HC Deb 10 February 1831 vol 2 cc368-70
Sir C. Forbes

said, he had to present a petition from the hon. W. Ogilvie, against the late return of the Lord Advocate (the hon. Francis Jeffrey), as Representative of the burghs of Forfar, Cupar, &c. The hon. Baronet explained the reason why this petition had not been presented within the regular time appointed by the Standing Orders of the House, which require that the presentation of election petitions should take place either on the first day of the Session, or within fourteen days after the return. In this case it appeared that compliance with the usual regulations was impossible, as the return had been made on the 2nd of January, and the House, consequently, was not sitting at the expiration of the fourteen days so prescribed, or during any part of them. Under such circumstances, the natural course would have been, to present the petition on the 3rd of February. The petition was accordingly despatched from Edinburgh on the 1st for that purpose, but owing to a snow-storm in the neighbourhood of Berwick-upon-Tweed, both the mail and the messenger were prevented from arriving before the 5th inst. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving, that the petition might be permitted to be laid on the Table, in consideration of the peculiar nature of this particular case, notwithstanding the ordinary forms of the House, which would otherwise have rejected it.

The Motion was seconded by Mr. Schonswar.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

said, he had no objection, under all circumstances, to receive the present petition; but the expediency of a strict general adherence to the Standing Orders of the House ought at the same time not to be forgotten. He thought it would be right for the hon. Member to establish his case by evidence at the bar. [Evidence was then given at the bar by two witnesses, of the names of Barnaby and Webster, as to the truth of the allegations of the petition. The former witness deposed, that he himself was on his way to London with the petition, but was unable to proceed even so far as Berwick, owing to the drifting of the snow, and had to forward it by the guard to the next post town.]

Mr. C. W. Wynn (the witnesses having withdrawn)

contended, that it would be contrary to all precedent to receive the petition. There was a case in point, with respect to the impediment of a snow-fall being a sufficient pretext to justify the House's departing from its rule, which forbade the reception of a petition not forwarded within fourteen days from the date of the return. The case he alluded to occurred in 1781; it was the Seaford case, and the House decided against the petition being received. The House could not be too strict in enforcing its Standing Orders rigidly, otherwise the door would be thrown open to most anomalous precedents. Let them, if they so thought it expedient, enlarge the period within which petitions might be received, but not depart hastily from their fixed regulations.

Lord Althorp

said, that he agreed with his right hon. friend, that the House could not be too slow in admitting exceptions to their general rules; but still the present petition was one which it might, without inconvenience, he thought, receive, though the letter of the Standing Order of the House had not been strictly complied with. It appeared to him so highly improbable that their then receiving that petition could, under all the circumstances of the case, operate as an inconvenient precedent, that he would not enforce too strictly the Standing Order against it.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that there was a difference between this case and the one quoted by the right hon. member for Montgomeryshire, inasmuch as in that (the Seaford) case all due diligence was not used.

Petition laid on the Table; the ballot fixed for the 22nd of March.