HL Deb 22 May 1843 vol 69 cc673-6
Lord Brougham

moved the third reading of the Townshend Peerage Bill.

The Earl of Devon

had abstained from taking any part in the discussion of the amendments which had been made in the bill, but now that the measure was in a perfect and complete state he wished to make one or two observations upon it. He thought, in the first place, this measure was an improper interference with the prerogative of the Crown. Without a mes- sage from the Crown, the House had taken upon itself to deal with the question of the succession to a peerage, which ought to have been decided by the Crown, on the advice of its law officers and the aid of this House, a few years hence; and though this bill should become the law of the land the Crown would still he left in this position —namely, to deal with the fourth son (who is not included in the provisions of the bill), in the same manner as the hill proposed to deal with the first and other sons Therefore, in the end, the measure would not relieve the Crown from the difficulties of the case, while it made a most gratuitous invasion of the law and constitution of the realm. But apart from the question of succession to the peerage, he begged to ask, was it right to set this first example of dealing with the rights of property in the mode the hill under discussion did with estates which might hereafter form the subject-matter of litigation. The ground upon which alone the noble and learned Lord who had taken charge of the bill, and those who supported him, ventured to call for this very extraordinary remedy was the existence of a present grievance. Now what was the pre-sent grievance? What was the present wrong affecting the party legitimately entitled to the succession? It was alleged in general terms that the parties declared by the bill to be illegitimate were assuming the privileges which appertained to the sons of a Peer; and one argument which a noble and learned Lord had used was, that one of these illegitimate persons stood, and still claimed to stand, near the Throne of this House as the son of a Peer. Now, though there was no precedent for such a measure as that now before their Lordships, there was a precedent which went to the point urged by the noble and learned Lord to whom he referred. A claim had been made on a former occasion to stand near the Throne, and that claim was brought under the consideration of the House, and the conclusion at which the House arrived was, that it was not such a claim as to justify its interference. The precedent, therefore, as far as it went, was against the argument urged by his noble and learned Friend. If it were proper that the House should interfere, he contended its interference ought to have had its origin in a message from the Crown, in the same manner as their Lordships were frequently called upon to advise the Crown on questions as to the right of succession, when a peerage was vacant, as, probably, but for this bill, they might have been called on for advice with reference to this very family. It was not necessary for him to point out the remedy which might in this instance have been obtained; it was sufficient to say, there was not that existence of present wrong which called for their Lordships' interference. But it had been said, that it was necessary to adopt this measure, in order to perpetuate the evidence. Why, there were four or five witnesses to every material fact, who would, in all probability, be alive, or some of them at least, when the question would properly have arisen; and it was, to say the least of it, rather extraordinary, that the bill does not even allege any such ground for this proceeding. But even if it were necessary to perpetuate the evidence, he must say, after reading the testimony adduced, nothing could have been easier by the ordinary mode of effecting that object. It was only in the last Session of Parliament that a committee recommended, and the House adopted a mode of proceeding by which an individual might render the direction of the Court of Chancery true evidence, bearing upon a case like the present, preserved by a course of proceeding to which every individual, not a Peer, must still be contented to resort. And he repeated that the bill failed in the object it professed to achieve. True, by this bill, the Crown was told, on the death of the Marquess Townshend, not to send the writ of summons to the three eldest children born of the marriage—that was of the Marchioness Townshend—because the House interfered, and said they were illegitimate; but that the writ might be sent to the fourth son, Cecil Mina Bolivar, who, if he chose to represent himself as the legitimate son, and apply for the writ, would, in the usual course, go 6efore the Attorney-general of the day, who would investigate the circumstances, and without any assistance from this bill would have to decide. And if the fourth son chose to claim the estates of the Townshend family, that question would have to be tried by a jury, audit was not an impossible case that a jury, looking at the evidence under the direction of one of the judges of the land, might come to a contrary conclusion to that at which their Lordships had arrived. Under all these circumstances he still entertained the strongest objections to the bill. The observations he had made were, however, rather to satisfy his own conscience than offered with a wish to give the House any trouble by dividing upon a measure which he could not but regard as a very dangerous step.

Lord Brougham

said, his noble and learned Friend had fallen into a very material error in supposing that all the witnesses, four or five in number, would possibly be forthcoming when the question of succession to the honours of the Peerage was opened. Two of the most important witnesses were very far advanced in years. One of them, Mr. Neri, was a most important witness as to non-access; and another was an old lady, seventy-one years of age. Her evidence might be supplied, but that of Mr. Neri certainly could not.

Bill read a third time and passed.