HC Deb 06 January 1807 vol 8 cc418-21

The order of the day for resuming the adjourned debate on the question of granting a further day for the hearing of the Thetford Election Petition, being read,

Mr. Whitbread rose

and said, that he was the more confident in soliciting, on behalf of the petitioner, a more distant day than had been already fixed upon, when he considered that it was an indulgence generally granted by that house, and which the sitting member was seldom unwilling to accede to. From what had fallen from an hon. member (Mr. Mingay) in the beginning of this discussion, he believed that that gentleman was under a mistake in supposing that there was but one unqualified voter only objected to among those of the corporation who composed that gentleman's majority; but he was instructed to state that there were three, four, or more persons admitted to vote for the sitting member who were not electors, whose pretence to the right of suffrage was founded upon an illegal claim; and though an undisputed possession of franchise for a limited time made that right of suffrage valid, yet that time not being yet expired, the objections had been made within the period prescribed by law, and of course, no argument in favour of those votes could be drawn from the fact of possession. The sitting member had said, that the court of king's bench, if applied to for a quo warranto, would not hear such application. The hon. gent. said he would contend for it, that that court could not refuse such application, because the time limited by law was 6 years. Now, those voters had exercised this elective capacity only 5 years, and consequently the time for confirming a doubtful franchise was not yet expired. But there was another circumstance: the petitioner did not know of the illegality of two of the voters objected to, till long after the beginning of the term, and yet it was objected to him by the sitting member, that the petitioner did not apply to the court of king's bench against those voters, of the validity of whose franchise the petitioner had not at that time any doubt. He then moved, that the order of the day for hearing the Thetford Election petition be discharged

Mr. Mingay

contended that the question then before the house was not whether the king's bench would receive or reject any application that might be made to it on behalf of the petitioner, but whether that house would, in this so comparatively unimportant a case, make a precedent that might in all future cases of this kind be productive of consequences the most serious: five years ago, the persons objected to voted for the petitioner; and was the house now to be told, that this was the first time the petitioner had discovered those alleged inadequacies? After a five years' dream, he, the petitioner awaked, and discovered for the first time, that certain persons who had voted for him upon a former occasion, now that they voted against him, were from the beginning incompetent to vote. There was one fact, that he could not pass by. It had been said, that four or more voters were objected to. He (Mr. M.) assured the house, that there were not more than two objected to at the time of voting, upon the ground of not being franchised, as the third was objected to not upon this ground, but as having some employment in the post-office. He said that, anxiously as he waited for the decision of that house upon what he would call a vexatious proceeding, he should, however, bow to that decision with unfeigned humility and respect

Mr. Tierney

said, that he ought not to be anxious to speak on a question apparently agitating the feelings of two gentlemen, for each of whom he felt so much respect. He should, however, remove all such personal considerations from his mind, and consider merely the simple fact of a petitioner asking for a more distant day than that already fixed upon for hearing his petition; though in the case of petitions the granting a further day was by no means an unusual indulgence, yet he was, upon the general principle, an enemy to delay in such cases. But he thought the present case sufficiently exempted from the general rule by its peculiar circumstances, the petitioner desires a further day as indispensable to the object of his petition—the sitting member, on the other hand, does not shew that any possible inconvenience can arise to him from this delay. It was objected, too, that the petitioner did not make an earlier application to the king's bench. The election took place on the 4th of November, and the day next but one was the first day of term, and yet it was asked why the petitioner did not prepare all the necessaries for an application to a court of law between the 4th and 6th of November, though he was not at that time apprised of the inadequacy to vote of two of the persons objected to. He should think it a monstrous injustice to refuse the application for a longer day

The Attorney-General

conceived that the house was now about to exercise a judicial function, and that it should pause before it would rashly go to establish a precedent. The hon. gent. who spoke last had said, that it was hard to expect that the process of an application for a quo warranto could have been made within the first day of term; but the hon. gent. should recollect, that though term did not commence till the 6th, it did not end till the 28th, and that it was rather suspicious that in all that time no step had been taken by the petitioner to make such application. As to the argument, that delay was not alleged to be an inconvenience to the sitting member, he did not think it conclusive, nor should he think it fair to be compelled to prove his title to his estate, merely because that proof was entirely practicable. He should therefore vote against the motion

Mr. C. Wynne

thought, that however it might be a question whether such delay was inconvenient to the sitting member, he was sure that it was inconvenient to that house and to the public

The Solicitor-General

did not think that the house could reject the motion, consistently with justice—it had come within his knowledge that of three of the persons objected to, one only was opposed at the time of tendering his vote, and that a mouth had elapsed since the election before the petitioner was apprized of the illegality of the other two votes. He hoped that this strong circumstance would have its due weight with the house

Mr. Roscoe

thought, under such circumstances, that the party must apply to the court of king's bench, and therefore it must be supposed, that the house would give them time to do this. The attorney-general had said, that this could not be done in so short a time as that sought for by the petitioner; it therefore necessarily followed, that the decision of the question must extend beyond the time limited; and as it was very possible, that persons presenting such petitions might not quite understand the law as well as other gentlemen, it appeared to him that time should be granted to the petitioner

Mr. Bragge Bathurst

was of opinion, that if parties were allowed to postpone questions of this nature, because they had only just discovered an objection to three voters, they might come in a month more, and apply for further time, upon a discovery of objections to three more electors, so that there would be no end to it. They might go in the first instance before the committee; and if an application to the court of king's bench was then found necessary, they would be in no worse situation than before. He entirely concurred with the attorney-general, and thought that the house would not be justified in postponing the hearing to a more distant day than that already fixed upon

Mr. Johnstone

thought, that the petitioner had deprived himself of the benefit of such an application by his own act. In his anxiety to present his petition, it was lodged three or four days earlier than was necessary, and consequently, an early day was appointed for taking it into consideration. Upon these and other grounds already stated, he therefore thought the petitioner was not entitled to the indulgence of the house.—The question being loudly called for, a division took place; when there appeared for the motion, 35; against it, 54; majority against the motion, 19

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