HL Deb 12 May 1853 vol 127 cc211-5

in rising to call the attention of the House to the fact that no answer had been given to the Message from the House of Commons, on the 14th April last, praying the House of Lords to agree to a joint Address to Her Majesty for a commission of inquiry respecting the Clitheroe election, said he was not influenced by any feeling towards the borough of Clitheroe, with which he had no connexion; but he hoped, by bringing this case before the House, he might be able to elicit some suggestion from some noble Lord which would enable the House to escape from the undesirable position in which it now stood towards the House of Commons in respect to this subject. He desired, therefore, to separate the merits of the Clitheroe election from that part of the question which simply referred to the position in which the House now stood. The circumstances of the case were these: An Election Committee was appointed on the 18th February, which sat for some days, and on the 28th February reported that Matthew Wilson, Esq. was not duly elected—that the election was void—that Matthew Wilson, Esq. had been by his agents guilty of bribery and treating at the last election, but it was not proved to the Committee that it had been with his knowledge or consent; the Committee further reported that extensive and systematic treating, together with other corrupt practices, had prevailed at the last election, and that the electors had been unduly influenced by intimidation. Upon the 14th of April, a Message was sent up to this House from the House of Commons, asking their Lordships to agree in a joint Address to the Crown. A conference was held, and a report was made to this House that the House of Commons had agreed to an Address. The Address to which their Lordships' concurrence was desired was worded in the usual way. But, as no Motion whatever was for some time made upon the subject, the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) opposite had put a question to the Government as to what were their intentions. The reply was, that the Government did not intend to take any steps on the subject. No Motion was therefore made, and they were in consequence put in this anomalous position, that a Message had come up to them from the House of Commons, to which no reply whatever was returned. Virtually this had the effect of preventing a writ from being issued, and it also indicated that their Lordships did not feel much inclined to concur in the Address. In other words, it showed that the House thought that an eletion for Clitheroe should take place, and yet had the effect of preventing any such election. The inconvenience of such a position was evident, as well as the absurd contradiction involved in it. He also thought that it was not treating the House of Commons with proper respect; some reply, at any rate, ought to be sent to the other House. The same thing might occur again and again, and the course they now adopted might be drawn into a precedent for the future. The words in which the report of the Committee was couched did not correspond with those in the Act of Parliament; and though, on a former occasion, when there was a variation in the words, they held that the Act had been virtually complied with, yet, in the present case, the difference appeared to him sufficiently wide to induce him, unless he was otherwise advised by those noble and learned Lords who could speak with more authority on the subject, to object to their Lordships agreeing to the Address of the other House. He should like to know from the Government what they intended to do with reference to the Address.


I think it is time that the House should come to some decision upon this question. Some time ago, a noble and learned Friend of mine on the other side of the House (Lord Lyndhurst), who has now left his place, asked me what my intentions were with respect to the Address on the subject of the borough of Clitheroe. I told him, in answer, that, though I had moved that your Lordships should agree to other addresses of a similar nature, which had been sent up from the House of Commons, it was not my intention to make any such Motion in reference to that Address; but, I said, it was of course competent for any other noble Lord to make such a Motion, if he thought proper to do so. I therefore waited to see if any noble Lord would move that the Address be agreed to. If I recollect right—but I may be mistaken—my noble and learned Friend gave some sort of intimation that he would not. I concluded, therefore, that it was not the wish or intention of any noble Lord to propose such a Motion. Under these circumstances, I felt it incumbent upon me to suggest a course for the adoption of your Lordships upon this subject; assuming, as I do, that your Lordships are disposed to agree in not adopting the Address of the House of Commons, the first consideration is, what is the most proper and suitable course for us to pursue, both with reference to this and to other cases of the like character. There are different ways in which we may not agree to this Address. The natural course would be, I think, to move that it be taken into consideration this day six months. That course we pursue with respect to all Bills sent up from the other House which do not meet with your Lordships' concurrence, leaving it to them to discover what your Lordships have done by searching the Journals of this House. That was considered the most constitutional mode of proceeding with reference to the other House. In former times, I believe, when your Lordships disagreed from a Bill sent up from the Commons, you did not move the reading of the Bill on a particular six months; but you rejected it absolutely, and it was in consequence of considering the former the most courteous mode that you adopted it. The other way your Lordships can proceed is by conference, at which you may state the reasons which have induced you to differ from the Address of the Commons; but I humbly recommend that the first course should be adopted in the present instance, and that you should agree to the Motion that the Address be considered this day six mouths. Then comes the question, if that Motion is agreed to, as I take for granted it will, is it proper or expedient to communicate it to the House of Commons, or to leave them to discover it by an inspection of your Lordships' Journals? I confess that upon this point I have no very decided opinion. On the whole, I should rather be disposed to adopt the first course, and to make no communication to the House of Commons, and to leave them to discover the mode in which your Lordships have dealt with this matter as they do when Bills are rejected by your Lordships. But, at the same time, if it be thought more respectful to the House of Commons to inform them what has taken place here, I have no objection to that being done. My opinion, however, is in the opposite direction, and I will, therefore, move a Resolution to this effect:— That the Address to Her Majesty, in relation to the borough of Clitheroe, agreed to by the Commons, and communicated to this House at a Conference on the 14th of April last, be taken into consideration this day six months. To that Resolution I have nothing further to add, except to say that I will not object to its being communicated to the House of Commons if any of your Lordships should so desire.


said, he had felt it his duty to read over the evidence in all these cases, and in the present one he considered it was quite impossible for their Lordships to agree with the House of Commons. There was, however, such a general agreement upon that point, that it was not necessary now to enter into any discussion upon it. He confessed it struck him as more respectful to the House of Commons to communicate their decision; but he was sure their Lordships would not object to any course which would be most agreeable to that House. There was this difficulty, however, that if they had a Conference with the House of Commons on the subject, they would create a precedent which might extend to other cases. He was very much inclined, so far as his own feelings were concerned, to adopt the Motion of the noble Earl at the head of the Government.


had communicated with some parties on the subject, and confessed he was inclined to think that they ought to take some steps to make their decision known to the other House. They must remember that this was a matter in which the liberties of the House of Commons were concerned. They had sent up a message desiring the concurrence of their Lordships in an Address for an inquiry into the practices at elections for the borough of Clitheroe. Their Lordships did not think it expedient to concur in that Address; but it was perfectly open to the House of Commons to adopt any other course which they might be disposed or think fit to take in regard to the borough. If they came to the conclusion not to join in the Address, he thought it would be desirable, in courtesy to the House of Commons, to communicate to them their determination.


said, he perfectly agreed with his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, as to communicating the Resolution just passed to the House of Commons. Of course, he presumed his noble Friend was the proper person to move for a communication.


said, as he had already intimated, he would acquiesce in a Motion for a communication if any noble Lord desired it. He would move the following Resolution:— That a Message be sent to the House of Commons, That this House, having considered the report of the Select Committee appointed to try a petition, complaining of an undue Election and Return for the borough of Clitheroe, and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the said Committee, together with the Proceedings of the said Committee, do not think it expedient to Address Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to cause Inquiry to be made pursuant to the Provisions of the Act 15 & 16 Vict, cap. 57.

On Question, agreed to,

House adjourned till To-morrow.