§ Sir R. Peel
moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Trial of Controverted Elections Bill.
Mr. S. O'Brien
said, that as he was opposed to the measure in toto, he thought it would be better to move that it be committed that day six months than to take the discussion on the amendment of the hon. Member for Worcester.
§ The Speaker
observed, that the hon. Member could not take this course until the amendment of which the hon. Member for Worcester had given notice was disposed of.
§ Colonel Davies
then, in pursuance of the notice which he had given, moved that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. He admitted that great evils arose from the present system, but he did not believe the measure under consideration would be an efficient remedy for the evils to which it was to be applied.
Sir G. Strickland
seconded the amendment, and said, that those who thought the new mode now proposed preferable to the old, would be disappointed in the result. They ought, however, to be much obliged to the right hon. Baronet for the pains he had been at on this difficult subject. This Bill originated in the accusations of corruption and perjury which had been brought against the Members of Election Committees. He knew that he should be accused of entering on a Quixotic expedition in endeavouring to defend the House against these accusations, but he really and decidedly was of opinion, that there was little ground for them. He thought the evil had arisen from the nearly equal division of parties in that House. The Members of committees were quite at sea with regard to the law on the subject, and counsel produced as precedents, the contradictory proceedings of former Committees. In whatever way an Election Committee was constituted, there would 577 be accusations brought against them, and those accusations proceeded from party feelings, and not from the constitution of the Committee. With respect to the Hull Election Committee, of which he had been chairman, and in which his conduct had been much calumniated, he could only say, that the Members of that Committee decided according to the best of their judgment; and although the hon. and learned Member for Ripon said, they were wrong with respect to the qualification of Mr. Wilberforce, yet he justified them in the course which they had taken when he admitted that the point constituted a difficult conveyancing question. He had been obliged every day to run down as fast as possible to the House immediately after the committee had broken up, in order to attend to some private business; and so far as the allegation went with respect to his going to Mr. Parkes's office, who was the agent for the petitioner, he would only say, that if that gentleman had an office, he was to that moment ignorant of where it was. He never had been in any house or office belonging to Mr. Parkes. It was quite evident that the accusations which were made with respect to the conduct of Members of committees were, generally, the resultof party feeling. They were invented in order that they might be afterwards bandied about for party purposes. He wished to impress upon the House, that in order to effect an improvement in the proceedings of committees, they should commence by clearing up the law, for a great part of the difficulty which the committees had to contend against, arose from the indefinite and uncertain state of the law He had always understood that the Reform Bill, by increasing the number of polling-places, had rendered it possible for each person who wanted to vote, to get to the poling-place without any inconvenience, and he consequently was under the impression that travelling expenses should not be allowed to voters; but committees had since decided, that voters might be allowed travelling expenses. The law upon this point ought to be rendered clear and explicit, so that there could be no misunderstanding with respect to it, and so that all committees would be enabled to come to the same decision as regarded the allowance of travelling expenses. If travelling expenses were allowed by law, he should say, that it was very difficult to draw a line between 578 those which were legal travelling expenses and those which went beyond that boundary. The best mode would be to allow a certain sum per mile, such as was now allowed to witnesses at assizes. There was another subject which required to be put beyond dispute, namely, allowing refreshments to electors when travelling? Was it bribery or not as the law at present stood? It was very difficult to decide as to what were reasonable refreshments, and when that boundary was exceeded. Those points ought to be cleared up, and the Legislature should commence by rendering the law which bore upon them definite, and not subject to be misunderstood.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
concurred in thinking with his right hon. Friend who brought in the bill, that it was calculated to produce most beneficial and advantageous effects. The hon. Baronet who had just sat down had stated, that the working of the committees depended in a great degree on the mode in which the law of Parliament was declared. A great many of the questions before the committees were so difficult, that much of the obloquy which was thrown upon them arose more from the difficulties attending those questions than from any perversion of the members of the committees. The hon. Baronet had referred to the Hull committee as an illustration of the difficulties to which Members who served on committees were subjected, and said, that he himself, as chairman of that committee, had been exposed to obloquy, because they had decided against Mr. Wilberforce's qualification, which had been a subject very difficult to decide upon. He fully agreed with the hon. Baronet as to the difficulty of the point, but be should say, that the majority of that committee had no doubt as to the qualification of Mr. Wilberforce, the only doubt being as to the freehold nature of the property. The hon. Baronet complained that he had been exposed to obloquy in consequence of representations which appeared in the public papers with respect to him as chairman of that committee, which attacks stated, that the hon. Baronet had been in communication with the agent for the petitioners; and he complained of having suffered much from those attacks. The hon. Baronet had thought it necessary to enter into a defence of himself against those attacks, and to state, that he never had spoken to the agent for 579 the petitioner. He had no doubt that the hon. Baronet had had no communication with the agent for the petitioner, but he could state, as one who took a great interest in the proceedings of that committee, who was frequent in his attendance during its sittings, and who had closely observed those proceedings, that the obloquy to which the hon. Baronet, as chairman, had been exposed, had not arisen from any supposition that he had spoken to the agent for the petitioner, but from the extraordinary and very strange decisions which that committee had come to. Although he had heard the whole of the evidence upon which those decisions were founded, it was impossible for him, who had not been sworn "to well and truly try," to say that the decisions to which the committee had come were not those which they had deemed just; but he could state, that he had heard them strongly objected to by several members of the bar who heard them. Those hon. Members who made such decisions had been sworn to discharge that duty impartially; it was impossible for him to search their hearts, and he did not mean to impugn them; but he stated what had been the opinion of the public with respect to them. He had seen the hon. Baronet opposite sitting as chairman of that committee—he had traced to him several double votes, for it was easy for any Member of that House, who took the trouble to inquire into it, to ascertain when the chairman gave a double vote; and, therefore, he should say, that there were some double votes given by the hon. Baronet opposite which excited great doubts in his mind upon the propriety of those decisions. The hon. Baronet had, during the proceedings of that committee, given ten double votes. There were upon the committee eight Members belonging to the hon. Baronet's side of the House, and only three belonging to the other, or opposition, side; but one of the eight was obliged to discontinue attendance in consequence of illness, and that left seven at one side and three at the other. Upon those ten occasions in which the chairman gave double votes, nine were decided in favour of the petitioner; and so strong were those decisions against the sitting Member, that the public press and many Members of that House as well as the public in general, expressed their astonishment at each decision. After the committee had sat forty days examining 580 the lists against the sitting Member, and when a majority of one had been declared in favour of the gentleman claiming the seat, when the lists of objections which the sitting Member had formed of persons objected to, who had voted for the petitioner was produced, it was declared invalid, in consequence of the frontispiece or heading of the schedule not having been signed correctly, as had been alleged. The hon. Baronet had given his vote against receiving the list of the objections as valid, because, in the frontispiece of the schedule the petitioner was called John instead of George, not withstanding the clerk of the House of Commons deposed, that, according to the custom of the house and the Act of Parliament, it was not invalidated in his opinion under the circumstances; notwithstanding that previous committees had decided that a clerical error did not render the list invalid, provided it did not alter the sense or tend to mislead the committee; and the clerk deposed, that it had not the slightest tendency to mislead. The committee divided upon that point; they were five to five, and the hon. Baronet gave his casting vote in favour of invalidating the list. Under all those circumstances, in eight other cases, the hon. Baronet had most astonishingly given his double vote in favour of the petitioner, for it had come to a casting vote in those cases, although there were seven members of the committee of the hon. Baronet's side, and but three at the other. Could he then, feeling as he did, remain silent with anything like fairness or manliness, when he heard the hon. Baronet get up and attempt to vindicate himself against what was not at all the gravamen of the charge? He had heard that vindication; he had heard the evidence upon which those decisions were made; and the hon. Baronet's conduct had been such that, if the bill of the right hon. Baronet near him should pass, and give him the power, he never should hear the name of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir G. Strickland) mentioned for the purpose of being appointed upon a committee of that House, without entering his protest against admitting him to serve upon such committee, and he should state to the House the reasons for so objecting. As he could not search the motives of the hon. Baronet, he should only state, that he heard members of the legal profession say, that those decisions were not 581 justified by the evidence, and he should, therefore, upon any future occasion (if he were permitted the power under that bill, or whatever bill might be passed into a law), when he heard the name of the hon. Baronet mentioned to act as judge or juror on a committee of that House, be should object to him as disqualified to serve, by his ignorance, by his incompetence, and his want of common sense. He did not intend to take any part in that debate, nor should he have done so, had not the hon. Baronet attempted to justify the decisions of a committee, which had done more to bring into disrepute committees for the trial of controverted elections than any other committee that ever sat. Whenever the hon. Baronet should be named to serve upon a committee, he should enter his protest against it for those reasons which he had stated.
Sir G. Strickland
wished to address a few words to the House in consequence of the observations of the hon. Member who had just sat down. If it were in accordance with the rules of the House that one hon. Member should accuse another of want of common sense, then he bowed with respect to its decision, and should not say a word more upon that subject. The hon. and gallant Member, gallant in attack, had made a most extraordinary accusation with respect to his having given many double votes. He did not know whether any hon. Gentlemen who had been Members of that committee were then in the House, but if there were any such present, he would appeal to them if he had not expressed the painful situation in which he was placed by an unwise provision of the Grenville Act, which compelled him to give double votes. The occasion of giving those double votes arose from one of the Members of the committee having been taken ill. In all those cases he had been compelled to give double votes, and he would ask, did the hon. and gallant Member opposite mean to prove his common sense by saying, that having given one vote he should stultify himself by giving the next vote the other way?
Mr. Vernon Smith
hoped this discussion would not degenerate into party topics under party feeling. He was not going to refer to any particular case, and therefore he hoped his rising would be an interruption to any other Gentleman getting up who might feel in the least disposes' to continue the discussion in the character it 582 had assumed. He did not intend to vote for the reference of this bill to a Select Committee. In general, when bills were referred to a Select Committee, it was for the purpose of making some great alteration, or overcoming some difficulty which was almost insuperable for the House, but which did not exist in this case. He should not propose to reject the bill, but reserve to himself the right to offer such objection to parts of it as might seem to him to be fit. His great objection to the principle of the bill was, that it appeared to him to proceed upon quite an erroneous supposition. The right hon. Baronet seemed to think that what was a good and salutary course to be adopted in a private case, would he a good and salutary course to be adopted also upon the trial of Election Committees in which he could not agree with the right hon. Bart. There was one grand distinction between the capacity of Members adjudicating on private bills, and on controverted elections. With regard to private bills, they might hope to select Gentlemen having no individual interest; but it was almost impossible to suppose that any Member of Parliament could go to an election tribunal with any thing like impartiality. He thought the more manly course would be, for the House to allow that it was unfair without sufficient cause to place men of honour in such a position as to make their motives suspected, and this objection applied as strongly to the bill now under consideration as to the plan at present pursued. The first difficulty of the present plan was the nomination of Members by the Speaker. He had no fear of any partial decision from the Chair, but he would ask how the Speaker was to proceed in this selection? If it was considered a high honour to be selected, what would be the feelings of those who were excluded, and who would consequently be considered neither so fit nor so honest as those who would be officially selected? If on the other hand it were considered a nuisance, he would beg the House to consider the canvassing that would take place to avoid being selected. How could the Speaker proceed in the selection of the six, except by choosing three from one side of the House and three from the other? and from the moment the committee was thus appointed, it would assume the shape of party, and to it, right or wrong, party decisions would he attributed. There was another difficulty; suppose men declined 583 to serve, the Speaker was to select another six, who might not meet with the confidence of the House, and give rise to discussions as to character, of the inconvenience of which they had had an example that evening. He did not think that any Member who might be so selected, would like, that a political opponent, under feelings of irritation, should get up and charge him with ignorance and want of common sense. The six thus appointed were to make choice of a seventh, but suppose they were equally divided, there was no method proposed of making them come to a choice; but even if they did make a choice, the same difficulties would arise in committee as arose at present. He felt extremely obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having turned his attention to this subject, but he thought it was impossible to attain the end proposed by any tribunal consisting of Members of that House. With regard to the objections which had been made to placing that power in the hands of persons out of the House, on the ground of such proceeding being unconstitutional, he regarded them as utterly chimerical; as in fact, under the present system, although the Members of Election Committees were Members of that House, they did not act in their representative capacity.
§ Sir Peel
begged to remind the Douse, before they entered into any discussion of the particular motion before them, that there were several propositions before the House. One was, the proposition under debate, namely, that the bill be referred to a select committee, and he must say, that that proposition had been supported in a speech which convinced him of the impropriety of sending a bill to a select committee. The effect of the proposition would, in fact, be to adjourn the question for six months. There was then a proposition for moving instructions to the committee for the purpose of appointing assessors, and establishing a court of appeal; and there was another proposition, that it should not go into a committee at all. Now, if all these were made matter for preliminary discussion previous to going into committee, they would make no advance that night. He thought it would be infinitely better, therefore, to debate each proposition separately, and so dispose of it. He suggested, that they had better refrain from discussing the general principles of the bill, and confine themselves 584 strictly to the first proposition, namely, whether or not they would send the bill to a select committee. His own opinion was, that they had better permit the bill to go through committee and be made as perfect as they could make it; and if then it did not give satisfaction, the hon. and gallant Member might give notice on the third reading that he would oppose the bill. He admitted the perfect right of hon. Members to discuss the principle of the bill now; but the question was, what course would be most convenient. He decidedly objected to referring the bill to a select committee. Let the House either permit the bill to go on, and to be made as perfect as possible, or extinguish it at once; but he decidedly objected to its being put to a slow and lingering death. There was nothing for a select committee to inquire into—nothing whatever. The question was quite ripe for the decision of the House of Commons. All were alive to the existing evils; there was not a second opinion upon the subject; and he was perfectly certain that the House of Commons would make no advance by sending the bill to a select committee. Whether they retained the present system, or framed a new one, it was of the utmost importance that the House should arrive at some legislative decision. It was absolutely necessary, at all events, that they should define what the law of Parliament really was. He regretted to say, that the House was too apt, when a subject of any importance was brought before them for discussion, to endeavour to get rid of the immediate difficulty, by referring the matter to a select committee. The time must come when the House of Commons must face the difficulty of considering what was the fitting jurisdiction for the trial of election petitions. However troublesome the question might be to a committee of the whole House, he was convinced that they would make no advance whatever by sending the bill to a committee up stairs. He had no party view in this matter, and had no right to say any thing of his personal wishes, but he hoped the House would relieve him from the anxiety of attending to this bill, and watching its progress for two months through a select committee. He should be perfectly satisfied with the decision of the House, as he was sure that decision would not be influenced by party feelings; and if the House determined, upon the 585 third reading, either to adopt some other principle, or to retain the present system, that should not in the slightest degree abate his acknowledgment for the manner in which his proposition had been treated.
§ Viscount Howick
said, he merely rose to express his concurrence in what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet. He certainly thought that they had better not enter upon the discussion of the general principle of the bill in that stage, but that that discussion should be postponed until they saw what the bill would really be. They had already had a discussion upon the general question whether they would retain the jurisdiction in the House or not, and the House had determined upon retaining the jurisdiction by a majority of three to one. As to the amendment of his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Liskeard, he thought that when the proper time arrived that that amendment ought to be engrafted on the bill.
said, that the motion before the House was for a select committee. Now those who were opposed to the principle of the bill were also opposed to this motion; and he did not, therefore, see how the inconvenience pointed out by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, could be cured by deciding on the motion. They could not decide upon the motion without discussing the principle of the bill.
§ Colonel Davies
did not wish to inconvenience the House, and would therefore consent to his motion being negatived.
§ Motion negatived.
§ The original question, that the house resolve itself into a committee on the bill, having been again put,
§ Mr. C. Buller
rose and said, Plat this was the time he believed for him to make the motion for an instruction to the committee, of which he had given notice. He did not know whether, in point of form, there could be any objection to his motion; but he hoped the House would allow him to state why he proposed his amendments in the shape of an instruction to the committee, and not as clauses of the bill. In the first place, when an amendment was proposed which went to make an important alteration, so as to give an entirely new character to the bill, he thought it ought to be proposed in some form in which it could be sufficiently discussed. He believed, according to the strict rule, that he could not bring the question before 586 the House in any shape except as an amendment. That part of his motion which applied to assessors might be moved in committee; but he did not see how it would be consistent with the bill to move in committee upon the bill a clause establishing a tribunal for appeals from the revising barristers. He had laboured much in this matter, but had abandoned his proposal in favour of that of the right lion Baronet. with great satisfaction; because, although he himself might feel some doubt as to which of the two plans was the better, he thought there was a great deal of merit in that of the right hon. Baronet; and at any rate the right hon. Baronet's proposal was much more likely to be carried than his; and as he sincerely believed that it was for the honour of the House, and for the interest of the community, that they should abandon the present vicious and disgraceful system, he was exceedingly glad to waive his plan in favour of that of the right hon. Baronet. He believed, however, that without the appointment of assessors, and of a tribunal of appeal, the plan proposed by the right hon. Baronet would do little towards removing the existing evils. There was one remark which he thought ought to be borne in mind by the House. A great deal was said about the character of this question, and the peculiar interests which Members of Parliament felt, owing to which, it was said, it was impossible to decide such questions fairly—
§ Sir J. Graham
rose to order. If there was one rule better established than another it was this, that in no case could an instruction to a committee be moved to do a thing which it was competent to the committee to do without an instruction. As he understood the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, it was to introduce clauses in committee which would enable the House to appoint assessors, and a tribunal of appeal. If the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman was strictly limited to that object, he conceived that there was nothing in the motion so worded that it was not competent for the committee to do without an instruction. In that case, therefore, it was clearly irregular to move an instruction. The only doubt arose from the additional object stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman—namely, that if the committee appointed assessors, they were to form a tribunal of appeal from the revising barristers. He concaved this was not necessary, and he 587 doubted if it was competent to the House to introduce such a proposition. He thought that such a proposition ought to form part of a registration bill.
§ Viscount Howick
said, that before he noticed the question of the right hon. Baronet he must take the liberty of observing, that the appointment of a court of appeal was necessarily and inevitably connected with the question of assessors, because he conceived that the House would never consent to the appointment of three Gentlemen with permanent salaries as assessors, if they did the mere duty of assessors in election committees; but if that duty were coupled with other duties which were extremely important, closely connected with their other duties, and which could be most advantageously discharged by such persons, namely, the duty of forming a court of appeal, deciding all disputed points of election law that came before the court of the registration barristers—if the two objects were combined, he did not despair of the House concurring in the appointment of assessors. It therefore appeared to him, that the question of a court of appeal was absolutely essential to the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard, and that he had a fair right to propose to incorporate it in this bill. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had himself stated, that he conceived clearly that the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard could not propose to introduce his proposition into the bill unless he was authorized to do so by an instruction to the committee; he thought, upon these grounds, that the instruction to the committee was a regular proceeding.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that it appeared to him that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Pembroke had given the very reason why it was necessary to move this instruction. The right hon. Baronet said, that the object of forming a court of appeal from the revising barristers was foreign to the title of the bill. Why, that was the very reason why the instruction was necessary. If it were germane to the title of the bill the instruction would not be necessary, but because it was foreign to the bill it was necessary.
§ The Speaker
said, that no rule of the House was more clear, and none which it was so important for many considerations that they should rigidly adhere to, as that what they could do in committee the House 588 should not do by way of instruction. If he looked to the title of the bill before the House, it was a bill to amend the jurisdiction of the House in the trial of controverted elections. The preamble of the bill said no more. The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard moved to provide for the appointment of permanent assessors to election committees. Now, this had a distinct reference to the jurisdiction in cases of controverted elections, and might be introduced into the bill in committee. But the hon. and learned Member had another object, namely, the establishment of a court of appeal from the revising barristers, composed of those assessors. The question was, whether in that stage of the business the House could assent to the adoption of such a proposition in the shape of an instruction to the committee. If the House would observe, it had been admitted on all hands that the first part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's motion might be disposed of in committee. Suppose the committee to concur in the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, it would then be for him, if he thought fit, to have a clause inserted in the bill, stating that the assessors should be converted into a court of appeal from the revising barristers. But the question was, what would be the proper time to make this motion, and whether it could be done in the shape of an instruction to the committee? He thought, unless it should appear clear to the House that the hon. and learned Member would not have an opportunity of submitting his proposition in its full extent to the committee, without a previous instruction, that they should hesitate before they departed from the recognized rule of not doing that by an instruction which a committee could do without it.
said it appeared to him undesirable to do out of committee what it was competent to do in committee. With respect to the application of this rule there was no difference whatever between committees of the whole House and committees above stairs. However, there were instances in which this rule had been departed from; but, as a general principle, he fully concurred that the rule ought to be rigidly adhered to unless on occasions of great importance. If anything was to be introduced into this bill which did not relate to the title of the bill it could only be done by instruction.
said, it appeared that 589 there was part of the motion which it was competent to move in committee, and part which it was not. He thought it a very inconvenient course that they should first go into committee and decide in part, and that the hon. Member should then move that the House resume, and ask for an instruction to enable him to move the other part of his amendment. He thought it would be much better to take the sense of the House upon the amendment.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer,
looking to the experience of late years, had observed that the practice of moving instructions had very much increased. He concurred in the inconvenience of doing by instruction that which which could not be done in committee. What he suggested was that the House should give the committee power of entertaining the question of a Court of Appeal—that they should go into the committee with this understanding; and when they came to the clauses of the bill to which this amendment was intended to be applied, he thought that they would have a much more effectual discussion than they were likely to have at present. He thought that they would discuss the question with more advantage in committee than they could now.
§ Mr. Bernal
said, he thought that his hon. and learned Friend could not pursue any other course on the present occasion; for, with due deference to the House, he submitted that the proposition which his hon. and learned Friend had in view could not be entertained in committee upon this bill, entitled as it was, without the sanction of a previous instruction from the House.
§ Sir G. Clerk
recommended that the hon. and learned Member should introduce in committee the simple point of the appointment of assessors, which required no previous instruction from the House; and then, if his proposition were therein agreed to, subsequently move that the bill be recommitted for the purpose of forming those assessors into a court of appeal. It appeared to him, however, that there was a more natural connection between his amendment and the bill for the registration of electors, which was in the hands of the noble Lord opposite, and was not likely to be proceeded with for some time. He thought it better that the hon. Member should consider the parts of his amendment separately.
§ Mr. C, Buller
thanked the hon. Baronet 590 for his suggestions that he should take the opportunity of withdrawing his amendment in the present bill, for the purpose of adding it to a bill which had no chance of passing. He would not act against the rules of the House; but when a bill was introduced for the trial of controverted elections, and when he thought be could propose a plan which he believed the most effectual to put an end to the evils of the present system, he felt that he was bound in logic as well as in fairness to propose that plan to the House as an addition to that bill. The bill proposed to introduce an improved plan for the trial of election petitions; and he proposed to determine the question before it came to the petitions, by allowing the disputed points to be settled by an appeal from the revising barristers. It seemed to him, as he had already stated, that it had often been thought better by the House to discuss large amendments on a bill in the shape of instructions to the committee than on separate clauses. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had himself taken this course when he moved an instruction to the committee to divide the Irish Corporation Bill into two parts. It was simply a question of the convenience of the House. Having two improvements to propose, which were naturally connected with each other, namely the appointment of assessors to Election Committees, and the creation of a Court of Appeal from the revising barristers, he thought it better that he should state his views on both questions together, and that the House should consider them together, than that the least important should be proposed first.
said, that there was one course he would suggest for the consideration of the hon. Member for Liskeard, and which would save the time of the House and answer the object the hon. Member had in view. He understood that in the proposition of the hon. Member there were two distinct points, one of which he would be able to move without an instruction, the second requiring an instruction. It appeared also that the second was contingent on the first. He saw considerable objection to a course which had been suggested—to re-considering the question in the House after the committee had come to a decision, and moving the re-committal of the bill. Would not the hon. Member be satisfied that, without any debate, the House should agree to give to the committee power to consider the question of establishing a tribunal of appeal? 591 This the House could do without being in any way pledged to the proposition of the hon. Member.
asked whether it would not be necessary for the hon. and learned Member to wait till all the original clauses of the bill were gone through, before he could propose any new clauses?
§ Mr. C. W. Wynn
apprehended that no new clauses could ever be introduced, for any one purpose or another, into a bill, until all the original clauses were gone through.
§ Viscount Howick
said, that if the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for the appointment of assessors were to be engrafted upon the bill, it would be necessary to alter the words of some of the earlier clauses of the bill, and therefore he thought it would be better to discuss the question whether that proposition was to be entertained or not, before they went into committee.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he had some embarrassment in expressing any opinion, as he was unwilling in any way to interfere with any course the hon. Member might propose to take. However, he did not think it would be fair were he to conceal the objections which he entertained, and which he meant to offer to the proposal of the hon. Member. It was certainly his intention to ask the House not to decide on that proposal until they had before them the details with which the hon. Member meant to carry out his proposition. He would ask the hon. Member to tell them by what mode he meant to carry his intentions into effect. It would be difficult to decide until they had before them the particulars of the hon. and learned Member's plan. The hon. and learned Member should in the first instance give the House some explanation upon these three points, namely, how he proposed the assessors to be appointed—by what tenure they were to hold their office—and what were the distinct powers, with which they were to be invested. Without this information he (Sir Robert Peel) should decline, and he should ask the House to refuse to give a vote at all to prejudice them upon an abstract proposition, whether assessors should be appointed or not.
§ Mr. F. Kelly
concurred in the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, and it appeared to him that every object would be obtained by taking that course. He agreed too in the obser- 592 vations of the right hon. Baronet. There were many persons who might be disposed to adopt the proposition of the hon. Member for Liskeard if they found it conformable to the bill of the right hon. Baronet.
§ The Attorney-General
concurred in the view of the subject taken by the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire. The suggestion of the noble Lord met all difficulties, and the course he recommended was the best that could be suggested. He should be anxious to hear all the details, and should look with some anxiety to the appointment of a learned and independent lawyer, whose opinion would be respected by the committees of the House. He saw no objection to entertaining the question in the committee, and to having the hon. Member for Liskeard's proposition fully considered.
§ Mr. C. Buller
said, he was almost at a loss to make out what the wish of the House was upon the present occasion. He was ready to consult the wishes of hon. Gentlemen as far as possible. With respect to the objection which had been thrown out by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, respecting the details of his proposition, he must say, that he certainly had not come down with the clauses prepared in his hand, but he could state their purport to the House, which he hoped would be sufficient. He was going on to state—when he was interrupted on a point of order, by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Pembroke—that in his opinion, there would be no use in altering the constitution of the committees by which election petitions were to be tried, so long as it was left to those committees to decide upon the legality of each individual vote concerned in the contested return, and to be found upon the poll. He thought that, constituted as political parties were in this country, and with the feelings which men must have, this was an authority which should not be intrusted to any set of men so interested in politics as Members of this House inevitably were. Whilst this power remained to the House, there were many cases, particularly where a large class of voters was concerned, in which the committee had the power of establishing which political party should have the ascendancy in the place concerned, and, as a necessary consequence, to a certain extent, who should be the Ministers of the Crown. This was holding out a premium and inducement to commit injustice, which he feared in most 593 cases it would be difficult to resist. He thought they would never have a fair decision upon the legality of votes, as long as that was a question to be decided after the votes were entered upon the poll, and their political tendency therefore clearly ascertained. He himself had, in his bill of last Session, proposed a plan for an appeal from the decisions of revising barristers by a tribunal, which was also to have the duty of deciding upon controverted elections; and the noble Lord the Member for Hertford had proposed a similar plan at the beginning of the present Session. Now the proposal for an appeal from the revising barristers' decisions appeared to him extremely simple, and one likely to be attended with little expense. It was proposed that the court of appeal should sit in London, and that the cases should be brought before it in the same way as was pursued in the Court of King's Bench in appeals from the quarter sessions upon points under the Poor-laws. He was opposed, however, to the proposal of the noble Lord to extend to this tribunal the authority of trying controverted elections, because he thought that that was a power which the House should never place out of its own hands. He recollected when first he brought the subject of election committees before the House, he thought he should not be tolerated when he sketched the character which he had to draw of the proceedings before these committees, and that he ran the risk of encountering strong opposition against anything which should at all impeach their conduct. But he must say, that he had not only been agreeably disappointed upon this head, but his fear was now very much the other way. He was actually startled at the way in which hon. Members had been pleased to run themselves down in the eyes of the country. It appeared now to be the opinion of many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, that not only were their decisions bad, but that their badness originated in a want of honesty and the spirit of truth in the composition of hon. Members themselves. Now, for his own part, he thought, upon the whole, that the Members of the House of Commons were as honest, taken one by one, as most other people in the community; and, taken only as a jury, he thought they would be as likely to find a just verdict upon any particular case as any jury formed from amongst the rest of the 594 community. He was inclined to think that it was not the class from which the present election committees were taken that was objectionable, but the mode in which they were constituted. He was quite satisfied that the Grenville Act was well calculated to work beneficially in quiet times, and that it deserved all the popularity which attended it for a considerable period after it passed; but it did not contain in itself the means of guarding against perversion of party strife. He did not know whether any plan that could be proposed would effectually and completely do so; but if he were asked to devise a plan for vitiating the justice of hon. Members, and casting an imputation on their honour, he could not choose one more suited to his object than that by which committees were now formed. The great evil of the present system, was the want of knowledge of law, which would qualify to pronounce a decision on the questions submitted to committees; and the greater still was the want of permanence in the tribunal; for in the first place, those who sat upon them were ignorant, and in the next place, the committees were always fluctuating, so as never to ensure any uniformity of opinion. It was above all of the greatest advantage that some appeal from the revising barristers should settle questions concerning the votes of the electors. Let the Courts of Westminster act without appeal for a period of fifty years, and their decisions would be a mass of confusion. All law was made up from the precedents established in former years. What was the practice at present before committees? A barrister on each side cited three or four cases (always to be found) in favour of his view; and a country gentleman unable to make up his mind as to which side was right very naturally voted with the friend or the party with whom he acted in the House. He owned he should, under such circumstances, take the same course, unless it could be proved to him that his determination would be unjust. Well, then, he thought that permanence in some part of the tribunal was absolutely necessary. Let there be a fluctuating committee of the right hon. Baronet's choice, but let there be one permanent Member who should have the advantage of experience, and of constantly deciding on a similar class of cases. He believed that the difficulty of deciding questions which came 595 under the jurisdiction of committees was much overrated. There might be some few cases requiring legal research, but six months' study would make any Member in that House sufficiently master of law to dispose of the great mass of cases submitted to committees. There were many Members in that House who had discharged the duties of chairmen of Quarter Sessions in a manner which redounded to their own reputation, and which contributed to the great benefit of the public. Now, to qualify themselves for that position, they must have acquired a greater knowledge of law than it would be necessary for them to have if called upon to decide the questions which came before election committees. What he proposed, then, was—that in each of the committees named according to the right hon. Gentleman's plan, there should be a permanent assessor. Here, however, a difficulty arose—what power were the assessors to have, and by whom were they to be appointed? It was a matter, too, of considerable importance to know from what class these assessors should be taken. The recommendation of the committee which sat upon this subject was, that a barrister should be appointed by a power in the House, to act as chairman of each committee, without being entitled to vote. He must confess that his own feeling was in favour of a proposition perfectly different; but the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and himself were the only Members of the committee of 1836 who thought that the best course, both on constitutional grounds and with reference to the ability of the person selected, would be to make a permanent chairman from the Members of the House. He took this view, he repeated, not only from a wish to adhere to constitutional principles, but because he was convinced that they could command a degree of ability amongst the Members of the House which they could not procure out of it, without giving a larger amount of remuneration than the House would be willing, or that it would be proper to apply to such a purpose. No doubt they could get the services of very eminent men out of the House, but not for the sum of 1,500l. or 2,000l. a-year, which was all that the House seemed willing to grant. He did not mean to say that they could not get gentlemen well qualified to discharge the duties of an assessor for that sum, but they would not have that weight in their 596 profession which would ensure deference from those who came before them. He thought it would be much better to combine the weight which a seat in that House would be sure to confer, with a degree of knowledge and experience which would be as extensive as any that could be obtained, in the case of a barrister willing to forego his professional emoluments for the sum which he had mentioned. However, he was willing to yield his own opinion to that of the committee, and agree to the appointment of barristers. Now, the first objection started to this proposal of the committee was, that if you give these assessors no vote they will have no weight. He confessed he could not see the force of that objection, because it appeared to him that their opinion would have the weight of a legal authority, whether it was accompanied by a vote or not. Now, as to the appointment and tenure of this office. The recommendation of the committee, brought about by an odd conflict of different opinions was, that the tenure of the office should be from Session to Session. He did not think this a point of very great importance; for he thought no barrister would have any fear of his re-election if he discharged his duties properly. He should propose, that the office should be held from Parliament to Parliament. Then came the difficult question of the appointment, and whether it should be vested in the Members of that House or in some persons out of it? There was a strong disinclination in the House to part with this power, and the only difficulty was, how the authority could be best exercised within the House? It was in every way objectionable, that the vote of the majority should decide on the appointment, first, because, in times of great excitement, the whole number might be named by the predominant party; and next because, when three parties were in the House (as in the first reformed Parliament), it was impossible to devise any plan by which each should have a fair share in the selection. The only course left, then, was to vest the appointment in the hands of some person in whom the House had confidence, and the choice naturally fell on the Speaker. Here it was suggested, that this proceeding would give the Speaker a political character, and expose him to censure, by being obliged to make a selection from some party. This difficulty was overcome by the re- 597 commendation of the committee, that the Speaker should nominate only the assessors, but, that the House should be empowered to reject or confirm his appointment. As, however, the right hon. Baronet gave the Committee of Selection large powers, why should they not be qualified to name permanent assessors? The House would, he thought, generally adopt the opinion of such an authorized body; or if they overrode their decision, it would only be in the case where they evidently acted from unfair and partial feelings. The right hon. Baronet's plan was useful as far as it went; but unless they secured an uniformity of decision, and appointed a tribunal of appeal from the revising barristers' court, which would adjudicate finally upon votes before they came to be a matter of interest with that House, they could effect very few useful alterations. There was one part of the right hon. Gentleman's proposition which he omitted to notice. He understood the right hon. Baronet to say, that as there were many eminent lawyers in the House, each committee might have the advantage of the advice of one. Now, in the first place they were not sufficiently numerous to admit of each committee being guided by one; and in the next place, if they were reserved for those committees only which had difficult questions submitted to them, they would have imposed on them additional labour, which would drive them from the House. It was true, that if lawyers of great practice entered that House, they were bound to take a fair share of the duties imposed on other Members. But the right hon. Baronet picked them out for extraordinary exertion solely on account of their eminence. And after all this plan would not provide for permanency in the decisions; because the eminent lawyer who directed the proceedings of one committee would have no control over another; and the only difference from the present proceedings would be to give birth to more sublimated crotchets than those which now confounded the minds of the unlearned. Now, provided they had permanent assessors, their decisions would be uniform, take them from what class they might. The clauses which he meant to submit were, with few exceptions, similar to those which were embodied in his bill of last Session. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving, that it be an instruction to the committee;—" To 598 provide for the appointment of permanent assessors to election committees; and for the establishment of a court of appeal from the revising barristers, composed of those assessors."
§ Mr. Greene
seconded the motion. He perfectly agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard in thinking that something of this description was absolutely necessary, because everybody who had ever sat upon an election committee must recollect the feeling of pain with which he had found himself called upon to decide a point of law, he himself knowing nothing whatever of law. It had been his fortune, he supposed, because committees were struck upon the principle of knocking the brains out, to be called upon to serve upon election committees, and he had felt the difficulty of deciding upon a point of law so strongly, that he had gone to his attorney, had a case stated for counsel's opinion, and had a consultation that night, in order to know what was the proper course to adopt. He did, in fact, what he would have done in his own private business—he got the best opinion he could, in order to guide his judgment. In one of these cases there was a difference of opinion between the counsel, and very eminent counsel the men were who were consulted. He was, therefore, convinced that it was extremely desirable to devise some means by which the law might be made definite and certain. The only way in which that could be done was by the decision of a court of justice. At present, with respect to all the legal questions which had arisen upon the construction of the Reform Bill, there was no rule by which a committee could decide, because the decision of committee A was as good as the decision of committee B, for aught he knew, and they were directly at variance. He believed that if they had the same assessors constantly sitting, although they might not be of the very highest rank in the profession, something like uniformity of decision would be secured, and under these circumstances he begged leave to second the motion.
§ Mr. Childers
was not in the habit of frequently addressing the House, and, therefore, he trusted that he should meet with some indulgence while he offered a few observations for its consideration. He should feel himself obliged to divide against the motion of the hon. and learned 599 Member for Liskeard, but he thought that the instruction which he intended himself to move would very nearly meet the views of the hon. and learned Member. The point to be ascertained was, whether they could obtain a permanent chairman amongst the Members of the House for each election committee, who would give it satisfaction. He thought that possible. He thought that six members of the House might be found who would be competent to act in that capacity. The plan, then, that he would suggest would be this: as soon as a new Parliament assembled, the chairman of ways and means should obtain in writing from each Member of Parliament the names of six Members who might, in his opinion, be the most fit to act as chairmen of election committees during that Parliament. The chairman of ways and means would then within fourteen days have to present to the Speaker a list containing the names of twelve Members who had the most votes. Out of these twelve the Speaker would appoint six to be chairmen of committees for that Parliament. If, however, there was an undue preponderance of Members of one political party in the House, the Speaker would have the power to return the lists, and order new lists to be prepared; and if there was the same objection to these, he would be authorized to form a list himself from the original lists as sent in by the Members, such list, however, to be subject to the approval of the House, and no Member to be inserted in it who had not at least fifty votes. The committee having been appointed, the Speaker would draw out of a glass a name out of the list of chairmen, and so on each committee being appointed, until all the chairmen had been drawn; after which they should be chairmen of the committees in rotation. The six chairmen, with the chairman of ways and means, would be a committee for the regulation of the trial of election petitions, of which committee the chairman of ways and means would be the standing chairman. This was the plan which he had to submit to the House.
§ Sir Robert Peel,
notwithstanding all that had been stated, still felt it advisable to adhere to the precept he had laid down at an early period of the evening, and should, therefore, confine his argument strictly to the question before the House. It might be exceedingly advisable to have 600 a committee of appeal from the decision of the revising barristers. The establishment of such a committee might be a great advantage, and a great improvement in his bill; he might agree with the hon. Member for Liskeard as to the benefits which would result from such a court of appeal; but it was not necessary that he should enter into the discussion of that proposition upon the present occasion; it was quite possible to have such a court of appeal without acceding to the hon. Gentleman's resolution. He had a strong objection to the form of the proceeding adopted by the hon. Gentleman; but he would not now say more with respect to it than that he had great doubt as to the success of it. It was a very easy way to escape from the necessity of bringing for ward a plan (the whole result of which must consist in its particular details), by asking the House to affirm a resolution in favour of a certain proposition. If the hon. Gentleman had submitted his plan in committee, he would have been compelled to describe the whole of the details by which he proposed to carry it into execution, and would thus have enabled the House to judge of its real merits: or, if he had proposed to bring in a bill in the ordinary mode of proceeding, where great legislative changes were contemplated, an opportunity would have been afforded for the description of it in a variety of stages; as, for instance, on the motion for the introduction, upon the second reading, in Committee, and again upon the third reading. These were the ordinary and more convenient courses of proceeding. But if the hon. Gentleman should obtain the assent of the House to a simple resolution, de Glaring that it was right that certain things should be done, without encumbering himself with the details by which those certain things were to be effected—if by this means he succeeded in shifting the responsibility of carrying out the proposition from his own shoulders to the shoulders of the House—it appeared to him that he would be establishing a very embarrassing system of legislation. He must therefore repeat the objection which he stated to the hon. Gentleman in the first instance, namely, that however desirable it might be that certain permanent officers should be appointed to assist the House in the performance of its duty, and however much disposed he might be inclined to accede 601 to such a proposition, the hon. Gentleman was nevertheless bound, before he asked his assent to it, to explain the details by which he proposed to carry it into execution. He could not think, that the House of Commons would, without further information, without knowing the exact number of these officers, and the precise amount of salary to be paid to them, affirm the proposition, that permanent assessors should be appointed. The hon. Gentleman, although not prepared with a clause, professed in some degree to go into detail, and with respect to the assessors, said he would propose that their number should be three. But how, without a more mature consideration than the discussion of this resolution could possibly afford, could the House determine, if assessors were to be appointed at all, that three would be the right number? One of the great difficulties in the way of the appointment of any number of assessors was this, that in the Session immediately succeeding a general election, they would have abundant duties to perform; whereas, in all the following Sessions of the same Parliament, they would have very little to engage their attention. This difficulty was in no way combated by the hon. Gentleman's proposition. By that proposition, the House was called upon to resolve that permanent officers should be appointed for the performance of certain duties, which certain duties would very rarely be required from them, except in the first Session after a general election. In all subsequent Sessions these officers would remain without any employment. In the first Session after a general election, there might possibly be twenty election committees; but in succeeding Sessions, the number would not, probably, exceed four or five. How, then, was the staff of assessors to be determined? Was it to be in proportion to the duties of the first year, or in proportion only to the inferior duties of succeeding years? The hon. Gentleman said, that he would find other duties for these assessors to perform. Then he begged to know distinctly what those duties were to be? The hon. Gentleman had not given the slightest indication of the mode in which he would provide for the excess of labour in the first Session, nor of the mode in which he would find employment for them when that Session came to a termination. He thought it would be admitted that it was necessary to proceed with the utmost rapidity in the 602 adjudication of election matters. When the right to a seat was disputed or denied, it was of the utmost importance that the decision with respect to it should be made with the greatest dispatch. The hon. Gentleman proposed to have three assessors. In March, 1838, there were eight Election committees sitting, and on an average of the whole of that month, there were never less than seven Election committees engaged in the prosecution of their inquiries. Was it unfair then, before he acceded to the hon. Gentleman's proposition, to ask how his three assessors would deal with seven committees sitting at the same time; and how, in subsequent years, they were to be employed, when no committees were sitting at all. If it were said, that the three permanent assessors should have extra aid in the first year after a general election, how was that aid to be afforded? Were the assessors to appoint deputies? If so, it might happen that the deputy would have more important duties to perform than the assessor himself. The Attorney-general, and the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Sir William Follett) might be upon the same committee; a grave and unexpected point of law might arise, upon which these two eminent authorities might entertain different opinions, and the deputy would have to decide between them. What a situation would that be for any but the very highest legal authority to be placed in. He begged it to be understood, that he was not objecting to the hon. Gentleman's plan; he merely wished to be placed in possession of the whole of the details, by which it was proposed to be carried into execution, before he was required to give his assent to its principle. If the points of law ordinarily submitted to election committees were such that any Member may become master of them in six months, as the hon. Member for Liskeard had asserted, it was still impossible to know how many Gentlemen would apply themselves to the acquirement of that branch of knowledge, and still more impossible to calculate how many of the number who had so applied themselves would be ballotted upon the committees where their services would be valuable. He did not think it would be fair to call upon the professional Members of the House to perform a greater share of duty than those who did not belong to the profession; although he had always been strongly of opinion, that if men of eminence in the 603 profession undertook the duty of Members of Parliament, they had a perfect right to call upon them for the performance of the ordinary duties of the House. For that reason he had always thought it exceedingly unfair that members of the bar should absent themselves from the House when a ballot took place, upon the plea of having professional duties to perform elsewhere. If they came voluntarily into Parliament, the House, in his opinion, was perfectly entitled to call upon them to serve on any one of those committees upon which the chances of the ballot might throw them. The hon. Gentleman's sole argument was this—that he would insure uniformity of decision, by having permanent assessors. It was true that he might insure uniformity of decisions amongst revising barristers; but as there was to be no court of appeal from the judgment of election committees, how was uniformity of decision to be insured amongst the six or seven Gentlemen who might preside over these committees. Supposing Members of the profession sitting upon different committees conscientiously differed upon points of law, what security was there that these committees would not come to totally different decisions? If there were an appeal from the election committees to the permanent assessors, there might be uniformity of decision, but the hon. Gentleman proposed no such thing—he merely proposed an appeal from the revising barristers to the assessors. The question really turned upon this: whether certain rules or laws were applicable to certain facts in all cases. He would take one instance. In the case of the Drogheda Election committee, a point of law arose which might never occur again.
§ Sir Robert Peel
could not help thinking that there was frequently such a slight variation of facts as to leave it open to doubt whether the same law, though admitted in principle, would be exactly applicable. The slightest variation of facts, oftentimes altered the whole application of the law. Take the case of Mr. Wilberforce, in the instance of the Hull election last year. A question was raised as to the validity of that gentleman's qualification. Men of the highest integrity, conscienti- 604 ously differed upon that point. He did not see, therefore, how, upon points of this kind, the appointment of assessors in the manner proposed by the hon. Member for Liskeard, would insure perfectly uniform, and perfectly satisfactory, decisions. If they could get rid of the influence of party feeling on election committees, he had a strong conviction that the number of election petitions would diminish. He thought much depended upon that. He thought when the proper time arrived, he should be able to show that the complexion of the Lords' committees, although composed of exactly the same materials, had been entirely altered, merely by selecting from the whole body of that House a few Members, investing them with a judicial character, and making them responsible. The Commons' committee upon private Bills had been attended with similar results. He hoped the House would recollect that what he proposed was merely a temporary measure. He proposed only the suspension of the existing for a certain time. He gave no decision against the proposal of the hon. Member for Liskeard. That proposal might at any time be engrafted upon his bill. But he earnestly entreated the House not to come suddenly to a determination upon the point. He entreated them to consider the whole question raised by the hon. Member for Liskeard, and not to be led away by any part of it. He asked them in common prudence, before they assented to it, to look upon it as a whole—to look at the number of' assessors, the duties they would have to perform, the mode of their removal and the mode of supplying their places in cases of sickness, and the whole tenure and nature of the office itself. He entreated the House not in this instance to depart from its ordinary mode of proceeding, but to enter unshackled and unfettered into the consideration of the Bill in committee.
§ Mr. Rich
adverted to the amendment he proposed to move in the event of Mr. C. Buller's suggestion being adopted by the House. He proposed to have three assessors, to whom all disputed questions before election committees, should be submitted in writing; that the assessors should give a distinct opinion thereupon separately or unanimously, also in writing; that the opinion so received, should be sent back to the chairman of the committee; that the chairman should read it publicly; that it 605 should then be entered fully and entirely on the proceedings of the committee, and that then, and not till then, the committee should have power to re-consider and modify their opinion. The proposition of the right hon. Baronet provided no security against the decision of a bad committee. Although the number of such committees might be few, yet the occurrence of error without a remedy, would be fatal to the general effect of the measure. For this reason he hoped the House would listen to the arguments of the hon. Member for Liskeard, and consent to the appointment of assessors. The legal knowledge of the assessors would have its weight, not only with the House, but with all election committees, and would lead to wiser and more clear proceedings, and to more just results. An evil-disposed committee might refuse to attend to the suggestions or opinions of one assessor; but if a disputed point were referred not to one assessor, but to a Court of Assessors, he thought that even the most wrong-headed committee would pause before they resisted the opinion of such a body. If they were to act in opposition to the written opinion of the court of assessors, that opinion would become a permanent record against them. By this means that uniformity of decision which the right hon. Baronet said, could not be obtained, would, he thought, be secured. By the establishment of a court of assessors, the House would secure the following advantages—first, protection to the opinions of a minority; second, uniformity of proceeding; third, the prevention of evil decisions growing into evil precedents, and fourth, uniformity of decision amongst the assessors themselves. He trusted, therefore, that the House would pause before it rejected the proposition of appointing assessors.
§ Mr. Warburton
thought, that the great objection to the plan of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) was, that he had taken no means to secure uniformity of decisions. When the right hon. Baronet talked of seven or eight election committees, sitting at the same time, he forgot how much uniformity of decision would tend to diminish the number of such committees. He thought that his hon. Friend (Mr. C. Buller) in making the Court of Appeal and the Court of Assessors consist of the same individuals, was adopting a very obvious and reasonable 606 expedient for securing uniformity of decision. The right hon. Baronet asked what employment would be given to these gentlemen after the first year succeeding to a general election. If the House would only adhere to the principle it once recognised, that there should be a system of registration of Parliamentary voters extending throughout the whole year, sufficient occupation would be given to the assessors to determine the appeals, which would be constantly made to them from the revising barristers.
§ Lord J. Russell
was understood to say,—If I am positively obliged to state my opinion as to whether or not the assessors proposed in the instruction should be appointed, I must pronounce it in favour of the proposition and their appointment. But, notwithstanding this, I feel that there is considerable force in the objection of the right hon. Baronet opposite to the form of the proposition, and that, in consequence, I cannot give it altogether my sanction. When the clauses for the appointment of assessors come before the House in the regular mariner, there may be so many difficulties created by the adoption of this proposition, that the committee may feel itself obliged to abandon them altogether. I am very unwilling, therefore, entertaining as I do this opinion, that the House should be committed to any particular course in respect to the question, by the adoption of the hon. Member's instruction to the committee. For if the proposition of my hon. Friend be adopted, the House will be obliged to take means to appoint these assessors in conformity with the instruction to the committee, which would be very inconvenient, to say the least of it, if not unfair. Under these circumstances, I certainly should much rather my hon. Friend would not persist in calling for the opinion of the House on the question of assessors in the present form; but that he should frame clauses to that effect, and propose them for introduction in the Bill in committee, first having them printed, that the House may be enabled to come to a more clear decision on the subject. If he does that, we shall then go into committee with some distinct idea on the question. As I should be very sore y to vote for the proposition of my hon. Friend as it now stands, or to assent to the instruction he proposes in its present form, I hope, therefore, that he will not hesitate to withdraw it.
§ Sir J. Graham
was glad to find the noble Lord took such a different and desirable view of the question from his colleagues on his right and left. He was the more gratified with the view taken by the noble Lord, as it would infallibly tend to the safe and effective transaction of the business on hand. If the forms of the House had been strictly adhered to in the onset of that debate, all the discussion which had ensued, would have been avoided. It was competent to the hon. Member for Liskeard to move clauses appointing these assessors in the committee; but it was also necessary that he should detail his whole plan in doing so. Not to have done this, was the defect of the hon. Member's present proposition. He rejoiced that the high authority of the noble Lord opposite, had been added to that of the Speaker on the question at issue; and he trusted, that the conjunct opposition they gave it, would prove a salutary lesson to the House in regard to the necessity of maintaining all existing forms in its proceedings.
§ Mr. C. Buller
certainly was not aware of all the objections which the ingenuity of the right hon. Baronet would raise against his proposition. He now perceived that the House must have the whole details of his plan before it prior to a satisfactory discussion of it. He was not sorry, however, that he had been the means of raising this preliminary debate. He trusted that the House would allow him to press the latter part of the amendment, otherwise he should feel himself under the unpleasant necessity of submitting the same proposition again. He begged, then, to move that the committee have power to provide for the establishment of a court of appeal from the revising barristers.
§ Motion agreed to; original motion that the House resolve itself into committee again put.
Mr. S. O'Brien
rose to move an amendment: he said, that as there would be no other opportunity afforded to those who, like himself, objected altogether to the measure, he trusted the House would allow him to offer a few observations in objecttion to the general principle of the bill. That principle was the substitution of selection instead of chance in the formation of a committee. In his opinion the plan proposed would only have the effect of aggravating the evils at present complained of. The chief objection to the 608 existing system was the partiality of the tribunal, the want of legal knowledge, the want of uniformity in its decisions, and the great expense and delay incurred in its proceedings. In what manner was it proposed to obviate the first objection? The Speaker was to have the power of nominating a general committee; but after a general election there would always exist too great a spirit of party to admit of the House electing a Speaker who would be able impartially to nominate a general committee. Here, then, at the very threshold of the proposed scheme, the object sought after would be frustrated. The Speaker might select six Gentlemen for the general committee, who, without exposing the Speaker to any particular obloquy out of doors, might have the power to give a complete party character to all the decisions of the special committees to be nominated by them. He would suppose the case of an impartial Speaker, and one who had every disposition to do justice, wishing to avoid the imputation or suspicion of partiality, selecting three Gentlemen from each side of the House, to constitute the general committee; well, that committee would have to select a special committee. Now, although the general committee might consist of three Gentlemen of each side of the House—yet, the seventh, the chairman, to be choson by the six, still remained to be nominated. From what side of the House was he to come? Was it not obvious that to whatever party he should happen to belong, by his vote the general committee would have the power of selecting a special committee in accordance with the views of that party? The proposed scheme, therefore, would not insure impartiality, neither would it secure legal competency in the tribunal, nor would the plan of the right hon. Gentleman be the means of obtaining an uniformity in the decisions of the committees. It would still leave it open, as at present, to the committees, to give different decisions upon the same question. He could not help thinking that the plan which he himself proposed last year, would have obtained all the objects required—an impartial tribunal, competent legal knowledge, uniformity of decision, and a great diminution of expense and delay. The House, however, having determined to retain to itself the determination of these questions, by referring them to a tribunal, consisting of Members of Parliament, of 609 course, they had nothing more to do than to consider how they could best carry out that object. There were two projects before the House:—the one, that of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, which came before them with the sanction of a select committee of the House; and the other, that proposed by the right hon. baronet, the Member for Tamworth. On comparing the two plans, he could not help thinking, that the right hon. Baronet would have done better to have made, as the basis of legislation, the bill which came to the House recommended by a select committee. With respect to the effect of appointing legal assessors, he was of opinion that it would produce too much, rather than too little, tendency on the part of individual Members to yield to that authority. He should like to see competent persons appointed assessors, who, during those intervals when unemployed on election committees, might be very usefully engaged in codifying and simplifying the laws of the country. He could not allow this bill to go into committee without briefly stating his objections to it, which were all sufficient to convince him, that they had much better remain where they were, than adopt an expedient which was not reform. In this case, the change proposed was not reform; he, therefore, begged to move, as an amendment, "that the House resolve itself into committee this day six months."
seconded the amendment, and said, that he objected to the principle of the proposed measure. In the first place, he thought the bill was brought in prematurely; and that a previous Question ought to be settled. Before they attempted to amend the tribunal itself, the natural course would be to amend the law as to the matters which were to come before that tribunal. It seemed to him idle to constitute a tribunal, if the law was bad relating to the matters which came before it. By amending the law, they would be better able to decide what the nature of the tribunal ought to be. But while they had a variety of franchises, complicated clauses respecting registration, and the whole of those multitudinous objections which had been made on election committees, referring more particularly to Ireland, all existing, he thought they would be acting like the philosopher in Gulliver's island of Laputa, who erected the roof of his house before he built up 610 the walls, if they proceeded to constitute a tribunal before they determined what the law should be which it would have to administer. His first objection therefore was, that the measure was premature; the next objection he entertained against it, upon principle, was, that it furnished no disinterested legal assistance to the committees; but his great objection to the whole scheme was, that they called upon country Gentlemen to decide upon matters of law. The right hon. Gentleman brought in this bill with the fixed determination to resist the appointment of any legal assessor, still the right hon. Gentleman felt it was necessary that something ought to be done, and he therefore actually suggested that some eminent lawyer should be one of the seven who were to constitute the select committee. But was that the kind of assistance which the committee ought to have? Ought any eminent lawyer to be required to expose himself to the calumnies that might be poured out upon him whenever he decided in favour of his own party? They ought to remember that political lawyers had the greatest prizes within their reach; and that an adverse decision on one single question might prevent a gentleman of that profession becoming Lord Chancellor, or Lord Chief Justice. No doubt it would be very right to take his judgment as a criterion, in so far as he was a lawyer, but they ought not to forget that he was also a man. And was it right, he asked, to place him in such a situation of temptation? His principal objection, however, as he had already stated, was, that according to the provisions of this bill there were not materials to make a proper tribunal to decide the questions that would come before them. The Members of that House were not competent to form such a tribunal. They must go outside of the House to obtain fit materials. It was of no use to talk to him about constitutional principles, when he showed the evils that were at the present moment in operation. No matter what the character of the individuals might be, forming these committees, its Members were open to constant reproach from both sides of the House. The whole system was cried out against as being monstrous. What did that prove? Why, that the materials out of which the committees were composed were objectionable. How happened it so? Because they were all interested parties; they were partizans on 611 both sides of the House. Therefore it was, that having that bias on their minds, they ought not to be placed in such a state of temptation, as that of having on the one band an oath administered to them to do justice, and on the other, the feelings of partizans tempting them to augment their own numbers, and to diminish those of the opposite side. How were they to apply a remedy? The right hon. Baronet proposed to give the power of decision to the same individuals as had been declared unfit to form such a tribunal; the only difference was to be in the mode of selection. Chance might be fair and just; at any rate, it could make no impartialities; but he impugned the bill of the right hon. Baronet because it gave rise to partialities. He would not refer to the present Speaker, for to praise him would be unseemly—blame him he could not; but the Chair had not been always thus filled. The highest officer in that House ought to be free from partiality, and they should not give him any temptation to be otherwise. Suppose he should be impartial, and yet subject to that infirmity of little minds, of fearing to be thought to favour his own party, and thus becoming partial against his own friends; and they ought not to place the Speaker of that House in such a situation. By the right hon. Baronet's bill they would compel the Speaker to make a choice, and then the House was to challenge it. They could not attempt to do this without setting out with an impeachment of the integrity of the Speaker, and entering into an indecent squabble between the Speaker on the one hand and the House on the other. It would be a pleasant scene for each individual of the six named to have every vote he had ever given, and perhaps every action of his life, canvassed in the House. The right hon. Baronet's bill opened all that. Then there were not to be any oaths. The complaint now was, that the tribunal was partial when they had oaths, and yet they were to take the members of the new tribunal on their honour alone. Would the members of the new committee have less interest in the issue? Were they to be unanimous in the selection of the seventh member? If they were to divide three and three, they could make no selection, and would have to come to the House. Then it was proposed that they should have panels, and that the different committees should be taken from separate panels; but what check would 612 this give to partizanship? Then there was to be the remedy of challenging the seventh, and there would be again a squabble something worse than the former. There would be unseemly personal conflicts in every stage. And what was the reason? That they had too much personal interest. It was said of jurors, that they should stand indifferent as they stood unsworn; but would any one say of the Members at the Table, that they stood indifferent as they stood unsworn? Why, any twenty Gentlemen in that House, as any twenty gentlemen out of the House, would be swayed by their passions and their interests. They ought to find a tribunal out of that House. Let them superintend its proceedings—let them watch it—let there be a trial in the presence of a committee appointed by themselves, and then let this committee report their proceedings to the House. They were told that jurors would be inflamed, and that they would become partizans; but the same was the case with the present tribunal. This was not his (Mr. O'Connell's) calumny —it was shown upon their own confession that they could not do justice; it was shown by the Members that thronged both sides of the House on the occasion of a ballot—it was shown in the excitement of the party that gained seven Members to four; it was stated in the newspapers—it was proclaimed trumpet-tongued throughout the land—the very bill before them proclaimed it; and to meet these evils, let them not swear to act impartially, when they knew that bias would drive them to do the contrary. He therefore hoped that the House would hesitate before they went on with this bill, without taking the preliminary step of bringing in a measure by which the matters to be tried should be defined by a distinct bill, and till such a step had been taken, no measure of this kind should be tolerated.
defended the conduct of the Committee in the Belfast case, and declared, that every opportunity was afforded to the sitting Members to impugn the petitioner's qualification.
§ Mr. E. Tennent
said, that as he had been directly alluded to by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, he was anxious to offer the earliest reply to his observations. He had felt on the occasion of the late Committee which had sat upon his election, the annoyance which any Gentleman must feel of having his private 613 transactions dragged before a public tribunal, but, above all, the annoyance of having them most wantonly misrepresented. From an anxiety to do away with these misrepresentations, he had given a notice of his intention to move for the printing and publication of the entire evidence taken before the Belfast committee, which would have been the only triumphant answer; but the Speaker would attest for him that it was only an intimation from him (the Speaker) that, unless he meant to ground a legislative motion upon it, the House, consistently with the regulations of the committee on printed notices, could not accede to that motion, on which he of course withdrew it. It was notorious, that had it not been for the technicalities by which the law of qualifications was then beset in Ireland, but which were now altogether removed, and which required either a fee simple or a freehold estate for life of the Member himself, rejecting his interest in estates for other lives, no question could ever have been raised, either as to his own qualification, or that of his hon. Friend and Colleague. And what was the fact as to the particular point selected by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, who stated, that he (Mr. E. Tennent) had, three days before the election, granted to his own agent a lease of lands, producing but 30l., at a rent of 1501.? So far from the lands producing but 30l., they produced nearer 90l. So far from the lease being arranged three days before the Committee sat, it was proved in evidence, that it had been promised three years before; and so far from its being for 150l., it was for 200l. a year, and he had very recently signed the receipt for the last half years' rent, and the property, at the expiration of the present lives, would so far increase in value above the sum paid under the present lease, that his tenant was actually making roads through the property, and preparing it for building and other improvements. As the charge of the hon. and learned Gentleman went to affect his personal integrity, he trusted he had afforded to the House an ample refutal of it.
§ Sir Walter James
concurred in the propriety of the Bill, though he thought, that it might be extended so as to include the decisions on the rejection of the lists from imperfect headings, as had occurred in the Hull case, and to regulate the order in which the allegations in a petition, especially with reference to bribery, should be 614 proceeded with. The enormous evils of the present system were well pointed out in a pamphlet published by an hon. Friend of his, his late colleague, who showed, that in the Hull Committee, where the numbers were eight to three, the decisions were as seventy in favour of the majority, to thirteen for the opposite party; and that, in the Roxburgh case, twenty-seven decisions were given for the majority, and only four in favour of the petitioner. Whether they took Conservatives, Whigs, or Radicals, mixed or alone, they could expect nothing under the present system but unjust and party decisions.
Sir George Strickland
said, in reference to the few observations of the hon. Member opposite, he could not coincide with him that the law should be cleared up before they could, by any Act, establish a satisfactory election committee. The hon. Member proposed first to clear up the law, and then to establish a general tribunal; but, in his opinion, the other mode would be more satisfactory; for he thought, that if they established a tribunal which would give uniform decisions without going into the law, there was no doubt the law itself would he soon brought to a satisfactory state. The observations of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down had been made in a fair and conciliatory spirit, though possibly this might be partly attributed to the fact, that the hon. Baronet had been himself seated by the decisions of the Committee to which he had referred. As to the heading question of the lists, as it seemed likely to mislead the parties, he had considered the defect important, and had rejected one list, but the hon. Baronet had forgotten that another list, which had a like defect, had been also rejected, and that this told in favour of himself. The second decision on a similar point was, therefore, in favour of the other party, and it was in perfect consistency with the principle of the first decision. In the opinion (continued the hon. Baronet) which the hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir H. Hardinge) has expressed relative to that Committee, he has shown such ignorance, and such a want of common sense, that he, at least, is perfectly disqualified from ever sitting in any judicial capacity. I think, Sir, that if the right hon. and gallant Baronet by his cheering the hon. and learned Member for Dublin means to impute any dishonourable motive to myself as to my conduct on that Committee, I have a right to demand an explanation from him in this 615 particular. Although my own impression is that he, in some degree, qualified his observations by saying, that he would not impute to me any direct corruption, and that he could not look into a man's heart, yet if the right hon. and gallant Baronet should be named on any committee, I shall protest against his sitting upon it. And I feel that I have a right to say that, as he has imputed dishonourable conduct to me, I have a right to require an explanation from the right hon. and gallant Baronet of the expressions which he has used.
§ Mr. Sergeant Wilde
said, that it had been suggested that this bill would not be effective; and next, that it was out of time. It was impossible for any Parliamentary jurisdiction to be made perfect; but after the condemnation that had been passed on the present tribunals, it was their imperative duty to supply a remedy. It had been suggested, that the remedy for the defects of that system must be sought for, not in that House, but out of that House. Now, he considered it to be absolutely necessary, that the House should always preserve its jurisdiction over the elective franchise, by which it was itself constituted. That was an inheritance which they had received from their ancestors, somewhat impaired, but which it was their bounden duty to protect from further injury. When the hon. and learned Member for Dublin proposed, that the jurisdiction over election petitions should be fixed out of the House, he had forgotten his usual circumspection, and had not considered what sort of a tribunal he would be erecting in lieu of the present. How long was the jury to sit on that tribunal? How long were tradesmen to be dragged from their ordinary avocations to act on such a jury? How were other causes to be disposed of in Westminster-hall whilst the election petitions were under consideration? Was he prepared to submit the witnesses in support of election petitions to all the rules of evidence at common law, and to neglect all the Parliamentary law on that point? One good objection to any law was enough; and the objection to the hon. and learned Member's proposed law only was, that in operation it would be found impossible. He admitted, that it was possible to bring persons paid for such a duty into the House to decide on these questions; but, he believed, that they had as much intelligence and integrity in that House as could be found out of it, and 616 that it was a mistake to suppose that party feelings and political prejudices were confined within the doors of that House. They would have the same passions in the tribunals selected out of the House as they now found in the tribunals appointed within the House. But it was said, that the jurisdiction could not remain in its present position. If so, the question to be considered was simply this:—"Is this bill of such a shape as to deserve the consideration of this committee?" Some persons seemed to imagine, that certainty and uniformity of decision would be obtained by referring election petitions to a legal tribunal. But Westminster-hall had been in existence some centuries, and it might have been expected, that certainty of decision would, by this time, have been attained in some department of law. He was, however, afraid that there was not one department which was not the subject of many doubts, and, he apprehended, that it was a mistake to suppose we should ever get rid of the numerous legal doubts attendant upon a branch of law so intricate as that of contested elections. Those doubts were, by no means, the only or the chief causes of the want of uniformity in the decisions of election committees, and the bill of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was calculated to produce such a reasonableness in the decisions, that the object of certainty would, in a great measure, be attained; for, after all, the great reason of the uncertainty which at present prevailed, was the speculation upon the political bias of the members of the committees. The sole question, then, appeared to be whether the bill, which was now only tendered to the House as an experiment, presented a reasonable prospect of being successful, or, at all events, whether, with such alterations as it would be competent for any hon. Member to propose in committee it did not present such a prospect. For instance, what was there to prevent any hon. Member, if he thought proper, from proposing the appointment of permanent chairmen of the select committees, who should be Members of that House? If such a proposal were adopted, the Gentlemen who would be appointed to fill those situations would, no doubt, communicate with one another on every great question of election law as it came before them, it would become the subject of discussion among them, and this would tend very much to procure an uniform series of decisions, 617 These hon. Members would, in reality, under another name, be the assessors who were proposed to be established by some hon. Members. He repeated, that the only question was, whether upon a subject upon which the House must legislate as one, in its present condition, full of uncertainty and evil, the House ought riot to adopt the present bill, so far, at least, as to go into committee upon it. At present, they had committees appointed by chance, and it was quite a mistake to suppose, that the same Members who now composed the committees would act as they now did if they were appointed in a different manner. If, instead of being selected by hazard, the House chose them from a confidence in their integrity, and expressly placed its trust in their impartiality, they would proceed to the fulfilment of their duty with a very different sense of their responsibility, and their decisions would be looked upon in a very different manner. Systems might be varied as much as they pleased, but depend upon it a great deal more depended on the way in which the system was administered, than upon the nature of the system itself. He should, therefore, go into committee upon this bill, because he thought, that with the improvements which might be then made in its provisions, it would procure, if not an entirely satisfactory jurisdiction, at all events one which afforded a more reasonable chance of success than any which had been hitherto proposed.
§ Mr. Langdale
would not have risen had it not been for the very strong observations that had been used by the right hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Sir H. Hardinge) in regard to the conduct of his hon. Friend, the Member for Yorkshire. He had not been present at the time when the hon. and gallant Officer had used the language in question, but he understood it was of the strongest nature. He wished, therefore, to ask the right hon. and gallant Officer whether it was to be understood, that he meant to impute dishonourable motives to his hon. Friend. It was to ask for that explanation that he rose on that occasion, and to state, that he looked for an explanation from the hon. and gallant Officer.—[No answer was made to this appeal.]
§ Viscount Mahon
would confine his observations to a very few words. He adhered to the opinion which he had expressed fully on a previous occasion, that the House never would dispense substantial justice on this trial of controverted 618 elections, until they parted with their present jurisdiction. But the House, having decided against that opinion, he did not mean to offer any obstacles to the bill of the right hon. Baronet. He was anxious to see it fairly discussed, and thought it incumbent on those who maintained with him that the House should depart from its jurisdiction to give the experimental bill then before them every assistance, and to do their utmost to make it perfect. With this view, therefore, if the hon. Member for Limerick should press his amendment, he should vote against it.
§ Sir Robert Peel
wished to make a few observations on the principal speech by which this bill had been opposed—that of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. The bill proceeded on the assumption, that the great majority of the House was in favour of trying any experiment that presented a rational hope of success before parting with the jurisdiction over contested elections which they had so long possessed. That question, he thought, bad been disposed of the other night, when his noble Friend, having taken the sense of the House on the question whether they should abandon their jurisdiction or not, a decision in the negative had been passed by a majority of nearly three to one. The question then was, if the present jurisdiction were to be retained, whether it should be retained in its present form. He (Sir R. Peel) proposed to retain the present jurisdiction in the hands of the House, substituting the principle of selection for chance. The bill might be very defective in its provisions, but such frivolous objections as had been urged against it by the hon. and learned Gentleman it had never been his lot to hear. The first point noticeable in these objections was, that because you had not defined the law, therefore you must not improve the jurisdiction. But the question of jurisdiction was perfectly distinct from the question of law. Whether the law were allowed to continue in its present defective state or were improved, surely no one could doubt that the better the tribunal was which administered that perfect or imperfect law, the greater was the chance of justice. If he had proposed to amend the law and leave the jurisdiction as it was, the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been the first man to attack this course, and would certainly have argued against it with greater force than he had now done against his (Sir R. Peel's) proposal to improve the 619 tribunal. The hon. and learned Member had spoken of the defects of the present system, had complained of the custom of issuing notices, of inviting members to attend, of meeting in strong musters of the various parties, and of the cheers of triumph which greeted the predominance of either in the composition of the Committee. He meant to remove all these evils by his plan, but the hon. and learned Member proposed, that all existing evils should be retained, that the summonses, the party meetings, and the party cheers of triumph, should continue unaltered, till the house had made up their minds to change the existing law of elections. Why, suppose a motion were made to alter the law as to opening the Irish registry. He thought, the House would hardly agree to a proposal of that kind; and yet the hon. and learned Member would have them retain the present faulty tribunal, until their minds were made up on all the litigated questions of election law. The hon. and learned Member's objections might have been made in committee, and the hon. Member would have seen that if he had read the bill; but the hon. Member had not read the bill, and proceeded to condemn the measure, on the second reading, on a totally erroneous assumption of what it contained. The first objection was one which, if really applicable to the bill, might easily have been obviated in committee: that was, that the committee of six appointed by the Speaker, were not to take an oath. If that objection really lay against the bill, he would have been surprised that it should be pressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, whom, only three weeks ago, he had heard pronouncing it absurd to attach any sanctity to an oath that did not belong to an assertion, and asking how, if a man were disbelieved on his word, he could possibly be believed en his oath. The objection came, therefore, rather oddly from the hon. and learned Gentleman. But it was totally inapplicable to the bill, for, by the 31st Clause, it Was provided, that after the committee are met, and come into the place appointed by the Speaker, no member appointed to be of the general committee of selection shall act on such committee until he shall have been sworn at the table of the House by the clerk truly and faithfully to perform the duties belonging to a member of the said committee without fear or favour, to the best of his judgment. He thought, this was a tolerably satisfactory answer to 620 the objection, and conclusively showed that no such enormity as was apprehended by the hon. and learned Member could be charged against the bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman next objected, that the committee of selection might be challenged, and that a contest might take place at the first stage in the nomination of the Speaker. He (Sir R. Peel) did not agree that there was any such necessity. If the principle of selection were to be adopted, then they must determine the authority who was to select. If they lodged that power in the hands of Government, there would be no selection at all; they could not leave it to the blind determination of chance. The best course, therefore, evidently was, to intrust it to some party of members who, from their own character, and from the equal balance of political opinion preserved among them, might have as great a claim on public confidence as the committee could have. He was quite certain, that the last thing thought of by any Speaker would be the injustice of attempting to gain some advantage to his own party, by abusing the power of nomination intrusted by the bill. However strong might be the party opinions of any Speaker, still an individual filling that office had a much greater interest in maintaining his own character in the eyes of the world, by making the best nomination in his power, than he could have in perverting the exercise of the power for a petty contingent advantage to his party. He would advise those hon. Gentlemen who dreaded the abuse of the power of nomination by the Speaker, to consider how little security there would be against the prevalence of party feeling among the assessors or jurors of any tribunal out of the House. The judges themselves would not give entire satisfaction; for he had heard louder complaints against partisan judges than he was certain he ever should hear against a committee chosen as he proposed. But then it was said, why give the power of appeal, or the nomination from the Speaker to the House? Because, if the uncontrolled power of nomination were vested in the Speaker, there would be constant complaints that he was inaccessible to public opinion, that the wishes of the House had no hold on him. He was perfectly confident, that the House would not seek, on light grounds, to disturb the nomination of the Speaker; and he was also quite certain, that any Members of that House, nominated by him to a highly ho- 621 nourable and important trust, would discharge its duties with conscientious integrity, whether under the obligation of an oath or not. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also objected, that an unseemly contest might take place regarding the proceedings of general committees, from the right of challenging the members chosen by them. The fact was, that there was no such unlimited right of challenge. The hon. and learned Gentleman could not, as he had said he would, challenge his right hon. Friend near him, nor could his right hon. Friend challenge the bon, Gentleman; there would be no such opportunity. The cases in which the right of challenge existed were distinctly specified—those of members who had voted at the election, or were related to the petitioning or sitting Member. He had now, he thought, disposed of the hon. Member's objections. The main question was, whether the materials from which a committee was to be chosen, being defective, any change in the mode of selecting those materials would give the country a better guarantee of justice. He (Sir R. Peel) was disposed, arguing a priori and from experience, to answer in the affirmative. Take away the excitement and heat of party contests—take the nomination of the committee away from a passionate assembly, and they would entirely alter the character of the tribunal, even if constituted of the very same men who were to compose it in the other case. When he bad proposed this mode of selection he was not aware that the House of Lords had adopted a similar principle in the selection of private committees. Two years ago the private committees of the House of Lords were quite as unsatisfactory to the public and to parties whose interests were affected by their decisions as the election committees or private committees of the House of Commons were at that moment. The same practice of canvassing the opinions of the members of the committees prevailed, and produced similar discontent. They were judicial bodies who disregarded the maxims of judicial conduct. A different principle was adopted: a committee of selection was appointed, and invested with the power of selecting those who were to form the various committees. He would read an extract from the evidence given before the committee on this subject, which forcibly pointed out the evils of the system and the beneficial consequences of the change made. "Previous to the new constitution 622 of committees of the House of Lords, did the same abuses prevail there which you have described as prevailing in committees of the House of Commons?" Answer, "The same exactly." The witness was then asked, whether or not parties whose interests were adjudicated on by those committees were now satisfied, and said, that they were entirely satisfied. That evidence was given last year. It would be still more satisfactory to refer the testimony of parties principally concerned as to the impression made by the improved selection of the committee during the present Session. One Gentleman, an agent of extensive experience, wrote thus to him:—I have no hesitation in giving it as my opinion, that the new system adopted by the House of Lords in the last Session, of referring opposed bills to a committee of five peers, has worked extremely well. The selections have been made with strict impartiality, and the committees have given great attention to the cases severally produced before them, and I think have dealt out substantial justice. I give this opinion deliberately and after full consideration, and I may add, that I do so notwithstanding the greater number of cases of this description in which I was concerned were decided against me.He had letters from two other agents, stating, that the measure of investing the committee with a judicial character, and the responsibility belonging to it, had given universal satisfaction. He was justified, therefore, in anticipating the most beneficial effects from an alteration in the mode of constituting the tribunal. When he saw that there were no less than twenty-six professional men in that House, eminently qualified to investigate the most difficult points of the law, and many others so competent to aid in the deliberations of a committee, he could not doubt, that if the principle of selection were adopted and fairly acted upon, the character of the election committees would be raised far beyond the point at which it now stood. They would no longer be subjected to the charges now brought against them, for they would feel that they were acting judicially. The character of the House would be raised by showing, that they were not unfitted to exercise a jurisdiction that had belonged to them from the earliest period. At least, the experiment should. be made before a most important change in the constitution of the House was effected, by transferring to other hands the valuable right of determining their own Members, 623 The right hon. Baronet concluded by saying, that he feared the kindness of the noble Lord opposite, in joining him that night, had been somewhat tried by the length of the discussion, but he would, nevertheless, look forward to the same assistance in enabling him on another night to proceed with the bill.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The House resolved itself into Committee on the Bill.
§ The Clauses up to Clause 22 (inclusive) were agreed to, with some verbal amendments.
§ House resumed. Committee to sit again.