HC Deb 05 April 1864 vol 174 cc461-76

House informed, That the Committee met this day, pursuant to adjournment, and as no leave had been granted or excuse allowed in the case of the absence of Mr. Stirling, a Member of the Committee, the Committee had further adjourned until To-morrow, at Eleven o'clock.

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [4th April], That Mr. Stirling be excused for not attending the said Committee upon Tuesday, the 22nd day of March last, and be discharged from further attendance on the said Committee."—(Mr. Adair.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


A question of considerable importance as regards the practice of the House and to Members of Election Committees was incidentally raised upon this Motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) yesterday, and it is a question, I think, of very much too great importance for the House to dispose of in a hasty or informal manner. It appears that a petition was presented against the validity of the return for Lisburn, a Committee was appointed to try the merits of that Petition, and in a Report which we have from that Committee they simply mention the absence, on the day of the last meeting before the recess, of one of the Members, on the ground of illness, and they make the usual application to the House to accept the excuse of that hon. Member, and to relieve him from further attendance upon the Committee. The House yesterday examined evidence at the Bar, and satisfied itself as to the validity of the excuse, but the hon. Member for Northamptonshire took notice that the Committee had adjourned to a day, which, according to the view he took of the Act of Parliament under which they were acting, was a day to which it was not in their power to adjourn. That raised the important question whether, such an error having been committed, the further and subsequent proceedings of the Committee would be valid. The House is aware of the importance of proceeding with the utmost circumspection and regularity in a matter of this kind; and it becomes necessary, therefore, to consider anxiously the proper course to he taken. The conclusion to which hon. Members will come will, I think, probably be, that they have not before them at present in any such formal or regular shape as will entitle them, under this Act of Parliament, to take cognizance of a matter of so much importance, the facts upon which the question which has been suggested may arise. It has appeared to myself—and I hope it will appear to the House—that the proper course of proceeding will be to accept the excuse of the hon. Member for Perthshire, of the sufficiency of which there can be no doubt—and to abstain from going on with the other words of the Motion, which are in truth superfluous, because they only express that which is, under the terms of the Act of Parliament itself, the consequence in law of the acceptance of the excuse—to accept the excuse now, and so remove the mere formal impediment, and enable us to proceed in any way which may be competent to us by law. The effect of adopting that course will be, as I anticipate, that as soon as the Committee, being free from the impediment of the absence without excuse of a Member, assembles and proposes in the ordinary course to go on with the business before them, it will be suggested to them, probably by those who represent one or both of the parties before them, that a question has arisen as to the legal effect of their adjournment upon their competency to proceed any further. In that case, unless I am greatly mistaken, it will probably appear necessary to the hon. Gentlemen who compose the Committee to consider what is the proper course for them to take, and to give serious consideration to the objection, and if it should appear of sufficient importance to demand the consideration of the House, I cannot doubt that they will think it right, without further proceeding in the business before them, to make such a Report to the House as would enable the House to take formal cognizance of the matter. When that is done, it will be for the House to consider what would be the proper course of proceeding upon the Report. Perhaps it would be improper for me to anticipate the decision of the House, but my strong impression is that, under circumstances in any degree similar, it has been the usual course of the House to appoint a Committee to search for precedents, and to inquire into and report upon the matter, so that the House may ultimately arrive at a conclusion on the subject, with the greatest deliberation and the greatest possible assistance. I therefore humbly suggest that so much of the Motion should be adopted as proposes to accept the excuse of the hon. Member for Perthshire, and that at present no further action should be taken in the matter.


I certainly concur, generally, in the advisability of the course which my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General has proposed, and in the observations which he has made. It is quite true that the objection which has been raised is of a highly technical character, but it must be remembered that the whole of the Act of Parliament is technical in its character. Good reasons can no doubt be assigned for the stringent rules laid down for the meeting and proceedings of an Election Committee; but any one who consults the Act of Parliament will find that the rules are of a most imperative and precise character. Another reason why we should act with great caution and deliberation is, that it is obvious that this is a matter in which the House, unless it acts with great care, may bring itself into collision with the other House of Parliament and with the Courts of Law. Certain proceedings may be taken or suggested on the Report of an Election Committee constituted by Act of Parliament, provided the other House of Parliament agree; but the other House may say that the proceedings of the Committee are irregular, and may decline to assent to them. Again, actions for penalties in the Courts of Law may raise embarrassing questions as to whether the return of the Committee has been legal or not. As the Attorney General has pointed out, we possess only an incidental knowledge of the difficulty that exists. We have no Report from the Committee stating that objections have been raised to their proceedings, or that they feel a difficulty on the subject. All that they have done is to report the illness of one of their members, and to ask that the usual order of the House in such a case should be made. We are told that the Committee have met to-day, and have taken upon themselves the responsibility of adjourning till to-morrow. Of course, the House will not at present express an opinion whether that course was open to the Committee, but I think we can have little doubt, after what has been said in this House, that to-morrow, if the Committee should propose to transact business, an objection will be taken by one or other of the parties to their competence to proceed; and if the Committee appeal to the House, the House will then have before them all the facts necessary to raise the question. I should question, however, whether this is a question in which precedents could be searched for with any advantage. That may be the proper course where a question of privilege or practice is raised, but this does not seem to me to be a case where the privilege or the practice of the House will be involved; it is simply a question of the interpretation of an Act of Parliament. At the same time, it may appear desirable to the House that such a question should be considered by a Committee, who can perhaps approach it in a more judicial spirit than the House itself, and that consequently a Committee should be appointed. However, I quite concur with the Attorney General in thinking that it will be advisable for the House to do nothing more to-night than excuse, if it thinks fit, the non-attendance upon the 22nd of last month of the hon. Gentleman, whose illness we all deplore, without going on to say that he is to be excused from further attendance upon the Committee, which, by recognizing the existence of the Committee, would in reality be to decide a question in dispute. I assume that the Attorney General proposes to omit the words, "And be discharged from further attendance on the said Committee."


I have no wish, after what has fallen from the two hon. and learned Gentlemen, than to make the observation that I do not feel quite clear what the position of the House will be after to-morrow. The formal attention of the House was called yesterday by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire to the question that, in his opinion, the Committee had adjourned to a day to which it was not competent for them to adjourn. I understand now that the House has received a Report from the Committee, which, by its adjournment from day to day, is to meet to-morrow, and when the Committee is to take action on some supposed proposal, which may be made by one or both, parties as to its power to proceed further. The point that I do not feel clear upon is, whether this House, having, by acting on the recommendation of the Attorney General, sanctioned, as it were, the meeting of the Committee tomorrow, would or would not be making itself a party to the mistake already committed by the Committee, if mistake there has been. That is a point upon which neither the Attorney General nor the hon. and learned Member for Belfast have touched at all, and yet it appears to me a very important one. It strikes me that the Committee might be in a difficulty tomorrow if, after having by their action to-day to a certain extent precluded themselves from forming any opinion, they should choose to go on to-morrow to try the case. If they were to do that, what would be our position? I do not give any opinion, but doubtless if there be a difficulty there are many hon. and learned Gentlemen present who can aid in helping us out of it.


said, the question at issue was a pure question of law, and he apprehended that the course taken by the House to-night would not affect it in the slightest degree.


remarked, that the reason why the latter part of the Motion was to be left out was to prevent the House committing itself upon the question of law. All the House was asked to do was to excuse the non-attendance of the hon. Member for Perthshire on the 22nd of March, and the Committee would meet the next day on its own responsibility. The meeting might turn out to be a meeting of four gentlemen having no authority, or, if the House so decided, it might be a meeting of a properly constituted Committee.


said, he could not understand how the question had come before the House. If the Committee was in existence it could, of course, Report; but if, as some thought, it was defunct, it could make no Report at all. Supposing the House were, as suggested, to refer the matter hack to the Committee, and supposing the Committee were to decide, at its meeting on the next day, that it was competent to it to go on, it might proceed without reporting to the House at all. On the other hand, if the Committee was really defunct, the House should not allow its power to slip away from it into the hands of four Gentlemen, who were no more entitled to be called the Lisburn Election Committee than any other four Members of the House.


said, that as an unfortunate Member of the Committee, he would express a hope that the House would not create any difficulty which might increase their embarrassment. The Attorney General and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast seemed to proceed upon the supposition, that if the Committee met on the following morning it would certainly happen that objection would be made by one or both of the parties to their proceeding. It was, however, by no means certain that that contingency would arise, and he trusted that the House would continue the discussion so as to aid the Committee with its order or advice. He trusted that the Committee would be left with some idea of what they were to do in the event of a different result from that which appeared to be contemplated by the two hon. and learned Gentlemen.


said, he thought the course proposed by the hon. and learned Attorney General was full of peril. In the first place it was a strange proceeding to empower the Committee to correct its own mistake, if a mistake had been committed; and, in the next place, neither of the contingencies which had been suggested might arise. There might be no objection taken by either party, and it did not follow that the Committee would make a Report to the House. The whole thing might thus be left at sea. He had no hesitation in asserting ns a lawyer, that the proceedings of the Committee were illegal. The Committee had no power to adjourn for so long a period, and the inquiry was at an end. Nothing could be more plain and distinct than the mandatory language of the statute. The object of requiring adjournments from day to day was obvious. If a Committee could adjourn for a week or a fortnight, that very adjournment by enabling the party petitioned against to retain his seat and vote, might turn the fate of a Ministry. There was nothing technical in the question; his hon. and learned Friend was well skilled in the proceedings of Courts of Equity, but he did not appear so often in a Court of Law, or he would have known that it was not technical to say that every inferior tribunal must follow the conditions attached to its existence by statute; and there was not a country gentleman present who did not know the importance and necessity of proper adjournments from sessions to sessions. The House had before it all the facts of the case. On the 22nd of March, Parliament stood adjourned, on that day the Lisburn Committee was sitting, on that day a report was made to it of the illness of one of its members, and on that day it adjourned until the 5th of April. It did so, no doubt, through inadvertence; he believed the adjournment was pressed by the counsel for the petitioner. Those facts having been reported to the House, it was in a condition to dispose of them. He dissented from the proposition that a Committee should be appointed to search for precedents. It was not a question of precedent or privilege; it was a question on the construction of a statute; it was a matter of principle, and, he repeated, the adjournment was contrary to the Act—against both its letter and its spirit. The House could not do away with the prohibitions of the statute, it had no dispensing power, nor could it by searching for precedents which did not exist, throw light upon the subject. He told the House that the Committee was incompetent after that day to make a report; there was an end of it. The statute, which was a reiteration of the 9 Geo. IV., provided that the sittings of these Committees should be from day to day, and in emphatic and unambiguous language it enacted that they never should adjourn except for twenty-four hours. But there was a proviso, that in case they should have occasion to report to the House —as, for example, on the misbehaviour of a witness, or the illness of a member—then the public business of the House, if the House were sitting, should be stayed, and the subject-matter of the report be inquired into; but that if the House were not sitting, the Committee should adjourn till the very day on which Parliament met, in order to approach that House at the very earliest opportunity. That being so, would any lawyer get up and say that an adjournment of even one day beyond that was legal? He would refer the House to what he considered an authority upon the point. A case had arisen in which a man had been convicted at quarter sessions upon a day to which they had been improperly adjourned. That man was sentenced to transportation. The law officers of the Crown having, however, seen the mistake, caused the prisoner to be again tried under the proper legal forms. The accused set up the plea autre fois convict. After a legal discussion the Court held that that plea could not be presented as a bar to the second trial, and on the ground that there had not been any legal trial or conviction of the prisoner. In another section of the statute of the 9 Geo. IV. there was this provision:—Suppose the case of a prorogation of Parliament, and that a Committee was then sitting, what was the Committee then to do? There was no occasion to report to the House, or to complain of the misbehaviour of a witness. It was, therefore, not under the necessity of approaching Parliament in the first instance, and accordingly that section provided that, on the prorogation, there should be no dissolution of the Committee, but that it should adjourn not to the day of the meeting but to the next day after the meeting of Parliament. That provision was incorporated in the 11 & 12 Vict., the statute they were now dealing with. The language of the statute was perfectly plain upon this subject, and it was impossible for them to put any other interpretation upon it, than that which was its obvious meaning. No person had ventured to assert the legality of any future meetings of the Committee. It could not make any Report to the House, for it had lost its power of framing a Report. An inferior tribunal like that must act strictly up to the conditions of its existence, otherwise that existence was at an end. Why, therefore, should that House give any recognition to the existence of a body that, by its own act, had ceased to exist? He had no idea that such a course would be proposed, and had heard with surprise the Attorney General and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Belfast describe the objection taken against the Committee as a mere technical one, which might be removed by that House. He totally dissented from that view of the case. He considered that the proceedings of the Committee had become illegal, and being so, that that body had ceased to exist. He contended that they could not resuscitate that Committee, and the House ought not to take it upon itself to receive from it that day any single species of report. The Committee should be left in this position—that being dissolved, and the opinion of the House to that effect being delivered, it might meet the legal gentlemen at the trysting-place to-morrow, or it need not, for there was an end of it. He, therefore, submitted respectfully to the House that it should hold its hands in this matter. The House could not possibly dispense with a statute. An Election Committee was bound to observe the law, and if it improperly refused to proceed, it might be liable, like other inferior tribunals, to a mandamus from the Court of Queen's Bench. Of course, such a mandamus would not lie against the House itself.


reminded the House that the course which was recommended by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, and concurred in by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast, was one which did not recognize in any degree the present legal existence of the Committee. The only Motion submitted was, that the hon. Member for Perthshire (Mr. Stirling) should be excused for his non-attendance on the Committee on a day when it undoubtedly had a legal existence. But his hon. and learned Friend proposed, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, that the Committee should be allowed to act for itself; and that when it met on the following day, if an objection should be made to its competence, or if it had doubts as to its power to proceed, it might then come with a Report to the House and ask for its guidance and direction. He concurred with the hon. and learned Gentleman who had last spoken in the opinion, that the House ought to be most cautious in their conduct as regarded a Committee which was not sitting under the authority of that House, but under that of an Act of Parliament. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman in thinking that it was a case in which the House had really no power to interfere. The wisdom of the course suggested seemed to him to be more prudent since he had heard the speeches of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. It might turn out that they would ultimately have to express an opinion on the matter, although he hoped they would not; but it would be inexpedient to commit themselves by any hasty resolution. If the present suggestion of the Government were adopted, it would not render valid the proceedings of the Committee on the following day. If its proceedings might be legally questioned in a court of law, no Resolution of the House could prevent it.


said, he was a Member of this unfortunate Committee, and he thought it right to offer some observations in reply to the suggestions made by the Attorney General and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast. It appeared to him that the House ought to know what had taken place before the Committee that day, and what was likely to transpire the next morning. He wished to make a similar appeal to that made by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster.) Ho confessed he felt somewhat humbled in what had taken place; and, as far as ho was concerned, he would most laboriously endeavour to redeem the error into which the Committee had fallen. But he did not consider that they would be in a better position to solve their difficulty on the following than they were on that day. It was suggested that the Committee should meet when it was considered probable that an objection would be taken, and arguments raised on the competency of the tribunal to proceed further; that in such case the Committee should take issue upon the question raised and act upon their own responsibility. But he did not think that any such objection would be raised the next day. What had occurred that day before the Committee was this:—No person representing the sitting member appeared in the Committee-room. The only persons present were those who appeared on behalf of the petitioner. After a short pause the counsel for the petitioner, not having seen the Votes, but presuming that the House had taken on the previous day the step they were asked to take that day—namely, to accept the excuse offered for the non-attendance of one of the Members of the Committee, rose and said he claimed the right to be heard. Now, that was what would be, probably, done again on the following day. Nobody would object, and he (Mr. Paull), therefore, asked the House whether they really meant to cast the responsibility upon the Committee of deciding the question. He would respectfully suggest that that was not a responsibility which the House ought to cast upon the Committee. Without meaning to praise himself, he must say that he had never sat with Gentlemen who had bestowed greater pains or attention on the discharge of their duty than had been done by his Colleagues in that Committee, and he believed they would continue to evince the same spirit; but in the difficulty in which they were placed, they ought to receive some guidance from the House. On the following morning the Committee would again meet, and, no doubt, there would be nobody there to represent the sitting Member. The counsel for the sitting Member would not, of course, be anxious to render any assistance to the Committee, but would feel quite satisfied to leave the Committee in the difficult position in which it was placed. Now, the House in effect told the Committee that they might remain where they were and get out of their difficulty the best way they could. The same proceeding as that which had just taken place before the Committee might go on from day to day, without any power on the part of the Members to relieve themselves. With such a prospect before them, he trusted that the House would take such a step as would guide the Committee towards some definite conclusion.


said, he entirely concurred with the Attorney General that they ought to pass a Resolution expressing no opinion, but that the hon. Gentleman who had been absent from the Committee should be excused for non-attendance. But, unfortunately, the Attorney General had coupled that sound advice with a suggestion that something might be done in the future, and he ventured to express his humble dissent from that suggestion. What was the object of the Act? To divest the House of Commons as a body of all right to intervene in the proceedings of an Election Committee. They had set up Election Committees and remitted to them the whole question, without reserving the smallest control over their proceedings. Such being the law, the usage and rights of Parliament entirely fell to the ground. The whole matter was a question of the construction of a statute, and there was no part of that statute which vested in the House any right to give any direction whatever to an Election Committee. The House had no such power. The Committee must go on at their peril, and finish their work as they best could, if they thought they could go on; but one thing they had no right to do—to bring back the question to the House and ask them to decide, or give them any direction how they should decide in the matter.


said, that having looked into the Act of Parliament, he considered the Committee defunct, and the House could neither give nor take away jurisdiction from such a body. The jurisdiction of an Election Committee stood entirely on the Act of Parliament, which prescribed a most rigid code of procedure. The time an Election Committee should sit and adjourn was imperative. This Committee, according to the Report made to the House, had adjourned from the 22nd of March till to-day, being a day beyond that on which the House sat. The House, in his opinion, ought not to have received that Report. By receiving it they sanctioned the existence of the Committee, which, according to the best consideration he had been able to give to the Act, appeared to him to have no longer any existence. What would be gained by requiring the Committee to sit again and make another Report? His feeling of pity was moved by the lamentation of the only two Members of the Committee who had spoken. They complained that they had been put to considerable difficulty. His humble advice to them was this, to follow the example of the sitting Member, and not to appear at all. The best course, in his opinion, would be to adjourn the debate.


said, it appeared to him that the hon. and learned Member for Truro (Mr. Montague Smith) had given an opinion upon this question which he had no right to give. The hon. and learned Gentleman said the Committee was defunct, and he called upon the House to declare it to be defunct. [Mr. MONTAGUE SMITH: No, no!] That House should not constitute itself a jury to sit upon the body of the Committee. It was evident that the House had no power whatever to act in the matter. He considered that the proposition made by the Attorney General was the right one to act upon under the circumstances. Let the House wait until the Committee had put them in possession of some tangible facts, and then they would do nothing. He was opposed to the adjournment of the debate.


Sir, it seems to me that the House is getting itself into a little difficulty about this matter. It appears quite clear from the terms of the Act, that the Committee has in effect put an end to its own existence, by adjourning to an illegal day, and consequently any act subsequently performed by it will have no validity in law. On the other hand, it appears equally clear that the powers of the Committee, being derived from the statute and not from any Resolution of Parliament, no Resolution which we might pass can in the slightest degree influence the future proceedings of the Committee or the state of the law. We cannot, therefore, directly interfere in any way in the matter. At the same time, it does not seem quite fair to call upon the Members of the Committee to meet day by day under such circumstances, to decide at their own risk whether they constituted a legal tribunal or not, and to take upon themselves the responsibility that may follow such a decision. Now if the House were simply to decline to proceed at all in the matter, and to adjourn the discussion, not for a day, but for a period of six months, the sole result would be that the Committee would not be able to sit any longer, because by the statute it was laid down that "such Select Committee shall never sit until all the Members to whom leave has not been granted, nor excuse allowed, are met." The Committee would be disqualified for meeting, and the matter in that way would be brought to the only legal conclusion—namely, that the whole proceeding would fall to the ground. I do not urge this proposition of an adjournment on the ground of its being a solution altogether satisfactory; but we are in a difficulty every way, and really that is the only means which I can see of getting out of the difficulty. I, therefore, move that this debate be adjourned to this day six months.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


I subscribe to every word stated by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn with so much clearness and force in the commencement of his speech, but, in the latter part, he pointed out the great difficulty in which the House is placed, and I a in rather doubtful whether it will not be increased by the course proposed by my noble Friend. By adopting it the House will some to no decision upon the subject; the Committee may consider that they are bound to meet, and the friends of the petitioner and also those of the sitting Member may consider they are perfectly entitled to have the petition heard out. The proceedings may go on from day to day, expenses be incurred, and nothing be decided, and the matter will have to come jack to the House for advice and guidance in a worse form than it is at present. For that reason, I doubt if the House had better adopt the Amendment for the further adjournment of the question. Some of the observations made by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) appear to me to put the case on its proper footing, with one exception, that he has not contemplated that there may and must be cases in which the House must decide on this particular Act of Parliament. If that be so, and for the reason the hon. I and learned Member has pointed out, the great thing we have to take care of is that the functions of the House are not brought to bear so as to interfere with the functions of the Committee. The object of the Act of Parliament is to I take away all such inquiries from this House in order to avoid party and political discussions relative to election petitions; but how can we accomplish the double object of leaving the House to decide only those matters which are brought before it, and of leaving to the Committee all the functions which, by the statute, are delegated to them? That, I think, can be accomplished, and accomplished in the best way by the Motion of the learned Attorney General, than by any other mode that has been suggested, The House has only one question now to determine, and one proposition brought before it—namely, whether the hon. Member for Perthshire is to be excused I for his non-attendance on the Committee on the 22nd of March last; and, until you decide it, the hon. Member is in contempt. It is, therefore, right towards him that you should decide it, and it should be borne in mind that in deciding that question you decide nothing more than simply saying that on the 22nd March last there was a legitimate excuse for the non-attendance of a particular I member of that Committee. If that be so, and you assent to it, you leave the matter exactly where it would have been left by the Act of Parliament, and the Committee will have to take action in the matter. It is for them to decide how they shall proceed in future. They have taken upon themselves to adjourn the Committee till to-day. That course, probably, will be found to be in excess of their power, but it is for them to decide and not for this House, in the first instance, whether or not they can properly and legally proceed with the inquiry. If they think they cannot proceed, they can report to the House according to the view they are induced to take on the subject, after hearing counsel on one or both sides. Suppose, however, they should not hesitate to go on after counsel have appeared on both sides, and suppose they should unseat the sitting Member, what will be the consequence? Why, that this House must then interfere; because it must take action should the sitting Member still continue, in violation of the Committee's Report, to assert his right to the seat. It is clear, therefore, that there are matters which must ultimately come before the House as a Court of Appeal, but, until we get to that point, my earnest recommendation to the House is to leave the whole matter in the hands of the Committee until the difficulty is brought before the House on a specific Motion, and then you will have no difficulty in dealing with it.


The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn appears to me to have overlooked two things, one of which has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend opposite. The other is the effect of his Motion on the position of the hon. Member for Perthshire. The present position of the hon. Member is this, that up to this moment he has been absent from the Committee without leave—his excuse not having been allowed by the House. The Act states that any Member of a Committee who absents himself without leave or excuse, shall be directed to attend the House at its next sitting, and he shall then be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. If, therefore, you adjourn this matter for six months you will be, in the first place, directly superseding the Act; and secondly, you will leave the hon. Member for Perthshire in this unpleasant and improper situation, that he will be liable to be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. The House must either reject or accept the excuse, and if you reject it you must proceed against the hon. Member under the terms of the Act. The noble Lord has evidently overlooked the latter part of the 75th clause, which deals with the sittings of a Parliamentary Committee during the absence of a Member. Such a Committee, although it cannot sit for business during the absence of a Member, can sit for the purpose of adjourning daily, and that was the view of those who thought the Committee had done wrong in this instance in adjourning over till the re-assembling of the House after the Easter holydays, instead of adjourning from day to day until the matter had been settled by the acceptance or rejection of the excuse for the hon. Member for Perthshire's absence. If the noble Lord's view be correct, the Committee has not miscarried, because an Act of Parliament cannot require that to be done which is impossible. I think that, considering all the circumstances, the course which I have suggested is the proper one to be adopted. As to the further course of proceeding by that Committee, I will not presume to suggest what they should do. I have only ventured to suggest what I think it possible they may do to bring the question before the House. If the Committee should think it desirable to state the facts to enable the House to consider whether it should do anything or not, the mode of doing so will be by a formal Report of the Committee. If that be done, then the House can determine whether the matter has reached that stage at which it would be consistent with its own functions and duties to enter into an inquiry upon the subject.


said, as Chairman of the Committee, he wished to say that after all he had heard he believed the course suggested by the Attorney General would be the best course for the Committee to pursue. He ventured to say on behalf of the Committee, that they would undertake to consider the question with what small amount of wisdom they might find amongst them, and come to some conclusion upon it. Should it occur to them that their proceedings had become unintentionally invalid, then they would be prepared to state the fact, and if they should see reason for drawing the attention of the House to anything that might occur the next day, it would be in their power to make a Report to the House. The Committee, he was sure, regretted that through an inadvertence the discussion had been rendered necessary, but at the same time he was also sure they would not hesitate to take upon themselves the responsibility of any further proceedings.


said, he had proposed his Amendment as a means of disembarrassing the House from an inconvenient responsibility; but, as it did not meet the approval of the hon. and learned Gentleman who was mainly responsible for the management of such questions, he would not press it.

Motion and Original Question, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That Mr. Stirling be excused for not attending the said Committee upon Tuesday, the 22nd day of March last.—(The Attorney General.)

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