HC Deb 25 April 1836 vol 33 cc230-3

On the Motion of the Attorney General, the House resolved itself into a Committee on the Registration of Voters Bill. Several clauses were agreed to.

On the reading of the 39th clause, which enacts that persons may be subpoenaed as witnesses before the Courts of the Revising Barristers.

Mr. Aglionby

suggested, that instead of the parties being obliged to apply at the Crown-office of the Court of King's Bench, Westminster, for subpoenas, the Revising Barristers, or some other authority on the spot, should be empowered to issue subpoenas; he also wished to affix a limit to the sum to be paid for the subpoenas. The charge for a subpoena out of any of the Courts of Westminster was eightpence, being a penny to the stationer for its blank form, and sevenpence for getting the subpoena passed at the Seal Office; and there was nothing in this Clause to prevent the parties being charged seven shillings, instead of sevenpence.

Mr. Grote

did not understand why there should be any charge at all for subpœnas. All that was required was the signature of the Revising Barrister, the town-clerk, or whatever other officer should be empowered to issue it.

The Attorney-General

was willing to consider the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Cockermouth, and undertook to introduce the necessary alteration in the clause on the bringing up of the Report.

The clause was assented to.

On clause 44 (allowing revising barristers to award costs in cases of frivolous objections to claims) being put.

The Attorney-General

said, that this was one of the most important Clauses of the Bill. It went to empower Revising Barristers to award costs against parties making frivolous and groundless claims to be registered, and against persons making frivolous and groundless objections to claims. He had struggled for such a provision when the Reform Bill was first under the consideration of the House, but it was declined by the noble Lord (Al-thorp) who had charge of that Bill. It could not be denied, that frivolous claims and objections had been made, and taken by parties on both sides, and therefore he anticipated there would be no objection to the Clause.

Mr. Kemp

expressed a wish that there should be introduced a provision into the Clause, which would prevent any part of the 10l., the amount fixed for costs by this Bill, from going into the pockets of counsel or attornies.

The Attorney-General

said, he could relieve the hon. Member from any difficulty in respect to counsel, inasmuch as counsel were expressly restricted from practising before Revising Barristers. He (the Attorney-General) objected to the prevention of attornies practising, because on a question so important as the elective franchise a man had a right to employ legal assistance; and if that assistance was made necessary by groundless, and frivolous objections, the party ought to be entitled to his costs.

Mr. Warburton

thought, that a difference ought to be made between objections made to new claims, and objections taken to votes already on the register, as otherwise, under dread of costs, parties would be deterred from making claims.

The Attorney-General moved the addition of a proviso, to the effect that the Revising Barristers should have no power to award costs in any case where the objection was made to a person claiming for the first time to be inserted on the register.

Sir James Graham

opposed the proviso. He saw no reason why there should be a distinction made between a first claim and a vote already on the register.

Mr. Sergeant Wilde

was opposed to the whole Clause. He objected to any such discretion being placed in the hands of Revising Barristers—a tribunal the most unsatisfactory and incompetent that ever was established. Judging from what had been the course and practice hitherto of Revising Barristers, the result of these new powers would be, that a claim or objection which might be held to be frivolous in the county of York would be held otherwise in the county of Devon, and vice versa. The effect would be most mischievous, and the result would be that no new claims would be made.

The Committee divided on the proviso; Ayes 109; Noes 98; Majority 11.

Amended Clause agreed to.

On the 47th Clause being read, prescribing how the expenses of the Clerk of the Peace and constable are to be paid,

Mr. Aglionby

proposed an amendment to provide compensation to the Clerks of the Peace for the loss of time occasioned them by the business of registration.

The Attorney-General

opposed the amendment. There would be no means of taxing the charges of Clerks of the Peace.

After a short discussion the Committee divided on the Amendment; Ayes 47; Noes 135; Majority 88.

Clause adopted, as was the following Clause.

House resumed; Committee to sit again.

The other Orders of the Day were then disposed of, and the House adjourned.