HL Deb 05 July 1833 vol 19 cc146-55
Lord Lyndhurst

rose for the purpose of moving the Suspension of the two Standing Orders, Nos. 95 and 99, relating to private Bills, in order to introduce the Bill, the outline of which he had last night stated to their Lordships. He thanked his noble friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury) for pointing out to him this course; and he was fully persuaded, that his noble friend was merely induced by a sense of the necessity of adhering to the Standing Orders, when he rose last night to object to the Bill being read a first time.

Lord Wynford

said, he could not concur in the propriety of suspending the Standing Orders of the House in the present instance without some reasons being adduced. No facts had yet been stated to the House why these Standing Orders should be suspended. It was unnecessary for him to dilate upon the usefulness of the Standing Orders; they had been adopted and acted upon, and had been found highly advantageous. With regard to the Standing Orders in question, their Lordships were aware that there required, before a private Bill could be presented, a petition to have been previously presented, embodying the facts to be proved, which petition was to be subsequently referred to two of the Judges, and then the Bill, upon the report of the Judges being favourable, was laid before their Lordships for consideration. With regard to the will of the testator, he was ready to admit that it sprung from vanity, he being desirous of being the founder of a most wealthy family. Had it not been for that vanity his name would have been buried in oblivion. The House, however, had to take care, in endeavouring to frustrate the intentions of the testator, in carrying into execution that piece of vanity, that injustice was not done to distant parties, who would be hereafter beneficially interested in the property bequeathed by him. It was, therefore, necessary that great caution should be observed. No reason had been assigned to call upon their Lordships to depart from their usual course of proceedings; and in opposing the suspension of the Standing Orders, he begged to add, that he should ask no vote upon it, and that in making the remarks he had, he had done so only from a sense of duty, for he was not unaware of the great hardship which the relations of the testator experienced from the manner in which he had thought fit to leave his property.

The Earl of Eldon

said, it was not his intention, on the present occasion, to detain their Lordships at any length, especially as there was another important subject to be discussed that evening. In the course of his experience he recollected but one occasion of a case of an analogous nature to the present, in which the Standing Orders had been suspended, and he would proceed to state the circumstances of that case. A Bill was brought into their Lordships' House by the Marquess of Hastings to repeal the provisions of an Act which had been brought into Parliament by that noble Lord's father. It was contended, on that occasion, that the case ought to be sent to the Judges before the Bill could be entertained. The Bill, he ought to state, had reference to Scotch as well as English estates. But here came the question; which Judges were to be consulted?—the Scotch or English? It was said, that the English Judges could not regulate the Scotch property; so neither could the Scotch Judges the English property. It was, however, necessary either to refer to the English or Scotch Judges, or both, it was insisted, in order to have the necessary information upon the subject. He well recollected, however, that the House did him the honour to believe, that he knew something of both English and Scotch law as to the disposition of property in both countries, and he was appointed to report upon the case, which was referred to him, to the House. With regard to the proceedings of their Lord-ships on the matter brought before them, as respected Mr. Thellusson's will, he recollected that their Lordships were anxious to set it aside; but they felt that they could not interpose, for the law had given him the power to make his will, which had been decided was a valid testament. And what were their Lordships now required to do, supposing the Bill were introduced? Why neither more nor less than in effect to revoke that will. It was asking the Legislature to destroy a portion of the will at least. There was another reason why the case ought to go before a Judge, that an investigation might be made into all the facts. He (the Earl of Eldon) had never heard a single complaint when he presided in the Court of Chancery as to the costs and charges with respect to the suit, and he was so startled on hearing his noble and learned friend make the representation he had done last night about the costs and charges of the administration of the property of the testator, that he determined to make an inquiry this morning into the subject. He had done so, and the result was, that great misapprehension upon that topic had arisen. If he had seen his noble and learned friend this evening on entering the House, he should have made him acquainted with the result of that inquiry, and should have assured him that he had been misinformed upon the subject of those costs and expenses. Having said thus much, he would only add a wish, that his noble friend near him (the Earl of Shaftesbury), would state what his experience was with regard to suspending the Standing Orders in question.

The Earl of Shaftesbury,

having been appealed to, had no difficulty in stating what his experience was upon the subject. He only recollected another instance in addition to that just stated by his noble and learned friend, and that was with respect to a Bill relating to the Sergeant's Inn property, which was introduced during the last Session of Parliament. Now the Judges having property in that Inn, it was considered unnecessary to refer the case to any one in particular, and the Standing Order was accordingly dispensed with. He did not offer a single word on the present occasion with respect to the object of the Bill which his noble and learned friend had last night detailed; but How he might be permitted to suggest, that the object might be equally attained by referring the Bill to the Judges, as though the Standing Orders were suspended, provided that object could be legally attained. He must, however, earnestly entreat their Lordships to consider well ere they suspended the Standing Orders, lest, by so doing, a precedent should be established.

The Lord Chancellor

, in reply to the observation made by his noble and learned friend, who had asserted, that he had heard no complaints as to the cost and charges of administering the property of the testator during the period that he presided in the Court of Chancery, said, he was not surprised that his noble and learned friend should have heard no such complaint; nor would he even up to the present moment, had he still continued to hold the Great Seal. But it was not the case with him (the Lord Chancellor), nor his noble and learned friend who had immediately preceded him (Lord Lyndhurst), for they had heard complaints of that description. No complaint, however, had reached his noble and learned friend (the Earl of Eldon). It was not likely that any should reach his ears from the Masters'-office for the clear sum of 700l. or 800l. a-year was there reaped owing to the existence and continuance of the suit. It was counted upon as a yearly income to that amount in the Masters'-office. Besides this, the other officers in the Court of Chancery, who had as good reasons for their silence, would be naturally as slow to complain. Then it had been argued in that Court, that the accumulation would be immense. Instead, however, of the notion being realized that the property would accumulate to 90,000,000l. or 100,000,000l. in the coarse of years—that it would be augmented to an extent, which, by possibility, might be dangerous to the Constitution—the increase had been so small as to be scarcely perceptible; and an extraordinary power was found to exist in a certain Court to retard this perilous accumulation, and render chimerical all the fears entertained of an overthrow, by means of this monstrous fund, of the established order of things. The accumulation of the property would not be checked by the Bill, it would go on to the full as rapidly, or more so, than at present. It was clear, thierefore (accumulation being tile testator's object), that 'neither in letter nor in spirit would the will be violated by the measure. He trusted that the House would show itself disposed so far to entertain the Bill as to speed it in its progress. This was a peculiar and single case, which could never again occur; consequently, the present proceeding could not be drawn into a precedent, inasmuch as no ground for its repetition could arise. He could not but think, where a great deal of substantial justice and mercy was to be rendered to an unfortunate family, that it would be a pity to allow mere forms to stand in the way of the proceeding.

The Earl of Mansfield

observed, that the question was not as to the merits of the Bill, but whether there was anything in its character, or the circumstances connected with it, that formed a justification for suspending those Standing Orders which had been adopted for the protection of the rights of individuals. He confessed that he could see no grounds for doing so. He called upon their Lordships to proceed with caution, and refrain from an infringement on those rules and orders which were intended to guard the rights and property of individuals, and prevent the House from being taken by surprise.

Lord Ellenborough

thought the question was one of the greatest importance; and suggested, that in order to get over the difficulties in the way of their Lordships in granting the sought-for relief, the peculiar circumstances of the case might be embodied in a Resolution, recommending, on account of those peculiar circumstances, the suspension of the Standing Orders. This, he thought, might obviate the objection to the suspending of the Standing Orders, and enable their Lordships to give the relief sought for by the family of Mr. Thellusson.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that the object was to prevent the funds from being unnecessarily wasted, and also to give relief to the family who were in a state of destitution. The costs had already amounted to the enormous sum of 105,000l. The costs had been averaged by the Accountant-general by taking the average of the last twelve years, and it was not unfair to assume, that they would go on in the same ratio for the future. It was said by his noble and learned friend (Lord Eldon) that no complaint had ever been made upon the subject of these costs. Certainly not, for they were only the regular costs; but it was because they were only the regular costs that the necessity became greater for putting an end to them. Making the calculation upon the average he had Stated, the taxed costs for the whole period, from the time the will was made until it should expire would amount to a sum no less than 250,000l. The course he proposed for adoption was not without precedents. In the case of the Marquess of Hastings all the Standing Orders had been suspended. In the case of Sir J. Soane's Museum Bill the Standing Order for referring the matter to the Judges had been suspended. He held in his hand no less than fifteen cases, which he had lighted upon only that morning, in which most important Standing Orders had been suspended. He would also request their Lordships to recollect that this case could never be made a precedent for others. It was an insulated case. Such a case could never occur again, for an Act of Parliament had been passed to prevent in future such a disposition of the property. It was said, that the object of the Bill was to run counter to the testator's will; but he denied the assertion, the very opposite of which was the fact. By the present mode of administering the property in the Court of Chancery, a certain amount was absorbed yearly. Now, the testator never intended this; he did not mention the Court of Chancery in his will. Surely, then, it was not interfering with the will to say, that the property was no longer to be so administered, that 5,000l. a year should be so transferred to Masters, Clerks, and Solicitors, when it might be better devoted to the necessities of a family which was suffering great privation and distress. He should move, that the Standing Orders be suspended with the intention of pressing his Motion to a division.

The Duke of Wellington

meant to vote for the proposition of his noble and learned friend. It might have been wiser on the part of the family to have made an application in the earlier part of the Session, and, by petitioning, to have proceeded according to the rules and orders of the House; but it was probable that they might not have been able to obtain at an earlier period than the present the requisite signatures to such a petition. To allow, therefore, another Session to pass without affording relief to this family, was, what he felt confident, none of their Lordships would wish, and he hoped they would not refuse their sanction to the course proposed to be adopted.

The Earl of Harrowby

said, that the only ground stated by the noble Duke for agreeing to the Motion was, the lateness of the Session, which might otherwise prevent this family from obtaining the relief they sought for. He could not think, however anxious he might be to afford relief, that he should be justified on such grounds in consenting to a suspension of the Standing Orders.

Earl Grey

never found himself in greater difficulty than upon that occasion. He confessed that he was much struck with the statement of the noble and learned Lord, and he was most anxious to set aside this unjust and cruel will. He had every disposition to give facility to the object in view; but he felt the difficulties in the way of their Lordships very strongly. The merits of the question appeared to him to have nothing to do with the present Motion. The question before their Lordships was simply this—whether the Standing Orders of the House, which had been framed with the view of protecting the property of the kingdom, should be suspended, without a proper and sufficient reason for so doing being assigned. If no sufficient reason could be assigned, standing there as guardians of the property of the country, they would do well to pause before they suspended the Standing Orders of the House. He had heard nothing whatever to show, that the family might not have signed a petition at an earlier period. He felt, therefore, obliged to state, that, with every disposition to give relief to this family, he found the standing orders in his way; and he did not know how their Lordships could get over this difficulty without doing that, which he conceived, would be a dereliction of their duty. He thought the better course to be pursued, in order to relieve their Lordships from this difficulty, would be, for the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his Motion for the present, in order to give an opportunity to the family to present a petition to the House.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that on the previous evening he had stated, that he should be able to present a petition signed by all the adult members of the family, but he was afraid he could not present a petition signed by all the parties concerned. There were parties interested as trustees to this property; and he had a letter from one of them—a Mr. Wood, in which he willingly consented, to what he conceived to be a fair and just arrangement. He feared, however, that he could not present to their Lordships any hope of a similar sanction from the others.

The Duke of Hamilton

was inclined to go as far as possible, in order to give relief to the family, but he had a strong objection to vote for suspending the Standing Orders, which he conceived ought to be held sacred. If the question could be brought forward separated from a violation or suspension of the Standing Orders, he should be ready to give it his best consideration.

The Marquess of Salisbury

believed, that every noble Lord was willing, if possible, to give the desired relief. The whole of the family were petitioners to their Lordships. They had not, he admitted, signed a formal petition, because the law required that such a petition should be signed by the trustees of the property, who were unwilling to sign such a petition. Their Lordships could readily understand, that the trustees, not being members of the family, had an interest in spending large sums in newly furnishing houses that ought to be sold, and also in shooting over certain lands, which interests would induce them to oppose a measure like the present. He should certainly give his vote that the Standing Orders should be suspended. The property, he believed, was managed in a most expensive manner, and an opportunity ought, therefore, to be given for their Lordships to examine evidence at the bar of the House upon the subject.

The Marquess of Lansdown

felt the greatest anxiety to afford relief to the family which was thus suffering under the administration of the law; but still he thought it was the duty of their Lordships, after laying down standing orders for the conduct of business, to adhere to those orders as closely as possible, and to depart from them only where injustice would be done by adhering to them. He could well understand, that the trustees might have reasons for not concurring in the petition, and there might yet be ample reasons why the House should dispense with the signatures of the trustees; but before their Lordships did even that, it was their duty to satisfy themselves, that all the adult members of the family were ready to sign such a petition. He would not object to the Motion if their Lordships were in formal possession of that, which they knew already from the statement of the noble and learned Lord. When their Lordships should be in possession of such information, then would be the time, in his opinion, to consider whether they would not waive the signatures of the trustees. His object was, that their Lordships should proceed upon the foundation of an authentic document, and he hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would require that a petition should be presented.

Viscount Melbourne

entirely agreed in the proposition, that the Standing Orders should not be suspended unless upon very strong grounds; but he begged to ask their Lordships, if there could be stronger grounds than were laid down in the statement of the noble and learned Lord, for adopting such a course. This was a case which had long been a disgrace and a scandal to the country. The case was one of such a character that he hoped their Lordships would not allow a regard for mere forms to stand in the way of the administration of substantial justice. These forms would not only stand in the way of, but would even defeat justice, if it should be found eventually impossible to comply with the Standing Orders.

The Duke of Buckingham

objected to forming a new precedent—that of proceeding in such a matter without any previous petition. He had, however, no wish to negative the proposition; but why not amend it I Why not move as an Amendment, that a Committee be appointed to consider whether any grounds could be shown for such a suspension of the Standing Orders? If he were forced to give a vote as the question at present stood, he must vote against suspending the Standing Orders.

The Earl of Ripon

said, that their Lordships were at present not in possession of the sentiments of the family of the testator; and he suggested, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord should abstain from pressing his Motion until a petition from the family should have been presented. If the noble and learned Lord should not adopt this course, he should feel it his duty to vote against the noble Lord's proposition.

Lord Lyndhurst,

after what had fallen from the noble Lords, who had spoken in the course of the discussion, would suggest, that the better course to be adopted would be to adjourn the debate until Thursday next, in Older to give an opportunity of presenting a petition in the mean time.

The debate adjourned.

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