the, county was only 64,000, not so large as that of several metropolitan boroughs; but it had more magistrates and not so many policemen. Of those magistrates above one half were Tories. The Lord-Lieutenant was also a Tory, and had, besides, the honour of being Master of Her Majesty's Buckhounds. And it further had the advantage of being represented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for War. The borough of Huntingdon was also a favoured one, because it having been determined not to disfranchise boroughs having more than 6,000 inhabitants, Huntingdon escaped being disfranchised, because it had 6,200. There had been no contest in the borough for thirty years, and for the best possible reason—because it was a pocket borough of the Master of Her Majesty's Buckhounds. Very recently an application was made to the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, and the names of three Liberal gentlemen were submitted to him to be put on the Commission of the Peace—rich men in the neighbourhood, and one, he believed, the Mayor of Huntingdon. These three gentlemen were passed over, one for a, very good reason, because he was a clergyman, and the Lord-Lieutenant on that account passed him over. The other two gentlemen were supposed to be too busied in other occupations, and they were also passed over. But almost in the same breath, an addition of six magistrates took place to the commission of the peace of Huntingdonshire within the last six weeks. Two of these gentlemen were civilians, and the other four were all clergymen. These six gentlemen took an active part in the last election. The two Liberal gentlemen who were passed over were highly respectable gentlemen, and two other gentlemen not in holy orders were made magistrates. One of these was Dr. Ward, residing in Huntingdon, a physician very eminent in his line, and in great practice. Therefore he could not attend much to his duty as a magistrate, and that was the reason why one of the Liberal gentlemen was not put in the commission. The people at Huntingdon thought that this Dr. Ward could not know much about law. and that therefore he was not a proper man to be put in the commission. About three months ago this gentleman got into a dreadful scrape with a commercial traveller, and, in the County Court, got the worse of the matter. He was, however, a very active partisan at the last general election. The other gentleman was Mr. Dennis Herbert, a common brewer at Huntingdon, who had a public-house in every village and every place in the county. ["Hear, hear."] He did not object to that, and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman who cheered drank some of the beer; but the people of Huntingdon who did not happen to belong to the Tory party said that this gentleman was rather an awkward man to sit upon the bench on a licensing day. The other four gentlemen made magistrates were clergymen, one or two of whom had taken an active canvassing part at the last general election. These six gentlemen, then, had been added to the number of magistrates, which was sufficiently great before, because there were more magistrates than policemen. These magistrates must have been added from one of three causes. Was it that there was a great increase of crime in Huntingdon? The Home Secretary knew something on that point; but by the report of the inspectors of constabulary it appeared that there were only thirty-seven persons committed for indictable offences during the last year. He hoped, then, that increase of crime was not the cause of this addition to the magistracy. Another cause would certainly justify the increase of the magistracy—namely, that those who were in the commission of the peace possibly neglected their duty. If so, a stipendiary magistrate had better be appointed for the county. Another cause for the increase of the magistracy, which the ill-natured world said was the real cause, was that it was done to please political partisans. The Master of Her Majesty's Buckhounds had pleased his political friends by making these six magistrates, and by passing over the other gentlemen with respect to whom applications had been previously made. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would give some explanation on this point, and disabuse, if possible, the public mind, particularly in the county of Huntingdon, by explaining the reason of the great increase made at the present moment to the number of the magistracy in that county. It was not yet too late to recall these appointments, as the new magistrates had not yet taken their seats on the bench. They would be sworn in next week, and he thought that unless some good reason were given by the right hon. Gentleman for the increase the four clergymen had better not be sworn in.


said, he really did not understand what the point was upon which explanation was required, or what feature in the case laid before the House by the hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was to appear in his place to defend or explain. Upon seeing the notice of the hon. Gentleman on the paper he applied to his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, with whom the immediate appointment of those magistrates rested, and was informed that the appointments had been made upon the recommendation of the Lord-Lieutenant of the county. He (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt), however did not think that it was his duty to apply to the Lord-Lieutenant, not knowing what was likely to be the nature of the speech with which the hon. Gentleman would introduce the question, and not anticipating that any one of those gentlemen could by possibility be supposed to be under an imputation of. any kind whatever. But he roust say that if private character was to be drawn before the House of Commons on such an occasion, at least the individual who was called upon to answer the question ought to be put beforehand in possession of the particulars with respect to which an answer was desired. He would now endeavour to give the information which appeared to him to be required by the question of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman said that the persons who had been appointed were in the proportion of two laymen to four clergymen; but that was not correct, for the proportion was the same, there being, in fact, three laymen and three clergymen. The name of the first was Arthur Stirling, Esq. The next was Dennis Herbert, Esq., of Huntingdon, whom the hon. Gentleman had spoken of as a "common brewer," and of whom all he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) would say was, that if it were true that he had a public-house in every village in the county, it showed at least that he was a man of property. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman, in reading the history of this county, should not have forgotten that one of the most eminent men in the history of this country had himself been a "brewer of Huntingdon," and that, although he, as a brewer, might not, upon the hon. Gentleman's hypothesis, have aspired to the office of a justice of the peace, nevertheless reached the position of chief magistrate of the State. The next was William Ward, Esq., and the clergymen were the Rev. Mr. Grove, the Rev. Arthur Fanshawe, and the Rev. Thomas Woodham. With regard to the latter gentleman, he only knew from the Lord Chancellor that, having made some objection to place the names of clergymen in the commission of the peace, he had been informed by the Lord-Lieutenant that there was a difficulty in finding laymen to fill the office in that particular part of the county. The clergyman to whom the hon. Gentleman had alluded as having been passed over, the Rev. Mr. Shafto, was a highly respectable man, whom he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) knew very well; and upon inquiring why his name had been omitted from the list, the answer given to him was that the reverend gentleman resided in the same parish with his brother; that his brother was a well-known justice of the peace, and it was thought unnecessary therefore to add his name to the list. As to the two individuals upon whom the hon. Member for Finsbury had borne so hard with his imputation, (he meant this "common brewer" and this "doctor,") he would take the liberty of observing to the House that one of them had been mayor of the borough of Huntingdon three times, and the other mayor of that borough four times. Those gentlemen had, therefore, sat on the bench in their own town, and must certainly to some extent have possessed the good opinion of their fellow citizens and the public generally. But the real gist of the complaint, after all, was that these gentlemen belonged to one political party. He (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) knew nothing whatever about that. He did not know that it was so, though he had no doubt of it. But the hon. Gentleman must be aware that the practice of appointing political friends to the magistracy, if it were a fault, was a fault that was committed by pretty nearly every Government; and so long as the nomination was left in the hands of one individual, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, they could not escape from the consequence that he would naturally give a preference to persons of his own opinions. The hon. Member for Finsbury bad observed that the number of magistrates in Huntingdonshire was already excessive; that they were between thirty and forty; and that he believed that there were more magistrates than policemen. Now, he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) did not know how many policemen there might be, but the number of magistrates was exactly thirty-three; and the hon. Gentleman would perhaps be surprised if he told him that there was scarcely a county in England in which the number of names upon the list of justices of the peace was not at least as great as the number of policemen in the county. To that, however, he did not see any particular objection. In a legal point of view there was but one objection which could be raised to the appointments now complained of, and that was the appointment of a gentleman as magistrate who was a brewer, and who could not, with propriety, take his seat on the bench when licences were granted. But the law made provision for this. In every county of England, perhaps, there were a number of gentlemen of the highest position in that line of business which the hon. Gentleman had described as that of a common brewer, but the law had, very properly disqualified them from sitting on the bench to adjudicate cases in which the interests of their own trade were at stake; and this being so he certainly could not see that the hon. Gentleman had made out any ease to prove that the gentlemen who had recently been placed in the commission of the peace for the county of Huntington had not been properly appointed.


was not aware that he had said anything that could be construed into an attack upon private character. In using the words "common brewer" to designate one of these gentlemen, he meant nothing offensive, for these were words which were posted over all their doors. With regard to Dr. Ward, he had made no attack upon his private character. He had merely said that he was a gentleman eminent in his profession, and that having a great practice he could not attend to his business.


Yes; and the hon. Gentleman also mentioned some unpleasant circumstances connected with a commercial traveller, of which, of course, I know nothing.


said, he had not even heard of this addition to the magistracy of Huntingdonshire until he saw the Question of the hon. Gentleman on the paper. Why the hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary, therefore, to introduce his name into the present discussion, he was altogether at a loss to imagine. He was extremely happy, however, that the hon. Gentleman had done so, for it gave him an opportunity of bearing testimony to the character of two of the gentlemen who had been mentioned, and who were connected with the town of Huntingdon. He (General Peel) had had the honour of their acquaintance for twenty-eight years, and he ventured to say that there were no two men in any part of England who were more fitted to be placed in the commission of the peace than they were. One of them had been mayor of the borough on four different occasions, and the other on three different occasions; and he could safely take upon himself to declare that they both possessed the esteem and regard of all their fellow-townsmen, and that he did not think it possible to have selected any two persons in the county more capable of discharging the duties of a magistrate. The hon. Member was wrong in his facts from beginning to end. He was wrong in saying that there had been no contest in the borough of Huntingdon for the past thirty years, for he (General Peel) himself had stood two contested elections. He was equally wrong in saying that it was a pocket borough of Lord Sandwich, which he begged most positively to deny, and of that he thought his own position was a convincing proof; for he had opposed the Corn Law and had voted against the Government of which the noble Earl was a Member in the division which led to its dissolution; and although the noble Earl undoubtedly possessed great influence in the borough, he had never attempted to use it against him, and that influence was derived quite as much from the noble Earl's high character and the regard in which he was held as from his property or any other circumstance.


said, he should not have thought it necessary, after what had fallen from his right hon. and gallant Friend, to address the House on this occasion, if he did not think he could put the House in possession of facts of which his right hon. Friend was of necessity altogether ignorant. He would observe, in the first instance, that the hon. Member for Finsbury had been very badly instructed, and that he had evidently received his information from some one whom he (Mr. Fellowes) would recommend him most earnestly not to trust again. With regard to the gentlemen who had been put into the commission of the peace, the hon. Member had stated that four were clergymen and two were laymen; but it appeared that in this respect the hon. Member was quite wrong, for three of them were clergymen and three were laymen. The hon. Member had also stated that the whole of these gentlemen had taken an active part in the late contest for the county of Huntingdon. He (Mr. Fellowes) begged to tell him that here again he was wrong. Two of the gentlemen, who were clergymen, resided in his (Mr. Fellowes) own neighbourhood, where for some time past a great want of magistrates had been experienced in carrying on the business of the petty sessions; and with a view to remedy this inconvenience it was suggested to the noble Earl who held the office of Lord Lieutenant of the county that it was desirable to increase the number of gentlemen in the commission of the peace in that district. In consequence he had nominated these two gentlemen, who happened to be clergymen, for the simple reason that there were no laymen who were qualified in the district. With regard to one of the other gentlemen, who was a clergyman also, he resided in a part of the county where there was no magistrate within a considerable distance, and the necessity of having one was so great that it had led to this gentleman's appointment. But with reference to him, instead of taking an active part in the late contest for the county, he had taken no other part than to give one vote for one of the Tory candidates, and that candidate it was not his (Mr. Fellowes) lot to be. As regarded the other gentleman to whom the hon. Member had alluded, and whom he called a clergyman, that gentleman was a layman and took no active part in the late election for the county. He (Mr. Fellowes) did not know that he was even a voter; but certainly he did not vote. Since that, however, his father had died, and he had taken a very active part against the Tory candidates. With reference to the remaining two gentlemen, who lived in the borough of Huntingdon, sufficient had been said by his right hon. and gallant Friend, who was intimately acquainted with them; but he (Mr. Fellowes) could confirm every word which had fallen from his right hon. and gallant Friend as to the respectability of these gentlemen and their qualifications to act as magistrates for the county. He would only add to what his right hon. and gallant Friend had stated, that he was quite sure that in making these appointments his noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant had been actuated solely by an anxious desire to do that which he believed to be for the interest of the county.


thought that a sufficient answer had been given to the question of the hon. Member for Finsbury; but there was one rather unguarded observation which had fallen from his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary; and he should be sorry if it went forth as a correct version of the general practice of Lords-Lieutenant. He had understood his right hon. Friend to state, that it was the almost universal practice of Lords-Lieutenant to be guided by political motives in making appointments of this sort. Now, he must say, that he thought that view of his right hon. Friend was an erroneous one. He believed that the Lords-Lieutenant throughout the country were extremely cautious not to allow their political bias to influence them in these appointments; and that it would be found they had always noted upon that principle, and whenever it appeared that a gentleman of opposite opinions was fairly and legitimately entitled to a seat on the bench, they almost always preferred appointing him to appointing one of their own party, if it were only for the mere purpose of avoiding possible imputations.


said, he knew-nothing of the circumstances of this case; but he thought it right, in justice to Lord Sandwich, to remind the hon. Member for Finsbury that no inference whatever of any kind could be drawn from the fact of a Lord-Lieutenant at one time refusing to appoint, and at another time appointing, a clergyman to the office of magistrate. In the case of his (Sir John Pakington's) own county, where they had a Lord-Lieutenant who, he was bound to say, exercised his high duties in as honourable and conscientious a manner as any man ever did, and never dreamt of what were the politics of any of the magistrates, the rule was not to put clergymen in the commission of the peace; nevertheless, he did appoint clergymen in districts where qualified laymen were not to be found; and in that part of the county with which he (Sir John Pakington) was connected there were abundant instances of his having in one case appointed a clergyman whilst in another case he had refused, and that in the most conscientious and honourable manner.

Subject dropped.