Page images

the preliminary right of the Member to enter the House and to take his seat. We shall best consult our opinions, as well as the justice of the case, if we postpone the decision of this question till another day. I would say Monday next, or some other day; by which time the House will have had opportunity of duly examining into so important a subject, and can then entertain it without any difficulty.

Mr. C. W. W. Wynn: I entirely agree with the Right Hon. Gentleman, that it will be premature for us to enter into the discussion whether a Member of this House, professing the Roman Catholic religion and having been returned prior to passing the recent Bill, may take his seat without taking the oaths which were prescribed to Members before the alteration of the law. But there is one point of considerable doubt, and I think it right that a day, an early day, be fixed upon for discussing it. The question is, whether a Member, situated as the Gentleman returned to represent the County of Clare, can or cannot be heard at the Table of the House relative to his refusal to take the oaths prescribed by law. I must say that precedents are in favour of its being allowed to Members to state the grounds why they do not appear to take the necessary oaths. The precedents are entirely in favour of this right. I entirely agree with the Right Hon. Gentleman that it is not fit that a Member, who has not taken. his oaths, should be allowed to speak or proceed in his seat to exercise his duties as a Member of this House; but the present has more of the nature of a personal claim. I apprehend that the case involves three points, clearly distinguished from each other: First, whether the Member for the County of Clare has a right to be heard at the Table; or secondly, at the Bar of the House; and the third point is, whether a Member, not having taken his seat, can be heard at all. I will quote upon the subject the well-known precedent of Mr. Wilkes. He had been returned a Member to this House, but the majority of the House had determined that he was incapable of being heard on the subject of his retura. Mr. Wilkes presented a Petition upon a breach of privilege. He

was brought to the Bar to be heard upon his Petition, and the House admitted him to express his doubt whether be should not incur the penalties of the different acts agains persons who should be present in the House during its proceedings. He was ordered to withdraw; and the House, after duly discussing the question, came to this determination:-They directed that the Speaker should acquaint M:. Wilkes, that it was customary for the House to hear persons at the Bar, in order that they might support the allegations their Petitions, and his so supporting his Petition, without his having taken the oaths of his qualification, was not any offence within the intent and meaning of the Act of Parliament tə which he alluded. It is certainly an undisputed principle that every man shall be heard in his own cause, and that he shall not be exposed to the possibility of being injured by any decision, if he have not had the opportunity of defending himself Nothing can be more consonant to justice, and it is impossible to dispute the principle or to depart from the practice. There could be no doubt of the necessity of a Member withdrawing, even if he had taken his seat, as soon as he had been heard on à case personally affecting himself; and if he had not taken his seat, the obligation to withdraw of course became the stronger. Dur better course would have been to have allowed the Member for Clare, upon his application to state the reasons why he conceived himself entitled to take his seat without taking the oaths at the table of the House, and he might then have been heard at the bar or at the table, according to the option of the House ; if at the bar it would have been no more than the privilege or opportunity afforded to other persons not members, who claimed any right of the House. This appears to me to be the course which the House could have pursued with convenience to itself and with justice to the other party. Had the Hon. Member for Clare been allowed to state the nature of his scruples at taking the oaths, he might have been heard at the Table. This would have satisfied all parties, and it would have been the fairest way of satisfying the justice of the case. This, however, is only the question how the

hing ought to be done—a mere question of form; and few persons, I imagine, doubt that it ought to be done in some form or other. If the Honourable Member for Clare wish to be allowed to state to the House the grounds why he ought to be allowed to take his seat at once, without taking the oaths, there can be no question. I apprehend that he ought to be permitted to do so in one shape or other ; nor ought any obstruction or delay to be presented or interposed; for a right unnecessarily obstructed or suspended is a wrong, and often of a serious nature. Without our knowing, or being supposed to know, the printed case set forth and published by the Honourable Member for Clare-without any such document in our hands—no man can doubt that the House is bound to hear the Honourable Member state his reasons ; and the only question, therefore, resolves itself into a question of time, place, and form. Whether the Member for Clare be allowed to state his case at the Table of the House, or at the Bar, upon all precedent and upon all principle, he, as well as every other person seeking a supposed right, should have every facility afforded him of stating his claims and of supporting them.

Mr. Sugden would not deny that persons had a right to be heard, and that it was very desirable they should be heard in support of their claims. At the same time, the acknowledg. ment of this principle should not prevent his suggesting to the House, that their consent to hear the Honourable Member for Clare at the Table would imply a notion that the fifth of Elizabeth was repealed, which, nevertheless, was still in operation. If this act of Parliament was in force, and which he conceived it to be, it provided, that if any Member were to enter the House without taking the Oaths of Supremacy before the Lord Steward, ipso facto, he was incapable of serving or sitting in the House during that Parliament. Under these circumstances, he did not see the possibility of the House hearing the Member for Clare at the Bar.

Mr. Brougham : How do we know what is gomg on out of doors ?—(Mr. Sugden-interrupting the Hon. Gentleman-Let oue member speak at a time.) What has passed in the Steward's house or office we know nothing about ; but I har a certificate in my hands of the Hon. Member for Clare's having taken his oaths. But I say I have a certificate from two Commissioners, duly authorised by the Lord High Steward to take the oaths required to be taken before him by Members of this House. As to when the oaths were taken, my Has and Learned Friend must be aware that no place is prescriler where such oaths are to be received. I have the certificate of the oaths having been taken. But we know nothing of the act entered into, otherwise than by the certificate. We kao that the Honourable Member came to the Table to tender himself, and that he refused to take certain oaths. This we know, but of what occurred before the Lord Steward, or bis commissioners, we know nothing. The question arose whether, as the Honourable Member for Clare had offered to take certain oaths, ought he not to be allowed to take them and then might arise the question as to the other oaths which he would or would not take.

Mr. Secretary Peel : Surely the Honourable and Learned Gentleman must see that there is a very material distinction between allowing a Member to be heard at the Table, and at the Bar. I cannot help thinking that there is a material distinction, and I moreover think the whole of the subject of such great importance, that the House ought not to come to any decision without an opportunity of careful investigation and inquiry. The Honourable and Learned Gentleman having made the Motion he has done, I cannot but move the postponement of it till Monday next.

Mr. Sugden explained: It was evident that the Honourable Member for Clare had not taken the oaths before the Lord Steward; for he had made no objection to take any oaths except that prescribed to be taken before that officer. It was the material duty of the Honourable and Learned Member opposite to know, that the oaths he refused to take were those particular oaths to which he (Mr. Sugden) had alluded. The Hon. and Learned Member might therefore have spared him self the trouble of his reply.

Mr Brougham: I think I had better not spare myself the z trouble of calling on the House to proceed in this delicate and ... important act-upon things known to us, and not upon con. *jectures drawn by the Honourable Member (Mr. Sugden)

from a publication which might or might not give rise to his si conclusion ; for how can we know that the Member for Clare

has not taken the oaths since his publishing the pamphlet alluded to ? The Honourable Member had gone and taken certain oaths—the House could not advance whether he had taken this oath or that. He was quite ready to agree that this part of the case was likely to recall circumstances of great importance—of such importance as to require very grave and serious consideration. Whether the Honourable Member were heard at the Table or at the Bar was a matter of less moment, although certainly it was a point of some consequence. Either at the Bar or at the Table of the House, hear the Hon. Member for Clare, we must. Supposing he were not a Member—a mere stranger, petitioning the House. As a Petitioner he has a right to be heard—not a right whether he will or not; but we have a right to hear him, and a man may be heard either by himself personally, or by his Counsel or agent, at his own option, if the House will consent to hear him at all. There can be no doubt of this, I conceive, in the mind of any Member. This is clearly a case in which we should rather hear the applicant himself; and as the House seems agreed upon this, and the only difficulty or question is, whether he shall be heard at the Bar or at the Table, if the Right Hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Peel) thinks this of sufficient importance, I certainly can only say that I have no great objection to postpone the subject to Monday next, the day the Right Hon. Gentleman has been pleased to pane.

Sir Francis Burdett said a few words upon the subject of the oaths that had or had not been taken by the Member for Clare; but the Honourable Baronet was so indistinctly heard, that we cannot venture to report what fell from him.

The Speaker: Before I finally put this question, perhaps the House will not think me unreasonable, in not anticipating

« PreviousContinue »