HC Deb 23 August 1831 vol 6 cc460-3

Sir George Clerk moved the Order of the Day for the attendance at the Bar of the Mayor and Town Clerk of Great Grimsby.

The Town Clerk immediately appeared at the Bar, and, in answer to questions nit to him by the Speaker, he said—"My name is George Babb. I am Town-Clerk of Great Grimsby. At the termination of the last election, the indenture was intrusted to my hands by the Mayor, who is the returning officer. I received the indenture as soon as the election was over—that is, about seven o'clock in the evening of Wednesday, the 10th of August, when the election closed. In consequence of pressure of business, which had accumulated very much, and a severe domestic affliction, I forgot to forward the indenture of the Sheriff immediately. But I do hope and trust, that it will not be supposed that I intended wilfully or intentionally to delay the return. I would appeal to the hon. members for Grimsby themselves, whether, from the whole of my conduct, they would impute to me anything more than a certain degree of negligence in this business. I really thought that I had given orders to my Clerk about the indenture; but I found on the Sunday, on looking over my papers, which were contained in a drawer, that the writ was unreturned. I immediately sent it to my clerk, with directions to forward it to the Under-Sheriff, with a letter. On the Monday morning, at half-past six, I was called up by my Clerk, who told me that he had found great difficulty in getting a person to go with the indenture; but that he had at length succeeded, and that he had immediately sent the messenger. I sent the indenture to the Under-Sheriff on the Monday. I believe he was not at home when it arrived. In my letter I requested him to forward it to the proper quarter. I know from the date of his answer that he received it on the Monday. I have been Town Clerk since the year 1824. I have been Town Clerk at former elections. Other returning officers, at former elections, took the same course that was taken here. They thought me, as the officer of the Corporation, the most proper person to send the indenture of election to. Previous to this last return, the indenture was completed on the Monday, and sent to the Under-Sheriff on the Thursday. That was a general election. I do not know what the course has been when Members were elected in consequence of vacancies occurring, and not on account of a general election. I have never before known an instance of that kind."

By Sir George Clerk—"I had no conversation with the Solicitor of the sitting Members, on the eve of the election, as to the return. I had no conversation whatever with any party after making the return. Mr. Acton never made any inquiry of me as to when the return should be made. He did not speak to me on the subject. The only conversation I had with him was when he came up to tender his vote.

"Was the messenger on horseback, or by what conveyance did he go from Grimsby to Lincoln?—My Clerk told me he set out on foot; but I concluded, that he took to the coach or mail on the road.

"What time were the Members chaired after the election?—I did not see them chaired; but I think, to the best of my recollection, that it was about eight o'clock in the evening.

"Do you know the reason for their having been chaired at so late an hour?—None, to my knowledge.

"Was there not a posting-bill exhibited next day, stating that the Members could not return thanks to the electors, because they wished to hasten to London to take their places?—I do not know. The accumulation of business prevented me from attending much to what was going forward. The mail from Grimsby leaves at a quarter past eight in the morning. Finding, on the Sunday evening, that I had mislaid or overlooked the indenture, I gave directions to my Clerk to send it off as soon as possible. The mail from Grimsby is not direct. It is a cross mail, and I knew that parcels sent by it were sometimes delayed. I therefore took the course I have described." The witness, in reply to further questions, said, he took an active part in the election, voted against the sitting Members, was an agent at the former election, but was not concerned for any of the parties at the late election. Did not conceive that he had been guilty of any neglect of duty in forwarding the returns. First heard on Wednesday that the matter had been adverted to in that House. It was the Wednesday next following the Sunday to which he had already adverted.

The witness was then ordered to withdraw.

Sir George Clerk

then moved, that Mr. Acton should be called in to give evidence relative to the conversation he was alleged to have held with the Town Clerk.

The motion was agreed to, and John Acton being brought to the Bar, and being examined by Sir George Clerk, said, he lived in London; attended the late election for Grimsby; had a conversation with the Town Clerk relative to the return; asked if it had been sealed, to which the Town Clerk answered that it had, and would be sent off next day. This took place about eight o'clock. The Members were chaired about a quarter of an hour after the election closed. The conversation which he had with the Town Clerk, took place after the proclamation.

Mr. O'Connell

having interrogated the witness, he said, that he never heard anything about the necessity of sealing the return. Was present when the last witness was examined; was below the Bar; there was great noise in the hall at the time the conversation occurred; had some communication with Lord Loughborough and the hon. Baronet with reference to this subject.

The witness was then ordered to withdraw.

Sir George Clerk

said, that he was of opinion, that from the confusion which prevailed in the Court when this conversation took place, it was very probable that the Town Clerk might have either mistaken its import, or not have heard it at all; he, however, thought it rather extraordinary that he should have delayed so long before he made the return. Allusion had been made to the neglect of the messenger who had been employed, and to other persons; but that House knew no other person in the transaction than the returning officer, with whom the responsibility should rest. That person, however, did not appear to be influenced by any corrupt motives, and the neglect must, in his view of the case, have arisen from inadvertence. To prevent the recurrence of such omissions upon any similar occasion in future, he was at first disposed to move that the Mayor of Grimsby should be admonished for his neglect. He had, however, now resolved to relinquish that intention, and as he was satisfied that what had taken place would prevent future errors, he would take no further notice of the matter.

Lord Loughborough

said, that he could not see anything criminal in the conduct of the returning officer. He thought him free from blame; neither was he disposed to find fault with the Town Clerk, whose omission appeared to have arisen from misapprehension. He thought what had already taken place would be a sufficient warning for the future.

Lord Althorp

said, he did not think the case of a nature to call for the particular reprobation of the House. The returning officer should have known, that it was his bounden duty to attend himself to the return. Under all the circumstances, however, he thought it would be harsh to admonish that person at the Bar of the House. He would not recommend the House to proceed any further in the case, and would move, that the parties be discharged from their attendance.

The parties were then discharged.