HC Deb 06 February 1833 vol 15 cc230-3

The Speaker having read the first of the Standing Orders with regard to Election Committees, Petitions, &c.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

said, that he wished to take that opportunity to ask the noble Lord whether it was his intention to bring forward a declaratory bill for the purpose of explaining that clause of the Reform Act that related to the power of presenting petitions in cases of contested elections,—to declare, for instance, that Election Committees were at liberty to entertain objections against votes which had not been raised before the revising-Barristers? The clause, as it at present stood, was involved in much doubt, and it required explanation. There were the agents of candidates, and other persons employed by them, whose votes could not be objected to before the revising Barristers, whose votes could only be objected to at the poll, and it was necessary that the powers of an Election Committee upon the point should be rendered clear and distinct, which was not the case as the clause now stood in the Reform Act. Upon the question as to the power of the Election Committee to take such objections into consideration, he knew that the opinions of very high authorities had been given both ways. They should not wait for the first decision of a Committee to be binding on the subject, as, perhaps, it would not prove to be so. His noble friend, he therefore trusted, would see the expediency of settling this question in one way or another. He knew that there would be an objection to doing so pending the decision of any petitions, and he therefore raised the question before any election petitions had been presented.

Lord Althorp

said, that he did not apprehend that there were any doubts as to the meaning of the clause in question that could render a declaratory act of Parliament necessary at the present time. He was of opinion that any questions that might be raised as to the construction of that clause should be referred to the decision of their legitimate tribunal—an Election Committee. He certainly did not think that any declaratory act of Parliament was required on the subject.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the Irish Reform Bill differed in some degree, in that part of it from the English Bill, and it also, in that respect, deserved grave consideration. He wished to take that opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite, when the Irish Population Returns would be ready to be laid upon the Table of the House?

Mr. Stanley

said, that great delay had taken place in the presentation of those returns, in consequence of the House having ordered Special Returns different from those which had been made from several counties in Ireland. These Special Returns would be ready in a few days, and he believed that the whole of the Population Returns from Ireland would be ready to be laid upon the Table of the House in the course of a fortnight.

Mr. C. W. Wynn,

referring to the clause in the Reform Bill to which he had already drawn the attention of the House, said that it was one with regard to which there existed great difference of opinion amongst professional men. Having been a Member of the House when the Bill was passed, he was well aware of the meaning and intention of the framers of that clause, but he understood that the words employed would bear a different construction.

The Solicitor General

said, that the reason assigned by the right hon. member for Montgomeryshire for the passing of a declaratory act did not at all prove the necessity of such an act, for no law could be so framed that it would not admit of different constructions. He had no doubt that his learned friends at the bar would contrive, no matter how plainly and obviously a law was framed, to find out different constructions for it. He hoped that the decision on any questions arising out of this clause would be left to the legitimate tribunal—an Election Committee. If a declaratory act were to be passed in this instance, they would have declaratory acts called for with regard to other clauses of the act, should individuals happen to think that they saw doubts or difficulties in them. Let the first Election Committee do its duty, and if it should decide rightly, the others would follow its example.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the reason assigned by the hon. and learned Gentleman against the passing of a declaratory law in this instance would constitute a very good reason against our having no law at all. The only question was, whether a Committee of the House, or the House itself, was the fitter body to make a new law?

Mr. O'Connell

said, that he certainly knew that corresponding clauses in the Irish Reform Bill had been interpreted in a way totally different from the meaning which the right hon. Secretary, and the legal Gentlemen employed in framing them, intended to convey by them. One of the clauses of the Irish Reform Bill specially excluded non-resident freemen from voting in cities and boroughs there, and yet one of the Irish Judges decided that the clause bore a different and totally opposite construction.

Mr. Stanley

said, that he had never heard of any decision with greater surprise than of the decision to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred. So completely at variance was it, not only with the opinion of every other legal man upon the subject but with the very letter of the Act itself, that, for the purpose of admitting these non-resident freemen to the right of voting, the Judge who made this decision was obliged to strike out the word "resident" from the certificate which they had, according to the provisions of the Act, to receive from the revising Barrister. The Judge took upon himself, as he (Mr. Stanley) thought, in the most unwarrantable manner, to strike out the word "resident," in order to admit those whom, by the use of such a word, it was obviously intended to exclude from the right of voting.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the consequence was, that 200 such voters had voted at the last Cork election.

Colonel Davies

said, that such a Judge should be impeached.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the learned Judge in question was a most excellent individual, and one that had given his decision in this instance, as he had in all others, upon the most conscientious grounds.

The Attorney General

did not think there was any necessity for the declaratory Act called for by the hon. member for Montgomeryshire. That House was not in the habit of interpreting or of executing the laws. Besides, as cases respecting contested elections were now pending, it would be most unconstitutional upon the part of the House to express an opinion, or to come to a decision, the result of which might be to prejudice some of those cases. A declaratory Act, such as the right hon. Gentleman wanted, would have the unjust effect of an ex post facto law.

Mr. C W. Wynn

said, that nothing, he was well aware, would be more unconstitutional than for the House to interfere in the decisions of matters already pending. But when the Legislature passed an Act that carried on the face of it ambiguity—an ambiguity which it was the business of the law officers of the Crown to have avoided—it was the custom of the House in its best days to pass an explanatory Act to remedy that ambiguity. That was all that he now asked the noble Lord to do.

The usual Resolutions respecting Election Committees, Petitions, &c., agreed to.