HC Deb 25 May 1820 vol 1 cc539-44
Mr. Fynes

stated to the House the circumstances which had given rise to the petition which he had presented on Thursday from Mr. Green, the agent of Mr. Antrobus. Mr. Antrobus, who had been returned for the borough of Aldborough, was in America on public business at the time of his election, and had not yet returned. A peti- tion had been presented against his return on the ground that he was not qualified according to the act of parliament; and as the standing order of the House required that the qualification should be given in fifteen days after notice, it was evident that the hon. member could not in person comply with this order. He therefore moved that Mr. Green the agent of Mr. Antrobus, be permitted to swear to the rental of lands by which Mr. Antrobus made out his qualification to sit in parliament.

Mr. Denman

did not find that a similar proceeding had ever taken place on a former occasion, and therefore he submitted to the House whether it would not be proper to refer the matter to a committee, which should be instructed to examine into the practice of the House in the case of members being-elected in their absence from the country. If such a proceeding; as the present was not strictly examined, persons might be elected who did not possess the requisite qualifications, or who held previous appointments which disqualified them.

Mr. Bathurst

said, that since the con stitution allowed absent persons to be elected, it would be hard to disqualify them on account of their absence, since any person who chose might insert in a petition that the person so elected was not duly qualified. He was for the original motion.

Mr. Tierney

observed, that the act of parliament explicitly declared, that no person should have a seat in that House who did not possess certain qualifications, and who did not swear to those qualifications, if called onto do so, at the time of his election. This person, it seemed, was at present in America; and if his absence were to free him from the necessity of proving his qualification, a precedent would be established by which persons in the East Indies might be elected, who might continue absent for three years. He observed that in the return this person was designated as residing at Hyde-Park-corner, and if that address were correct, it could easily be ascertained whether he was duly qualified or not. He would not state his opinion on the question at present—he only wished to show that there were difficulties on all hands. The act clearly specified that the qualification was to be given in within fifteen days after notice, and, without violating the provisions of this act, the House could not agree to the present motion. It appeared, indeed, to be merely a matter, of convenience to the parties; and if such a course were sanctioned by the House, electors in future might get rid of the act, and choose any person whom they pleased in any quarter of the world.

Mr. Courtenay

said, that if the petitioner at the time of the election, had called for the production of the qualification, the present difficulty would have been avoided. [Mr. Tierney—"He could not; Mr. Antrobus was not present"] Be that as it might, the right hon. gentleman, he apprehended, was in a mistake when he said the House was called on to dispense with an act of parliament; for, as far as he recollected, the provision in question was not contained in an act, but in a resolution of that House. When a petition was offered against the return of a member, he was bound, within fifteen days, to give in the terms of his qualification, in order that the petitioner might have the best means of opposing him. Now all that was asked at present was, not that the qualifications should be withheld, but that the agent might be allowed to give in the terms of it, in the unavoidable absence of the member himself; and by that course no inconvenience could arise either to the sitting member or to the other parties, nor could he see any of those evil consequences which the right hon. gentleman apprehended.

Mr. Abercromby

thought that in the present case, by adhering to the standing orders of the House, they would frustrate the ends of justice. He wished that, instead of the present motion, the hon. mover had proposed that the petition should stand over to the next session, especially as the whole of the petitions could not be gone through in the course of the present. He should vote for the motion, but should have preferred the postponing of the petition altogether.

Sir J. Newport

said, that the act precisely provided that the qualification should be given in within fifteen days, and therefore the petition could not be postponed without violating the spirit and letter of the act.

Mr. P. Moore

supported the motion, and could not conceive why the inquiry should either be referred to a committee or postponed when they had all the documents before them.

Mr. Calcraft

opposed the motion. If a candidate was called on for his qualification at the time of the election, and it was not considered satisfactory, the electors would be warned that their votes were in danger of being thrown away. This gentleman, however had avoided that dilemma by his absence, and, therefore, if the House granted the indulgence which was sought by the present motion, they would give an absent candidate an important advantage over a present one. The House should be cautious how they trifled with their standing orders, and suspended them, even for one of their own members. The proposal of his learned friend; at once to postpone the question, was still more dangerous and objectionable, for in the course of that delay the witnesses, might die, and from various causes the inquiry might fall to the ground. By a standing order of the House peers were prohibited from interfering with elections; and that prohibition might be dispensed with in future, if such a precedent as the present would establish were allowed.

Mr. Robinson

said, that in the case which the hon. member had supposed, of a candidate's qualification not being satisfactory, that candidate could not be elected, and therefore the evils apprehended could not occur. The hon. gentleman seemed to anticipate that the con sequence of the House acceding to the present motion would be one seriously affecting the constitution of the House. He appeared to think that to dispense with the standing orders of the House upon the present occasion, would be to act in also lute opposition to the reluctance which they at other times manifested to permit any infringement. Thus he had instanced their determination not to permit the interference of any peer in elections; but here was the difference of the cases—that in the latter, instance, to dispense with the standing orders of the House would be to do so to their own wrong; but the question before the House at that moment was that such dispensation should be permitted in order to do right to another. He therefore, thought that as I good and as solid grounds had been laid for such a deviation from forms as could possibly be adduced.

Mr. Denman

had one other objection to make, which, he conceived to be of considerable consequence, namely, that in case Mr. Antrobus should not come home till that time twelve months, it might happen that he would not be bound, by the qualifications delivered in. At least, therefore, it ought to be a subject of consideration with the House, before it agreed to dispense with these orders.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

concurred in the opinion that this was a matter requiring attentive consideration; and therefore in order to afford members an opportunity of giving it every attention, he should move that the further consideration of the motion be adjourned until tomorrow.

Mr. P. Moore

found many grounds for supporting the objections which had been taken upon this occasion. It was almost alleged that there was no such person in existence as Mr. Antrobus [a laugh]; there might indeed be such an individual, but on the other hand it was at least requisite, if there were, that his description should be exactly stated.

Mr. Abercromby

observed, upon what had been just remarked by an hon. member, that it was in his power to say there was such a person as Mr. Antrobus, and that he had no doubt he usually lived at Hyde-Park-corner; and if he (Mr. Abercromby) were obliged to describe that individual's residence, he should say it was at that place; but the fact, as it was stated by every person, was this, that Mr. Antrobus was not now at Hyde-park-corner, but in America.

Mr. Calcraft,

although he supposed there could be no doubt that such a person as Mr. Antrobus really existed, maintained that it was clear he had been described as resident in a place where he did not reside This was a point of great importance, and he felt obliged to the right hon. gentleman who had proposed to adjourn the further consideration of the debate.

Mr. Fynes

remarked, that the only difficulty which occurred to him was this: the term which was limited by the standing order of the House for the consideration of these matters expired that day. It might be a question, therefore, how far such a circumstance might affect the proposition of the chancellor of the exchequer.

The Speaker

said, it was perfectly true, that this was the last day which according to the standing orders, was appropriated for these petititions, but at the same time the House must be quite aware, that it was competent for them, without substantially infringing the order of the day, to remedy an inconvenience which they might have imposed upon petitioners by their own regulations; but he conceived that it was not to be doubted that the adjournment of a debate was, to all intents and purposes, to be considered as a prolongation of such debate; and, therefore, if the present discussion was adjourned until to-morrow, the parties would stand in precisely the same situation as they would have done if it bad been now got through.

The amendment was then carried without opposition. And on the following day the motion of Mr. Fynes was agreed to.