§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
said, he believed the Motion which had been made by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) was somewhat irregular; but, as it had been made, he was quite in Order in addressing the House. He wished, therefore, to ask a Question relative to what had fallen from the President of the Local Government Board. He understood him to say that he adhered to the statement he made the other evening, and that the promoters of the Birmingham Sewerage Bill were individually responsible for the expenses occasioned by the promotion of that Bill. He should rejoice if they were held personally responsible, and he hoped sincerely the ratepayers of Birmingham would hold them so. He had been made personally responsible to a very large amount for expenses incurred in opposition to that Bill, and it was only fair that the promoters should also be held personally responsible. The question he wished to ask was, Whether he understood rightly that the right hon. Gentleman adhered to the statement he made the other night, that in his opinion the Act of 1851, called the Birmingham Improvement Act, under Clause 63, did not free the promoters of the Birmingham Sewerage Bill from individual liability in its promotion?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
reminded the House that the statement of the President of the Local Government Board was made in reply to his (Mr. Mundella's) Question as to whether the whole funds and property of the Corporation of Birmingham was not liable to sequestration in consequence of the decision of that House, and since then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley) had given notice of an application to the Court of Chancery with that view. The other Question was, whether individual members of the Corporation were personally liable for the expenses of the promotion of a Bill which was rejected by a very small majority—and, as he thought, illegally, because he believed 1135 it was a Rule of the House that hon. Members should not vote upon questions in which they were personally interested.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
observed that neither he nor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire had voted on the occasion referred to.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
added that they both "told," which was equivalent to voting. In answer to a case which he (Mr. Mundella) had submitted to him as to the question of the individual liability of members of the Corporation, the Parliamentary agent of the Sheffield Corporation gave it distinctly as his opinion that the clause referred to did not override the Municipal Corporations Act, and that the parties were personally liable. Therefore, Birmingham was in precisely in the same position as Sheffield, Edinburgh, and several other large towns.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, the right hon. Baronet had misunderstood the answers which he (Mr. Stansfeld) had given on a former occasion. He had expressed no legal opinion on the subject. When the hon. Member for Sheffield put the Question, he understood it to have reference to the Bill of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman). The Question was, whether he (Mr. Stansfeld) could deny that it was the law that individual members were personally responsible? His answer was, that he was not able to deny the statement of the law as laid down, and that it was the opinion of the Government that the Bill of the hon. Member for York was a reasonable one. He had been asked by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) if the members of the Town Council of Birmingham were individually liable for the expenses of the proceedings which they had taken, and in reply he stated that he could express no opinion on the subject. What he stated in the first instance was, that his former answer was based on the general law; and he did not doubt that under the general law, when applications were made to Parliament by municipal corporations, and they did not succeed, they would have to meet the expenditure as best they could, and therefore a clause was inserted in private Bills to cover the expenses. With respect to the Birmingham case, the Town Council were either authorized by the Improvement Act of 1851 to pay 1136 the expenditure, or were not authorized. If they were not authorized, the case remained with which the Bill of the hon. Member for York proposed to deal. If they were authorized, the case still remained, because it could not be a right state of the law that it should depend on the accident of a clause in a local Act whether the members of a town council should be protected from individual liability in such cases.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is right, before any farther discussion takes place, to point out to the House, very respectfully, the irregularity of these proceedings. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) moved the Adjournment of the House, and under cover of that Motion called on the Government to state the course the Government are prepared to take with respect to a Bill which this House has set down for consideration on Wednesday next. Since that we have had under cover of the same Motion a discussion on a Bill which this House has determined shall be read a third time three months hence. Not only that, but we are now adverting to Questions which have been put and answered in this House, and it is irregular to advert to them, as, in doing so, we are referring to past debates of the current Session.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
begged to state that he had made no reference to his own Bill. He had only asked the Government whether they would not bring forward a Bill of their own to meet the case.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
rose on a point of Order. He wished to know if, as had been stated by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), any hon. Member could not speak on a question in which he was personally interested? He must say that the hon. Member had laid down a very wide proposition. It would have prevented any hon. and gallant Member from voting against such questions as the abolition of Purchase, or the introduction of the Commune into the country.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire were both entitled to vote upon the Birmingham Sewerage Bill, as they had no such 1137 pecuniary interests adverse to the Bill as would disqualify them from voting against it. It appeared to him that their pecuniary interests were rather in favour of the Bill passing into law than otherwise.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) was guilty of an irregularity in seizing the opportunity of asking a Question he had put on the Paper, to make a Motion for an Adjournment and a speech on the subject of the Question, as to which he had given a Notice of Motion—an irregularity which, if permitted to become a precedent, must have a most mischievous effect on the order of their proceedings.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.