HC Deb 01 February 1804 vol 1 cc385-7
Mr. Fox

rose to draw the attention of the House to a petition which had been presented against the return for Middlesex, by a certain description and number of persons, stating themselves to be freeholders of that county. With regard to the point of time, he had not a moment to lose in making the observations which occurred to him respecting the formality of that petition, as the merits of the petition were to be taken into consideration to-morrow. But what he had to observe with respect to that petition would be best understood by a reference to the 26th of the King. The House would recollect, that for the better arrangement of petitions on controverted elections, several provisions had been made in that act, not only for preventing the penalties of the act, but also for preventing the presentation of undue and informal petitions one of those provisions stated, in a very plain and distinct manner, that the House could net proceed at all on any petition, unless the persons whose names were subscribed to it claimed the right of voting at such election, or set forth a claim to a seat in that House in consequence of the result of such an election. The petition to which he alluded, and to which he intended to object, was signed by persons not stating their claim to a right to vote, or to a seat in that House in consequence of the issue of the Middlesex election; it was consequently a petition not squared and modelled agreeably to the provision of the act which he had already quoted. As to the proceedings of the House previous to the passing of that act, they were regulated on act of a more liberal or more loose construction. But that act was in its nature so strictly obligatory upon the House, that, in his opinion, it particularly called upon them, not to set the example of disobeying a law so pointedly and forcibly laid down. If it should appear to the House that on the occasion of this petition, their proceedings were had upon erroneous grounds, it would be now for their wisdom and better judgment to rectify the mistake. It might be a question, which was the more proper mode of proceeding on the present occasion; he should take the liberty of suggesting two modes; either, that the order which stands for to-morrow for taking the Middlesex petition into consideration be discharged, as far as it relates to the petition in question; or, if it did not appear to occasion any material inconvenience from a short delay, to defer the order until Friday, that in the interim the House might make up their mind with regard to the objections which he had insinuated against the petition. Either mode of proceeding would meet with his concurrence. The hon. gent, then moved, that the provisions of die act to which he alluded, should be read, and also the petition, in order to shew that it was not in strict conformity with those provisions; which being done, he declared it to be his intention to move, that the House do adopt either of the modes of proceeding respecting it which he had already stated.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he could not subscribe to the sentiments expressed by the hon. gent, as he entertained an opinion altogether different upon the point in question, from that which seemed to be entertained by the hon. gent. He hoped, however, the House would not be unwilling to adopt one of the modes which had been pointed out; for on a point of such essential importance, mature deliberation was evidently necessary. But though the question were to be delayed, vet even now he felt desirous to state two grounds of doubt respecting the validity or" the objections urged by the hon. gent.—First, he thought it advisable fur the House to pause, and inquire into the practice of former times, before they pronounced, whether those who stiled themselves freeholders did not, by so denominating themselves, intimate their claim to a right of voting at such election; for upon what ground could they be entitled to approach that House, unless as freeholders, who had a claim to a right of vote. The House should therefore be cautious to give a fair and equitable construction to the petition. At all events, the petitioners should be allowed an opportunity to ascertain their right, and to make out a case for the House to judge upon. He had also room to doubt, whether it had been right in the House to presume a disability on the part of persons, who stated themselves to be freeholders, and who, upon that statement, insinuate a claim to a right to vote. The question he thought to be a matter of much delicacy and intricacy, and, therefore, he must wish that sufficient time be allowed to take it into due consideration.

Mr. Fox

then moved, that the order of the day be read for taking the petitions into consideration to-morrow; which being read accordingly, the order was discharged, and a new order made out for taking the Middlesex petition, and the petition for Midhurst, into consideration on Friday next.—Mr. Fox, after consulting a few minutes with some of his friends, rose, and gave notice, that he should to-morrow make a motion for rejecting the petition to which he had adverted.—The Committees of Supply and of Ways and Means were deferred till Friday, after which the House adjourned.