HC Deb 10 August 1835 vol 30 cc196-202
The Marquess of Chandos

had a Petition to present from certain Freeholders of Marylebone, complaining of improper interference on the part of the Select Vestry in the registration for the county of Middlesex. The petitioners complained, that forty-two names had been surreptitiously inserted in the list of voters in that borough for the county of Middlesex; they stated that those forty-two names appeared in the printed lists affixed to the church-door, and though they had never been inserted in the list made out by the overseer, the Marylebone beadle afterwards paid 42s. to the overseer on the account of those names; no claim had ever been made to the overseer by any of the parties whose names thus appeared on the list to have them inserted there; one of those names was that of the hon. Member for Marylebone (Sir Samuel Whalley); and the said forty-two persons claimed the right to vote from a certain burial-ground and a yard belonging to the parish. The petitioners prayed the House to adopt some measure to prevent such a surreptitious mode of proceeding, and such a gross infraction of the provisions of the Reform Bill. The noble Marquess observed, that such was the statement made by the petitioners. He trusted that the hon. Member for Marylebone would be enabled to give such an explanation of this matter as would lead the House to believe, that those names had not been improperly inserted in the list of voters. He was bound, however, to state that he had it upon the most respectable authority—authority that he had no reason to doubt—that those names had been improperly inserted in the list by the Select Vestry, after the overseer had made out and sent in that list. If that were the case, and if such a course of proceeding were to be tolerated, there could be no faith placed in the list of any overseer in any part of the kingdom.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, that with every wish to afford every facility to the right of petition, he must say, that he thought the House should not receive this petition. With regard to the first allegation in the petition as to an alleged improper interference on the part of the Vestry with the list of voters, he begged to state, that by the law in Marylebone the custody of the ratebooks was placed in the hands of the Select Vestry; by the law there, the overseer had no access to them, and it was not in his power to complete the lists of voters without first submitting them to the Select Vestry. By the law, therefore, under the Reform Bill, the Vestry was obliged to act, and it did act, in making out the list of voters. It did so in its own Court. It had acted so for the last three years in assisting the overseer in making out the lists, and during all that time there had not been a suspicion that a single name had been inserted or omitted in the lists improperly. That was all that the Vestry had done in this instance. He was authorized to give the most positive and unequivocal denial to the allegation in the petition, that the Vestry, as a Vestry, had otherwise interfered. It was true, that individual Members of the Vestry, acting not as the Vestry, but in their individual capacity—it was true, that such individuals, to the number of forty-two, had claimed to be inserted in the register for a property of 3,000l. a-year and upwards, belonging to the parish, and from which they, as Members of the Vestry, thought they derived a right of voting. He conceived that the noble Lord should be the last man to object to a registration of votes from bonâ fide property. That claim was still to be decided before the Revising Barrister. He would not, therefore, prejudice it by entering into any statements with regard to the manner in which it was to be made. The noble Marquess should know that all the matters connected with this claim to which this petition referred were still to come before the Revising Barrister for his decision, and surely the noble Marquess, with that high sense of justice which he possessed, would not de- sire to do anything that might prejudice claims that had still to be adjudicated before a legal tribunal. The noble Marquess, who was remarkable for keeping his pledge when pledges were so recklessly and disgracefully broken by Members on his side of the House, would surely not be a party to such an unjust proceeding. The House of Commons was not the tribunal to decide the matter; it should in common justice be left to the Revising Barrister. He would tell the noble Marquess most unequivocally, that with the exception of the first thing stated in the petition, which he had explained as originating in the peculiarity of the law in Marylebone, the Vestry, as a body, had not done a single act attributed to them by the petitioners. Whether the parties were right or wrong in making the claim they did to be put upon the list, he would not say, contenting himself with repeating that that must be determined by the Revising Barrister.

Mr. Charles Ross

said, that there was not an allegation in the petition against the Vestry with the exception of that which the hon. Member himself admitted—namely, that they had appointed a Committee of Registration. The petition stated that a gross fraud had been practised by the insertion of those forty-two names. Now the very fact which the hon. Member admitted as to the Vestry fully justified the petitioners in making that charge. If the Vestry were to act with the overseers in the preparation of the list, and if the overseers could not act without the aid of the Vestry, then the Vestry became responsible for the transaction, and was one of the parties chargeable for it. The charge in the petition was this—that after the overseer had closed the lists, and sent them to be printed, the Vestry took possession of the list, and that at a time when no more claims could be sent into the overseer, forty-two claimants were put upon the list, whether with or without the cognizance of the said claimants, he (Mr. Charles Ross) could not say. He did not want to argue the merit of those claims. He would maintain, however, that the petitioners had a perfect right to make the complaint they did. That complaint was, that long subsequent to the time prescribed by the Act of Parliament for the officers receiving notices of claims, those names were inserted in the list.

Mr. Hume

said, that the law prescribed a regular tribunal for deciding this matter, and that before the adjudication of that tri- bunal took place, the House had no more right to interfere in the matter than it would have with a trial coming on in the King's Bench. He must protest against the House taking up this question now, or entering at all into its merits. What passed in that House should not affect the future decision of the Revising Barrister in this matter; but it might do so, and they should therefore take care not to create a prejudice one way or the other as regarded the question. If the Revising Barrister should make a decision open to objection, an appeal lay against it to that House, but the House had no right to take the matter into its own hands in the first instance. He thought the petition should not be received.

Mr. Mackinnon,

as an inhabitant of Marylebone, must state that this transaction had given great dissatisfaction there. He was astonished to hear the hon. Member opposite assert, that when petitioners felt themselves aggrieved, they should not complain. These forty-two names were foisted on the list while all the other Members of the Vestry were ignorant of the claim. Thus, a positive injury, supposing the claim a well-founded one, was done to the other Members of the Vestry. In proof that the thing had been improperly done, he would just ask the hon. Member for Mary-le-bone, whose name formed one of the forty-two, if he had been previously consulted before his name was put there? Let the hon. Member answer that question.

Mr. Roebuck

must protest against such a question being put. The hon. Member had no right to put the question. The House had no right to entertain the subject. They were a Court of Appeal from the Revising Barrister, and had therefore no right to entertain a question which had still to be decided before his tribunal.

Mr. O'Connell

would not shut out any petition, unless a substantial objection was raised to it. The petitioners complained that forty-two names had been illegally placed on the register. That was for the Revising Barrister in the first instance, and not for that House to decide. An appeal from that decision afterwards lay to that House. He submitted that this question should not be entertained by the House before the matter was adjudicated by the Revising Barrister.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that there were two distinct questions at present before the House. One of them was, whether the parties placed on the register had any qualification—and if that had been the only question at issue, it might be left for the decision of the Revising Barrister; but it was not the only question at issue. The petitioners did not complain that persons had been inserted in the list who were not voters, but they did complain, that after the list had been sent away by the overseers to be printed, the names of certain persons had been surreptitiously placed upon it. The other question therefore was, whether the conduct of those who had surreptitiously placed these names on the list after it was prepared and sent away by the overseers to be printed should be investigated, with a view of providing a remedy against such proceedings in future. It was said, that other parties might have had their names placed on the list, if they pleased. Certainly they might; but they had not got their names placed on it, for they could only have got that done surreptitiously, and they were not willing to stoop to such improper practices.

The Attorney-General

said, that it was quite clear that the prayer of this petition could not be granted. With all respect for the House, he had an opinion, that the House could not interfere in any case determinable by the regular tribunals of the country, even after sentence, unless there were strong proofs of corruption adduced against them. Still less could it interfere with any case before sentence; because then "lis est sub judice." If in this list any name had been improperly inserted, or erased, it might be remedied, on proof of the fact, by the Revising Barrister. The prayer of the petition was, that the House of Commons should examine whether the lists had been properly prepared, and punish. ["No!"] No? He said yes. The petitioners humbly prayed, "that the House should take the subject into consideration, with a view to such further legislative enactment, as would provide for the punishment of those who had been guilty of this offence." The point, then, into which the Committee for which the petitioners prayed would have to institute an inquiry was, whether any names had been surreptitiously inserted in the list, and if so, by whom. That was a matter into which he submitted it was not competent for the House to examine. He would not go so far as the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, who said that this petition ought not to be received, but the prayer of the petition could not by any possibility be acceded to.

Dr. Nicholl

said, that the prayer of the petition was not so much for inquiry into what was past, as for the means of punishing those who might be guilty of similar misconduct in future.

Mr. Robinson

said; even were the petition laid upon the Table, it was not likely that the House would adopt any ulterior proceeding, though he had heard no good reason why it should not.

Mr. Ormsby Gore

was confident that there was no good reason why this petition should be rejected. It was couched in respectful language, and the prayer was, that the House would vindicate the law. There was a Clause in the Vestry Act of Mary-le-bone, which enabled the Vestry to interfere with the overseers in making out the list. According to the same Act, any rate-payer had not only a right to inspect the books, but to take a copy of them. According to the Reform Act, the overseers were bound to furnish a list of the claimants to vote, and to sign that list. Subsequently to the time when the list was completed and sent to the printer's, forty-two additional names were inserted, and two guineas were paid into the bank to the credit of the parish, but not through the hands of the overseers. Such a mode of proceeding was irregular, as it would deprive the overseers of a power which they had at present under the Reform Act—namely, that of writing "objected to," against the name of any voter in the list. The prayer of the petition could not be reasonably objected to. Here were forty-two claimants for votes out of one burying-ground to the parish of Mary-le-bone. The teeth of the Cadmean dragon were never so prolific, and they ought to be denominated the "spectre-voters."

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, the property was worth 3,000l a-year.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could see no sufficient reason for rejecting the petition on the general principle; what the House might do with it hereafter was another question.

Lord Viscount Sandon

said, as the law at present stood, the parties injured had no remedy; there had been an improper interference with the persons whose duty it was to prepare the lists, and it certainly appeared to him, that persons who had been guilty of so gross a breach of the law ought to be punished. This was a case not provided for in the Reform Act, and, therefore, a very proper subject for a petition.

Mr. Henry L. Bulwer,

being one of the Members for the Borough of Mary-le-bone, considered it his duty to state, that he knew nothing whatever of the facts; and he must do the noble Marquess the justice to say, that the petition could not have been laid upon the Table in a more temperate and proper manner. As to rejecting the petition, the question was, whether, after the statements made, the noble Marquess would not withdraw it? The House could not properly judge of that point until the matter had been brought before the Registering-Barristers, and they had adjudicated upon it.

Mr. Wakley

was surprised that any hon. Member would think it extraordinary that fifteen claims should be registered out of one burying-ground, when, for one respectable Conservative building in the Strand, not less than eighty-five good respectable Conservative votes had been registered two years since, and fifty stood registered for it this year.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

said, it was admitted that there was no other effectual means of investigation than by the House of Commons. An hon. Gentleman had said, that if the overseers had been guilty of inserting names improperly, they were liable to a penalty of 500l. But, in this case, there was no complaint against the overseers: the overseers had done their duty and obeyed the law. If any one of the forty-two gentlemen whose names were on the list would come forward and say, "I sent in my claim and desired to be registered," that would be perfectly satisfactory. But he understood that they one and all refused to do this, proving that their names were surreptitiously inserted.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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