House Of Commons
Tuesday, May 9, 1837.
rose to move, pursuant to notice, "that the names of the voters reported on by the Longford Election Committee be struck off the register of voters for the county of Longford." The course of the House, he said, was manifest, and he was very glad that the hon. Member for Meath had given notice of an amendment, as this would bring the question fairly to issue. If the register were not to be purified, the bona fide electors must inevitably be swamped.
Mr. H. Grattan
said, that whatever might be the case in England and Scotland, the Speaker had clearly no right to authorise any clerk of the peace in Ireland, to strike the names of voters off the register, and he therefore moved, as an amendment, a resolution "that the Speaker is not authorised to direct the clerk of the pece of any borough, city, or county in Ireland, to strike the name of any voter off' the register."
, as Chairman of the Longford Election Committee, begged to say a word or two on this subject. It appeared to him, that many of the remarks which had fallen from hon. Members in reference to this Committee, could only have been made in entire ignorance of the subject. There could be no doubt that it was the duty of the Chairman of an election Committee to give his casting vote in cases where the numbers were equal, and this was a duty which he was bound to exercise as strictly as any other part of his duties. This point was settled by the clearest decisions of the House. The motion of the hon. Member involved the consideration of, whether the Committee had taken the proper course for bringing the result of their deliberations under the notice of the House. It was perfectly obvious, from the course taken by the Committee in striking off the names of ninety-three voters from the poll, that they considered those names ought not to be on the register. The resolution was come to by the Committee in its present shape, and it was for the House to consider whether, under the circumstances, the course taken by the Committee, brought it within the jurisdiction of the House. He must fairly admit, that he was not aware of the resolution of the House, of 1835, until after the Committee had separated.
rose to express his strong objection to the motion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, which sought by a resolution of the House to disfranchise ninety-three electors of the county of Longford. It appeared to him, that this would be a stretch of power greatly beyond the authority of the House, and that it would be a clear violation of the law. His first objection was, that the report of the Longford Election Committee in no respect corresponded with the resolution of the House of the 23rd of June, 1835. That resolution declared, that "if an Election Committee report to the House that any names ought not to be on the register, the Speaker shall take the necessary steps, by directing the town-Clerk, or clerk of the peace, to expunge those names from the register." The Longford Committee had made no such report as this; the Longford Committee merely reported that certain names ought not to have been put on the poll. It was quite clear that this was a very distinct thing from a declaration that these names should be expunged from the register. They might not have been properly put on the poll, because they were not old enough to register, or because they voted after the regular time for closing the poll, or on account of some temporary disabilities, but they might still retain a full right to be on the register, and to vote on another occasion for the county of Longford. The House must go by the resolution of the House of June, 1835, and not by that of June, 1833. The noble Lord said, he was not aware the resolution was rescinded, therefore the Longford Committee had wade this blunder, they had supposed the resolution of June, 1833, was in fore, whereas it had been withdrawn. The report of the Committee then rested on a resolution which was no longer a resolution of the House of Commons, therefore it was impossible that the House of Commons could act on that report. But he went much further, and he submitted to the House that the resolution of the 23rd of June, 1835, in so far as it extended to Ireland, if it did extend to that country—the hon. Member for Meath said it did not, he, however, would rather say, it was meant that it should—but he had no hesitation in giving it as his opinion, that so far as it did extend to Ireland, it was contrary to law. This House had, no doubt, the power on the petition of an elector, to determine whether a voter had a right to vote; but this House had by law no right to disfranchise a voter—it had no such right at common law, and the right it had, was given to it to be exercised only in a particular case. There was no proceeding could be taken by the House analogous to that of a quo warranto in the Court of King's Bench. Suppose the right of election to be vested in freemen, the House had a right to determine whether a voter was a freeman or not; but did a man cease to be a freeman because of a resolution of the House? No; he had a right to show at any future period that he possessed the elective franchise of a freeman, and the House had no right, by resolution or otherwise, to deprive him of his franchise. Before the passing of the Grenville Act, the House had no power to deprive an elector of the franchise, or to do more than determine if he had the right to vote at a particular election. When was this power conferred? Was it ever exercised before the union? Was it ever thought of till the Reform Bill passed? Many years before it passed there had been registration in Ireland; but neither under the Irish Parliament, nor under the Imperial Parliament, was it ever thought of that an Election Committee should disfranchise any electors that had voted. The English Reform Bill gave an express power to reform the register, or rather, to add those to the register who had been improperly left out of it, or take off those who had been improperly placed upon it. With regard to Scotland, the 25th section of the Scotch Reform Bill gave a similar power. In these cases, then, they saw that a Parliamentary power was given to this House, which it might lawfully exercise, but it was not given by the Irish Reform Bill, therefore, so far as Ireland was concerned, the law remained as it was before the Reform Bill passed—it remained the same as before the Grenville Act passed—in short, it continued what it was by the common law. They were not now considering what the law ought to be, but what it was. He must say, however, that if he were called on to decide what the law ought to be, he should hesitate considerably before he determined that the fate of these voters should depend on the capricious decisions of an Election Committee; he should desire to see the system of election Committees reformed and improved before he consented to their decisions being final as regarded the franchise of the electors. The law with respect to Scotland was, that the Committee had power to make a report, and on the report of the Committee, the House might adopt or reject names. In England it was the same. Now, he contended that the introduction of these clauses showed, that by the common law no such power existed. It might be said, that this was a casus omissus. He certainly could not say, whether the noble Lord opposite, when he was framing the Bill, had the circumstance in his contemplation—probably it was a casus omissus—but being so, the law remained as it was before the passing of the Reform Act. He contended, it would be the usurpation of a power not belonging to this House, it would be assuming a power which could not be lawfully exercised by Parliament, if they were to disfranchise electors. Under these circumstances, he could not agree to the motion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. His grounds of dissent were two-fold, first, this report of the Longford Committee did not come within the resolution of the House, which was on the journals; secondly, if it did, so far as that resolution extended to Ireland, it was contrary to law, and they had no power whatever to act on it.
felt considerable difficulty as to the course he should take on the present occasion. There were two questions before the House which were extremely different, and his opinion was, that he was in duty bound to vote against both. He should vote against the motion of the hon. Gentleman behind him, because he conceived the House was fettered by the vote of the Committee; and if he had any doubt on the subject, it would be removed by the stringent terms of the resolution of 1835, which limited the power of the Speaker conferred by the resolution of June, 833. He so far differed from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, that he thought it unfortunate that the Committee, whether intentionally or not, had not made a further declaration that they thought it expedient that these voters should be struck off the register; because he apprehended that they came to their decision on no such possible grounds as those suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman, but the conviction on their minds was, that the voters in question were not, and never had been, possessed of the qualification. The effect of adopting the amendment would be, not that they did not disfranchise persons who had no right to claim to vote, but that in consequence of the omission (for an omission he believed it was) they would leave on the register of the county ninety-one voters whom the Committee had declared to be disqualified. He did not pretend to discuss the legal point; but he thought it was open to grave consideration whether the House had the power. Certainly the practice of the House had been to extend the resolution to Ireland. There had been one case since 1835, and a considerable number since 1833. He must say, he should hesitate before he agreed to the proposition that the Speaker had not the power of doing that which he found had been done uninterruptedly in so many instances. At all events, this was a point which ought to be discussed separately and distinctly, and he should press it on the consideration of the House, if it were not that the general feeling appeared to be that the law of Ireland as regarded registration should be put on a more satisfactory footing. He thought it time that the law of England and Scotland in this respect were assimilated to that of Ireland. If a better court of appeal were established than existed at present, he should be as opposed as any man to Committees of the House of Commons opening the register. He thought the more convenient course would be for the hon. Gentleman behind him, seeing that the sense of the House was against affirming his motion, to withdraw it, the hon. Gentleman opposite withdrawing his amendment. The consequence would be, that the law would not be decided by a hasty resolution on the one side; and, on the other, the Speaker could not issue a writ, the Committee not having reported whom they had struck off, Practically, no grievance would take place, no abuse would arise, and he hoped they should be able to come to a full consideration of the present state of the law.
Lord John Russell
thought it was not to be regretted, that the Committee had not made a report precisely in the words of the resolution, because it might be the means of saving the House from coming to an immediate decision on the general question, which it was desirable to reserve for after consideration. He was the person who moved the amended resolution of the House in the year 1835. The previous resolution conferred on the Committee, the power to alter the poll by striking out or adding names; and the Speaker issued directions to have the register altered according to their alterations. He would give an instance of the system which had existed. A voter having been allowed to vote a few minutes after four o'clock, the time appointed for its close, his name was very properly struck from the poll; but, though properly struck off the poll, it did not follow that it ought to be struck out of the register, because that would be saving, that for having on one occasion voted a few minutes too late, he should not be allowed to vote in future. He thought there; was sufficient ground for not proceeding with the hon. Gentleman's motion. He must say, with respect to another point, that the resolution, as now settled by the House, was still defective; and he did not think, that the Irish Reform Act, having included no provision for striking out voters by the authority of this House, it was competent to the House by resolution merely, to give that authority to strike out voters. He concurred with the noble Lord, who was of opinion that it would be better, on some future day, to decide the important question whether the resolution in question did, or did not, extend to Ireland; he thought it did not; but he would rather not determine the matter on an occasion like the present. He was prepared to vote against the motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite; and though he agreed with the view of the hon. Member for Meath, he was not disposed to support his motion at present.
Motion and amendment withdrawn.
Mr. Wallace moved, that a Select Committee be appointed to report on the present rates of Postage, and especially to examine the improvements recommended, and the mode of charging Postage proposed, in a pamphlet by Mr. Rowland Hill, with a view to the general reduction of the Postage Duties. He highly approved of the suggestions in the pamphlet, particularly of the principle, that distance should not regulate the charge, but that there should be one uniform rate. The rate recommended by Mr. Hill, was very low, lower than it could be if the present amount of revenue were to be derived from the Post-office; but the principle was unexceptionable. In the United States, the charge for the letter was not more than the actual cost of conveying it. The advantages to be obtained from cheap Postage was manifest, from what occurred with respect to soldiers, who, having only a penny postage to pay, could easily communicate with their relations; and instances had been known, of persons who went into the army unacquainted with penmanship, that in a short time became constant writers to their friends. It was, he was told, observed by officers in the army, that the best soldiers had the most correspondence. Upon this point he begged to say, that he had received very valuable information from Captain Bentley. Having been a constant supporter of the Poor-law Bill, he asked of the Members of Government, whether it would not be advisable to allow those whom they compelled to go into the workhouse, to have the opportunity of communicating with their relations on the same terms as soldiers and sailors—that is, that they should only pay a penny Postage. If they did so, it would be, in his opinion, the best way of putting an end to the slanders and calumnies that were circulated respecting the working of the new system. He begged to say, that his opinion was, that as soon as stamped papers were allowed to be sold for envelopes, a great saving would be effected, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to get his money in advance, nothing would be lost by the country post-masters, and ultimately the Post-office, he believed, would be merged in the Stamp-office. He wished to observe, that there was one point which was felt to be exceedingly inconvenient throughout the country. It was the way in which additional postage was charged. Neither a penny nor a two penny postage ought to be charged upon letters that had already paid postage. Such had been, and still was, the practice in the Post-office; and that practice he believed to be illegal. He objected, secondly, to postage being super added in any case. As to newspapers, they were assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the charge would no longer be made. In England, there were not less than 1,157 penny-posts; in Ireland, 211; and 165 in Scotland. In his opinion, London ought to be assimilated to other towns—like Dublin, Liverpool, and Manchester, there ought to be several deliveries in the course of the day. In Liverpool and Manchester, there were deliveries six times a-day; and in Dublin, four times in the day. He complained of the late deliveries of letters on Mondays; this was a fault that could be easily remedied. Another change that was greatly required, in order to enable the merchants and manufacturers of this country to keep pace with those of America, was to have their letters only charged by the weight. The last part of his notice referred to the detention of letters. A most stringent Act had been passed relative to this subject, in the reign of Queen Anne; by that act it was declared, that letters should not be detained. The Postmaster-General was bound to take an oath that this law should not be violated. A similar oath was taken by all in the Post-office. He did not say, that such an oath was intentionally violated, but he must complain of the detention of letters in the Post-offices. He believed, that the great cause of the plundering letters was the detention of letters in the country, in order that there might not be a delivery upon Sunday. Instead of the letters being detained in the country, they ought to be sent to the General Post-office. In London, the letters were safe; while in the country Post-offices the letters were opened, family secrets were disclosed, and money was abstracted. He had to observe, that if he brought an action against a post-master in the country for the detention of a letter, the Postmaster-General would come forward to defend that person. This was, he thought, a just subject for complaint. Last year, an act had been brought into that House for doing away with the office of Postmaster-General. He believed, that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government intended to do it away. That act had passed the House of Commons. There had been no division upon it in that House; but, like other good measures, it was met in the other House most unceremoniously, and very rapidly got its quietus. No sooner had the present Session commenced, than Members of the Government declared their intention of renewing Bills which had been thrown out by the Lords last Session. He bad a sort of feeling, that the Bill would not be brought in. He put a question on the subject to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, another hon. Member put the same question, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to bring in a Bill in April; and he stated then, that if the Bill was not brought in, now a month after that time, he should put a notice on the books to bring in such a Bill. He had the Post-office returns, which were sufficient to half fill a portmanteau, and he was sorry to be obliged to say, that many of these returns were falsified, either by altering the terms in which the returns were made, or they were not in the terms in which the returns had been called for: With regard to the harbours of Portpatrick and Donaghadee, referred to in his resolutions, he should wait until he heard what could be replied to him on this subject by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Upon a review of the whole of the Steam-packet Department, it was his opinion that it was a disgrace to the Post-office; and that it had caused a great waste of the public money. He was glad that it had got into the hands of the Admiralty. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved for a Select Committee.
Lord John Russell
begged to call the attention of the House to the state of the' public business before them. It was certainly usual, when Bills were in Committee, that they should be proceeded with till the Committee was finished, and that while the attention of the House was occupied with the subject of the various clauses and provisions of the Bill, they should not interrupt the Committee. He had stated this to the hon. Member for Greenock before he made his speech, and that he proposed to proceed with the Poor-law Bill this evening. The hon. Member had chosen, however, to bring forward his motion, and had complained of the little progress made last year with the Post-office Bills, and also that they had not been introduced in the present Session. Now, he (Lord John Russell) would suggest to the hon. Member for Greenock, that such Bills as he thought necessary for the reform of that or any other department, were much more likely to be passed, if the attention of the House were not occupied with fifteen or twenty different motions on the subject. If, through such a course of proceedings, they were compelled at a late period of the Session, to send up a great many Bills to the other House, it would give them a justification for declining to take into consideration those Bills at so late a period. He thought, that they had had experience enough of the difficulties of such a mode of proceeding to come to some decision on the subject; and, therefore, he intended to move the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Poor-law Bill as an amendment. He would not enter into the statements made by the hon. Member for Greenock, as he thought that the House would occupy itself much better by taking into consideration the subject fixed for this evening. He would not propose to resume the Committee to-morrow, but he would propose to resume it on Thursday.
Mr. Alderman Copeland
concurred with the noble Lord, that when a Bill was before the House it was desirable to proceed with it. At the same time he could not allow this opportunity to pass without expressing his thanks to the hon. Member for Greenock for bringing this matter forward, and for the great attention which he paid to this subject. He hoped that the Government would make some inquiry into the different rates of postage.
Mr. T. Duncombe
saw no reason why they should not proceed with the subject before the House. He was as anxious as any man to make provision for the poor in Ireland, but he saw no plea for deviation from the usual course of the business of the House. The Irish Municipal Bill had been hung up in the House of Lords till the 9th of June, and the reason was that the Irish Tithe Bill and the Poor-law Bill were not disposed of. When an independent Member of that House gave a notice of a motion which he intended to make, it was rather hard to have such obstacles thrown in his way, and therefore when it came to his turn, he would certainly make the motion of which he had given notice, and he would persist in it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that it was far from the intention of the Ministers in taking the course suggested by his noble Friend, either to undervalue the objections made, or the plan proposed, by the hon. Member for Greenock. He certainly was prepared to show, and he thought he could state adequate grounds to convince the House, that the object the hon. Member for Greenock, had in view, would not be answered by the plan he proposed. The subject occupied the attention of his Majesty's Government at the present moment, and he hoped to be able, during the present Session, to state the result. He would ask the House if it was proper to refer a question, relating to a revenue of 1,500,000l. to the consideration of a Select Committee? He would also ask whether the steps taken by the present Government did not afford a pledge that this subject would be fully inquired into? They had already made a considerable reduction on the postage of ship-letters. They had shown at least what their wishes were, and he hoped that they would be enabled to realise them. He hoped that his hon. friend the Member for Greenock would withdraw his motion, to allow the House to proceed with a Bill that was necessary to the peace of Ireland.
Vote By Proxy
Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Irish Poor-law Bill.
Mr. T. Duncombe moved the resolution of which he had given notice. "That the practice of any deliberative assembly deciding by proxy upon the rejection or adoption of legislative enactments is so incompatible with every principle of justice and reason that its continuance is daily becoming a source of serious and well-founded complaint among all classes of his Majesty's subjects;" and after the House should have affirmed that resolution, as he doubted not it would (for he could not believe that they would so far stultify themselves as to reject so reasonable a proposition), he would move, "That a message be sent to the Lords requesting a conference, at which the foregoing resolution might be communicated." He was happy to say, that he had good reason to believe that when the resolution in question should be so communicated it would not only be well received by that assembly, but would be warmly responded to by many of its most distinguished Members. He was well aware that in submitting these resolutions to the House, he was treading upon delicate ground, but he hoped that while he should certainly avail himself of that freedom of debate which was permitted to that (the Commons') branch of the Legislature he should yet avoid doing it in a manner at all offensive, or in any way trenching upon the privileges or independence of the other. He confessed he was at a loss to imagine what valid reasons could be
urged against the adoption of the first of these resolutions; perhaps the antiquity of the custom might be pleaded as one, or the convenience of it as another; no doubt voting by proxy was an ancient custom, but that custom had undergone various changes (chiefly for the worst) at various periods of our history. The first notice to be found of proxies was in the reigns of Edward 1st, and Edward 2nd. when the Bishops of Durham and Carlisle were ordered to remain in Scotland, where they were defending the Marches, but were at the same time commanded to send up well-instructed persons to represent them; and from that time to the reign of Henry 8th Peers, when unavoidably compelled either by illness or employment by the King on foreign wars to absent themselves from Parliament, were enjoined to send proxies, but these proxies were not Members of the House, but men of lesser rank; the spiritual Lords being frequently represented by parsons, prebendaries, and any members of collegiate bodies whom they chose to send. So at all events up to that period those who were to decide upon the fate of great questions had at least the decency to hear those questions put. From Henry 8th to Charles 1st. time a new and worse system obtained; any one Peer being then permitted to represent any number of Peers. In the reign of Elizabeth an Earl of Bedford, it appeared had fifteen proxies, and in Charles 1st. reign a Duke of Buckingham fourteen: this latter case, however, being much murmured at by the public, it was ordered by the House that thenceforth no Peer should hold more than two proxies—a rule which was still strictly observed. There has been, however, an alteration of recent date introduced. Until the close of the last century, Peers who wished for leave of absence were obliged to apply for it to the King, and were sometimes refused, as in the case of Lord Scroop in the reign of Henry 8th., when his servant and his medical man were under the necessity of making oath of that nobleman's sickness before his excuse was admitted; and a Peer being absent without leave forfeited 100 l. In 1678 the oaths of two credible witnesses were required to prove a sufficient cause of absence for any Peer; but at the close of the last century it was decided, during the insanity of George 3rd., that the King's permission might henceforth be dispensed with; and so the last remaining protection that the people of this country had against blind legislation was for ever swept away. In 1695 Lords, Derby
Weymouth, and Lempster, having sent excuses which did not satisfy the House, the question in debate was sent to them, and they were required to return their assent or dissent in writing. In 1646, a curious and ludicrous instance of the impolicy of the custom of voting by proxy occurred. Lord Say and Sele, who then held Lord Mulgrave's proxy, having voted in opposition the wishes of the latter Peer, Lord Mulgrave thereupon addressed a letter to the House, disclaiming any participation in the opinions expressed by his proxy, and his vote was accordingly changed to the other side. But what were the historical excuses urged in favour of the practice of Peers voting by proxy at all? Historical writers, generally speaking, gave none, but seemed all content to quote the dictum of Sir Edward Coke in his fourth institute, "that any Lord of Parliament, by licence of the King, upon just ground, to be absent, might make a proxy; but a knight, citizen, or burgess cannot, because he is elected and trusted by multitudes of the people." Blackstone, and other writers 'on the constitution, seemed also satisfied with merely quoting these words, without comment, excepting De Lolme, who said "the Lords were Members of the Legislature by virtue of a right inherent in their own persons, and they were supposed to sit in parliament on their own account, and for the support of their own interests: in consequence of this they had the privilege of voting by proxy, the Commons not having this privilege, as they were but proxies for the people." But he thought that the principle laid down by De Lolme and by Coke was completely set aside by the practice of the Scotch and Irish Peers, who were clearly not members of the Legislature by any right inherent in their own persons, but were themselves, like the Commons, proxies for others, and yet they voted by proxy. There were also the bishops, who were said to be representatives of the clergy: they, too, had no right inherent in their own persons to sit there, but yet they voted by proxy. He might be told "This is all very true, but what was the objection?" Why, the objection was, in (the first place, that it was a proceeding contrary to common sense; and in the next, that it was a privilege generally used for the sole convenience of the Peer, to the great inconvenience and detriment of the interests of the people. We had at present 420 Peers—two-thirds of that number might be absent, and yet vote upon any question
involving perhaps the welfare and fate of the country, and a majority of the remaining one-third, namely, seventy-one individuals, were to be considered superior in judgment and ability to the 658 Members of the House of Commons; or let it be supposed that 135 peers should be present during a debate upon a Bill, in framing and considering which the House of Commons should have passed many long and anxious nights, was it to be borne that when 100 of those present might have voted in favour of that measure, a miserable monopolizing minority of thirty-five, by simply emptying their breeches pockets of seventy proxies, enabling them to represent as many absent Peers, some of whom, perhaps, ere in China, others dancing at Paris, others amusing themselves at a Carnival at Rome, and some possibly in the grave—was it to be borne, he said, that these thirty-five should have it in their power to defeat such a measure and to disappoint the wishes of the country, and render futile the labours bestowed on the subject elsewhere? We might talk of the civilization of the people, and boast of our "free institutions," but this was one which was an insult to our understandings, and which he thought he had shown was not borne 200 years ago, and to which he could see no reason for submitting now. He had heard it said, that the Lords were responsible for their votes and acts to God and their own consciences; he believed that all men were so, but it did appear to him that the consciences of Peers in voting by proxy had an analogy to the equity law of chancellors, as described by Selden, when he said, "Equity is a roguish thing; for law we have a measure; know what to trust to; equity is according to the conscience of him that is chancellor; and as that is larger or narrower, so is equity. It is all one as if they should make the standard of measure a chancellor's foot; what an uncertain measure would this be! One chancellor has a long foot; another a short foot; a third an indifferent foot—'tis the same thing with a chancellor's conscience." Now, as chancellors and ex-chancellors were Peers, this rule might be thought to be applied to all, and it was just possible that one Peer might entrust his very long conscience to another Peer with a very short one; or if Peers were liable to the casualties and defects of other men, and it was not scandalum magnatum to disclose the fact, it might occur that some Peer might entrust his conscience to some other Peer with no con-
science at all. In making this motion he could assure the House that nothing was further from his intentions than to increase any feeling of irritation which the conduct of the present Peerage might unhappily have given rise to. No one who had the public good at heart would wish in these times to widen that civil or that religious breach which was daily opening before us; on the contrary, he thought that much might be done by timely concession and mutual forbearance, at present the concession and forbearance had been all on one side; it had been entirely on the side of the House of Commons, for which reason he believed that the Peers of England did not hold so high a place in the estimation of the people as they had done; he still, however, believed that it was not too late for them to retrace their steps or retrieve their character, but then it must not be by repeating the errors of past Sessions; it must not be by calumniating, individually and collectively, the chosen representatives of the people; it must not be by accusing of perjury and infidelity those whose religious opinions happened to differ from their own; "nor," continued the hon. Member, addressing himself to the Speaker, "must it be by repeating those base insinuations which I myself heard last year levelled against that high office, the duties of which you fulfil with so much honour to yourself, and so much satisfaction to us. No, the public confidence and esteem can only be restored to the Peers of England by their frankly admitting that as human nature is weak, and the heart of man is frail, they, like other men, have been liable to error; and believing as I do that a repetition of those errors may be best avoided by the personal presence and attendance of those who, as legislators, are to decide upon the fate of questions involving not only the rights and liberties of the people, but the peace, religion and happiness of the country." The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his resolution.
Mr. A. Trevor
said, that the hon. Member for Finsbury told the House that he had no wish to widen the breach between that House and the House of Lords. The hon. Member had taken a very extraordinary mode of evincing that feeling. The hon. Member had taken the very means of aggravating that feeling. He ventured to tell the hon. Member for Finsbury, that if he anticipated, or if he was led to imagine that the House of Lords did not stand high in the estimation of the country, he was very much in error indeed. He should like to know what would he said if the House of Lords thought proper to move resolutions affecting the usages of that House? Such an attempt would, and most properly, be denounced in terms of the loudest indignation. He protested against the course adopted by the hon. Member for Finsbury, as inconsistent with the constitution and the privileges of the other, and equally independent, branch of the Legislature—a branch which enjoyed the respect, and he trusted would, ere long, enjoy the confidence, of all the well-disposed persons in the country; and when the hour of danger and of difficulty arrived there would be found ranged under the banner of the Lords a greater number than the hon. Member for Finsbury reckoned upon.
did not think that the hon. Member for Finsbury deserved the attack which the hon. Member for Durham had made upon him. He considered the resolution one of conciliation, and if the House of Lords took it in good part they would make a great advance in the good opinion of the country. If they received that proposition as he hoped they would, and give up the practice of voting by proxy, they would do much to conciliate the country.
Mr. Tennyson D'Eyncourt
agreed with the hon. and gallant Member that the adoption of this resolution would tend to raise the House of Lords in the opinion of the country. If that House could be brought calmly and deliberately to review the privilege themselves, he was sure they would be disposed to give it up. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. A. Trevor) as to the right of that House to interfere with the privileges of the other, he would venture to say that, the privileges of that and of the other House of Parliament were intended for the benefit of the people, and that House as the representatives of the people, had a right to review those privileges. He remembered Several bills that had passed through that House after the most mature deliberation, and which had been read a second time in the other House with the assent of all the Lords present, and which, nevertheless, having thus received the assent of both Houses, were afterwards rejected in consequence of the proxies of those who were absent, and who never heard anything of the matter. These proxies were not given for a single individual occasion, but for the general voting on all legislative measures. It was intolerable in reasoning to suppose that a deliberative legislative body in the present state of civilization should have such a power of deciding on legislative acts. He would ask, did any legislative body exist in any other country in the world that were allowed to vote in this way. If the other House of Parliament had not long possessed this power, they would indignantly reject, and consider it an insult to make a suggestion to them that they should adopt such a privilege. Formerly Peers voted aids for the Crown in their own chamber, as the knights and burgesses did in theirs, and as the clergy did in convocation; but when the mode of taxation was changed, the reason for allowing voting by proxy was at an end, and no possible reason existed for the continuance of the practice. He did not conceive, therefore, that there was any impropriety on the part of his hon. Friend in bringing the matter before the attention of Parliament; but instead of the resolution that had been proposed, he would suggest that it would be better to come to a resolution to recommend the House of Lords to review these privileges with a view to the alteration of the custom.
did not think there was anything very dangerous or alarming to the other House in the motion of the hon. Gentleman, or in the manner in which it had been received; and he did not think that either from the tone of the debate or from the feeling of the House any very serious result could be anticipated from it. He could not help feeling that the right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House had upon his mind some proceedings connected with a more recent occurrence in that House than what had taken place in the other House of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman brought forward a motion last night which he thought of great and overwhelming importance as regarded the constitution of that House, and notwithstanding this, the attendance on the right hon. Gentleman's oratory was not very great, nor was the effect very impressive. The right hon. Gentleman came down to night, and complained of what had occurred in one of the deliberative legislative assemblies of this country. He did not say which. He proceeded to ask, would any hon. Gentleman imagine that in a civilised country a practice could exist of some Members sending down others to vote for them on motions without hearing the reasons pro and con, and without having weighed well the reasons on one side or the other. "How was it possible," exclaimed the right hon. Gentleman, "for any person to give a proxy, unless after attentively listening to the viva voce reasoning on the subject. He (Lord Stanley) would ask what happened last night? Why did not the right hon. Gentleman consult the hon. Member for Mary-la-bone on this subject? Why did he not consult that hon. Gentleman as to the extreme impropriety, the unconstitutional course of proceeding, the custom so absurd that it ought not to be tolerated by a civilised people, of the members of the legislative assembly pairing off for two or three hours, for the purpose of refreshment, or the whole of the night, and then coming down to give a decision on a question on which they had not heard one word of argument. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman was very ill-treated last night during the period he was addressing the House; for while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, there were hardly forty Members present, and because the division took place before ten o'clock, the hon. Gentleman had a large minority of eighty-seven. He knew that it was convenient for hon. Gentlemen to go away to refresh themselves, instead of attending to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman; but might it not also be said, that this arose from the circumstance that they rather wished to hear a debate on a measure of much importance to the country instead of listening to the discussion of the motion of the right hon. Gentleman? It appeared, however, that with a view to refresh themselves, hon. Gentlemen paired off last night for two or three hours, and afterwards came down to vote without listening to any portion of the debate; but this he might be told, should be regarded as nothing, because a person by study might have been convinced of the reasonableness of a proposition without hearing the discussion. He admitted the force of this argument, but how a man could consistently give a vote for the whole of the Session on all questions that might become before that House was perfectly incomprehensible to him. And had they never heard in this House of such a practice as pairing off for a week or month; for half a Session, or for even a whole Session? He would not enter upon the question of the privileges of the House of Lords—the privileges of that assembly which represented only themselves, and which was actually an independent branch of the Legislature, the Members of which possessed the undoubted right, through other Members belonging to it, of voting by proxy. But, sacrificing all the force that this argument gave him, he was content to rest his case upon what he had previously stated, which was a valid argument, not against voting by proxy in the House of Lords, but against that House, because they were a representative body, and representing those that gave them legislative proxies; and the members of that branch of the legislature were nothing but proxies in that House. But setting aside the privileges of the other House, those who argued against proxies in the other House, and not against the practice of pairing in the House of Commons, were guilty of the most flagrant inconsistency. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, that they had not heard any valid arguments for the practice of voting on a subject when the debate on both sides had not been heard; but, he would ask, as regarded the voting, whether they might not have heard the arguments urged in the course of a night's debate in that House. But those who made these attacks upon the privileges of the House of Lords should, both by precept and example, be satisfied that they should hear the arguments on one side as well as the other, before they gave a vote instead of allowing hon. Gentlemen to pair off for three hours of the discussion, and then come and vote, without being able to weigh the reasons that had been urged. What, then, became of the charge of such inconsistency in persons coming to a conclusion, affirming that conclusion by their votes, and yet not to have heard any of the arguments used. This was the inference from the argument of the hon. Gentleman, if his position was sound, but it certainly was not sound; but the inference followed necessarily from what he had stated. He did not consider that the hon. Member for Lambeth complained of the position in which he was placed, in Members coming down to that House to vote on the motion he brought forward who had not heard the discussion. He contended, that as a matter of consistency, hon. Gentlemen opposite must accompany the condemnation of pairing with that of proxy. But there was nothing inconsistent that the Members of the House of Lords, which was a body only representing themselves, and not elected to represent the people, should have the right of delivering their opinions by proxy as well as by voice. He must add, that it was most inconvenient to delay, by such motions, the business of the House, instead of expediting the Bills before them. There were many most important and very grave questions to be decided by that House, and if Gentlemen who had notices of motions on the books, would only look to the practical advantages likely to be derived from them, he hoped that they would see how desirable it was to proceed with those most important matters, to the result of which the country naturally looked with anxiety. Hon. Gentlemen when passing such severe censures on others, should turn some attention to the course now pursued in that House.
He did not refer to one side of the House more than the other, but he wished to impress upon hon. Gentlemen how unnecessary it must be to proceed with notices of motions when other business of such grave importance was before them—when such indifference was manifested by the majority, that it was not possible to get together some thirty-five or thirty-eight Members. The real effect of putting these motions in the motion paper was, to put a stop to all business of real importance. He hoped, therefore, that Gentlemen would look to their own motions in the same view that other Members of the House regarded them, and would withdraw them from the notice-book, from the probability that discussions on such matters would lead to nothing. He was glad that his noble Friend, (Lord John Russell) had that night interposed by moving the order of the day on the first motion, for this showed equal respect or disrespect to all the motions in the book. He trusted that his noble Friend would proceed. He trusted that the hon. Gentlemen who had given notice of such motions would feel that it was better to proceed with the important Bills before them, than to the discussion of questions which could lead to nothing, and with respect to which the great majority of the people cared not one straw. He should vote for the motion of his noble Friend to go into the Committee on the Irish Poor Laws, even if the motion under discussion was of more importance than it was, but, above all, as it was a question open to very serious objections."Oh that some power the gift would gie us To see ourselves as others see us."
wished the noble Lord possessed the ocular gift to see himself as he was regarded by others, sitting where he did, and speaking and voting as was now his custom. If that was the case the House would have been saved from the infliction of that speech which the noble Lord had just delivered. He was glad, however, that only one Member had defended the practice of voting by proxy, and that Member was a noble Lord. It had been stated, that there was not one supporter of the motion of his hon. colleague in the country out of that House; but the truth was, that the question was rife throughout the country. The common sense of the nation cried out against the practice of voting by proxy, and he would tell the noble Lord that the common sense of England would not long endure the practice. Because Members paired off for weeks or months, was it a sufficient reason to justify the practice of sending pieces of paper from the continent of Europe for years together to authorise any member of a legislative body to vote for another? He, for one, thanked his hon. colleague for having brought forward this motion, and for the future it would become a sessional motion until it was carried. The noble Lord justified proxies by the practice of pairing in that House, but one abuse would not justify another. If the noble Lord did not approve of pairing as he appeared to do, why did he not bring forward a motion to put a stop to it? But what justification was that practice of voting by proxy? Hon. Members only paired for certain votes, but still it was a practice he condemned, and he was satisfied that it would ultimately bring the House into contempt, as it would appear, that Members, instead of listening, to the reasons adduced on one side or the other were prepared on all questions to vote with their party. He trusted that his hon. Friend would press his motion to a division, and he was convinced that in the course of three years he would carry it.
Sir Robert Peel
staled, that when his noble Friend rose to address the House, a similar train of thought had passed through his mind as had been so ably just urged by his noble Friend. He trusted the House would not come to a vote on the present motion until they were aware of the principle involved in the motion, and also considered how they would hereafter deal with this principle. In the Bill which they would have to consider, he trusted, immediately after the present motion was disposed of, he found the following expression:—"And be it enacted, that it shall be lawful for any rate-payer, from time to time, by writing under his hand, to appoint any person to vote as his proxy in respect of any property not in the actual occupation of such rate-payer, and any such appointment shall remain in force until revoked." The hon. Gentleman had made an inquiry of one of the Members of the Tower Hamlets. He doubted not that hon. Gentleman would have agreed with him had he been present; but, as both the Members for that borough were absent he had no doubt but that they had paired off. He agreed in what had been said by his noble Friend as to the custom of Members pairing, and he thought while his noble Friend was speaking, that he would endeavour to draw up some resolutions as to their own practices which should be passed before they tried their apprentice hands to another assembly. His resolutions were to this effect:—First "Resolved that the practice of letting members of any deliberative legislative assembly vote without having heard all the arguments on both sides of the question, was incompatible with every principle of justice." His second resolution was this:— "Resolved that the absence of Members by pairing, for several hours for the purpose of refreshment, and for several weeks at a time, from the question under discussion, without hearing the arguments which arose on such questions, was becoming a source of well-founded complaint among all classes of the community. He would ask the hon. Member opposite whether it was not clear that they should attack the evil in their own House before what might be good elsewhere? He agreed with one suggestion that had been thrown out on the opposite side, namely, that they should begin at home. They could not speak to the House of Lords on this subject before they reformed themselves on a practice which they had the high authority of the hon. Gentleman for saying it was bringing them into contempt. But supposing that the amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury was carried, and was ordered to be gent up to another place—supposing, also, that an amicable conference took place, what should prevent the other House presenting them in return with a counter resolution? The hon. Gentleman proposed that this resolution should be presented to the Lords. He (Sir R. Peel) would propose that after passing the resolution he had read, as to not hearing arguments, and to the practice of pairing, the following resolution should be adopted:—" Resolved, thirdly, that the hon. Member for Mary-le-bone be requested to bring in a Bill founded on the previous resolutions." He would do this because that hon. Gentleman stated last night, that he was a metropolitan Member, and that he was convinced that the question before the House was regarded by the country as one of vital importance, and in comparison with which the Reform Bill was as nothing. He said, that he was only prepared with a crude speech, but feeling the vital interest of this question he felt bound to speak; but he concluded with stating, that he had paired-off till ten o'clock. He stated with a degree of kindness and candour that could not be surpassed that he thought it was too much for the House to come to a decision on this important question during the hours devoted to taking refreshment. He observed, that he had paired-off from seven to ten, and he earnestly entreated the House not to conclude the debate till ten o'clock. Seeing, however, the indisposition of the House to pause till ten o'clock, that his constituents might not think that he was absent, he had thought it his duty to make this crude and undigested speech to show the reason why he was elsewhere. Before they proceeded to discuss the clauses of the Bill which took away the right of proxy from the other branch of the Legislature, ought they not to consider what took place last night when one of the metropolitan colleagues of the hon. Gentlemen said that he had paired off till ten o'clock, but had spoken to show that he was present? What figure would they make before the House of Lords in presenting the resolution of the hon. Gentleman if this matter should become known? Therefore he would give this advice—namely, that they should not proceed with the resolution, but get rid of it by allowing the House to go into Committee on the Irish Poor-law Bill. It was not prudent to attempt to take away any of the privileges of a co-equal and independent branch of the Legislature, they should take the beam out of their own eye before they attempted to take the mote out of another's.
The House divided on the original motion: Ayes 129; Noes 81: Majority 48.
List of the AYES.
|Agnew, Sir A., bart.||Barclay, David|
|Andover, Viscount||Barclay, C.|
|Anson, Col.||Baring, F. T.|
|Archdall, M.||Bateson, Sir R.|
|Ashley, Viscount||Bernal, R.|
|Bagot, hon. W.||Borthwick, Peter|
|Balfour, T.||Bowles, G. R.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Lefevre, C. S.|
|Buller, E.||Lefroy, A.|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Lefroy, Thomas|
|Campbell, Sir H.||Lewis, David|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Longfield, R.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Lowther, Col. H. C.|
|Cavendish, hon. C.||Lowther, J. H.|
|Chandos, Marq. of||Lucas, Edward|
|Charlton, E. L.||Maclean, Donald|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Maule, hon. F.|
|Colborne, N. W. R.||Maunsell, T. P.|
|Cole, A. H.||Moreton, A.|
|Cole, Viscount||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Copeland, W. T.||O'Neill, General|
|Corbett, T.||Palmer, George|
|Corry H.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Crawley, S.||Parker, M.|
|Crewe, Sir G., bart.||Parker, J.|
|Cripps, Joseph||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Parry, Sir L. P.|
|Dalbiac, Sir C.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Perceval, Col.|
|Darlington, Earl of||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Dillwyn, L. W.||Polhill, Frederick|
|Dunbar, George||Pollington Viscount|
|Duncombe, W.||Ponsonby J.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Praed, W. M.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Pusey, P.|
|Elley, Sir J.||Richards, John|
|Elwes, J.||Rickford, W.|
|Fector, John Minet||Rolfe, Sir R. M.|
|Ferguson, Sir R. A.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Fergusson, R. C.||Russell, Lord John|
|Foley, Edw. Thomas||Sandon Viscount|
|Forbes, W.||Scourfield, W. H.|
|Forster, Charles S.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Freemantle, Sir T. W.||Shaw, F.|
|Freshfield, J.||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Gaskell, Jas. Milnes||Smith, R. V.|
|Gladstone, Wm. E.||Stanley, Edward|
|Goulburn, H.||Stanley, Lord|
|Goulburn, Sergeant||Stanley, W. O.|
|Halford, H.||Stewart, John|
|Hamilton, Geo. Alex.||Sturt, Henry Chas.|
|Hardy, J.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Hayes, Sir Edm. S. bt.||Thomas, Colonel|
|Heathcote, Gilbert||Thomson, C. P.|
|Hogg, J. W.||Townley, R. G.|
|Houstoun, G.||Trevor, hon. A.|
|Howard, R.||Verney, Sir H. bart.|
|Hoy, James Barlow||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Ingham, R.||West, J. B.|
|Irton, Samuel||Weyland, Major|
|Jackson, Sergeant||Wilson, H.|
|Jephson, C. D. O.||Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.|
|Jermyn, Earl of||Young, J.|
|Johnstone, J. J. H.||TELLERS.|
|Jones, Theobald||Seymour, Lord|
|Knight, Henry Galley||Steuart, R.|
List of the NOES.
|Aglionby, H. A.||Bewes, T.|
|Angerstein, John||Bish, T.|
|Attwood, T.||Blake, M. J.|
|Barry, G. S.||Bodkin, J.|
|Bellew, Rich. M.||Bowes, John|
|Berkeley, hon. F.||Brocklehurst, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Mactaggart, J.|
|Browne, R. D.||Maher, John|
|Buckingham, J. S.||Marsland, Henry|
|Bulwer, E. L.||Martin, T.|
|Chalmers, P.||Molesworth, Sir W.|
|Chapman, M. L.||Mullins, F. W.|
|Clay, W.||Musgrave, Sir R. bt.|
|Clements, Viscount||O'Brien, Cornelius|
|Codrington, Sir E.||O'Connell, J.|
|Collier, John||O'Connell, Morgan|
|Collins, W.||O'Conor Don|
|Cookes, T. H.||Oliphant, L.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Parrott, J.|
|Denistoun, A.||Pease, J.|
|D'Eyncourt, C. T.||Philips, Mark|
|Evans, G.||Rundle, J.|
|Ewart, W.||Scholefield, J|
|Fergus, John||Scott, J. W.|
|Fitzgibbon, hon. R.||Sheil, Richard L.|
|Fitzsimon, C.||Speirs, A.|
|Fort, J.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Grattan, J.||Tooke, Wm.|
|Grattan, Henry||Trelawney, Sir W. L.|
|Handley, Henry||Tulk, C. A.|
|Hastie, A.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Hawes, B.||Wallace, R.|
|Hector, C. J.||Warburton, H.|
|Hindley, C.||Wemyss, Capt.|
|Hume, J.||White, Samuel|
|Humphery, John||Williams, W.|
|Hutt, Wm.||Wood, Alderman|
|King, Edward B.||Wyse, Thomas|
|Lennard, T. B.||Young, G. F.|
|Lennox, Lord A.||TELLERS.|
|Lennox, Lord G.||Duncombe, T|
|Macleod, R.||Wakley, T.|
The House then went into Committee on the Poor-law (Ireland) Bill, and proceeded as far as the 36th clause. The House resumed.
On Mr. Robinson moving for leave to bring in a Bill to permit the grinding of foreign corn, in bond. The House Was counted out.