HC Deb 26 May 1837 vol 38 cc1090-4
Sir James Graham

wished to draw the attention of the House a question inolving the privileges of the House, the freedom of elections, (and as we understood) a violation of the law. In consequence of the abuses which prevailed in the Crown-office in the year 1813, an act was passed, ordering the Clerk of the Crown for the future to issue two writs, one to be sent to the Crown, the other to the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General, on receiving the writ, was to send it off at once by the regular post or mail. Now, he had that morning received a letter from Glasgow, from an authority not to be disputed, in which it was said that the writ for a new Member for Glasgow had been sent, not by mail or post, but by express. He wished to know whether that were true? And if true, whether the departure from the regular mode was in conformity with instructions from the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department, or with instructions from the Secretary for the Treasury.

Mr. E. J. Stanley

stated, that when the writ had been forwarded in the usual way, he had written a note, desiring that the writ might be forwarded with as little delay as possible. If there were anything extraordinary in the mode of forwarding it, the Post-office was answerable.

Sir J. Graham

would then move that the Messenger from the Crown-office, and the officer of the Post-office, who had received the writ and signed the receipt for it, be ordered to attend at the bar on Tuesday next.

Lord J. Russell

said, that having had no opportunity, from not knowing that the question was to be put, to consult the Act of Parliament, he must suppose that the right hon. Baronet was right. In making no objection, however, to the motion of the right hon. Baronet, he must guard himself against implying anything against his hon. Friend, either that he had acted against an Act of Parliament, or inconsistently with his duty. He himself often received his regular letters by express, the ordinary post being sent occasionally in that way.

Mr. Hume

said, it was quite right that the rules of the statute should he complied with, as neither party ought to have an advantage. He would submit, however, that in agreeing to the motion, the House would be acting as if a violation of the law had been proved. The right hon. Baronet should first give notice of his motion; he should then state his case and make his motion. The noble Lord in agreeing to the motion, seemed himself to admit that there was something wrong. He (Mr. Hume) thought that it was not right to throw suspicion; and as the authority on which the statement was made was not made known, he hoped the House would not agree to the motion. He suggested to the right hon. Baronet that he had better take the course which he had pointed out.

Mr. E. J. Stanley

said, that as his conduct was brought into question, he hoped there would be no interposition of hon. Gentlemen, and he requested his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) to wave his opposition.

Sir J. Graham

did not give notice because he could hardly believe the statement. He had reason to believe it, and ho had in his place asked whether it was founded in fact. The Secretary for the Treasury said, that he did write a note, directing the writ to be forwarded with as little delay as possible. Now, he wanted facts cleared up, and the persons who were able to put the House in possession of those facts were the individuals whose attendance he moved for. He did not give a positive opinion before examining them, and therefore he was not premature.

Mr. Warburton

thought that the right hon. Baronet was premature and also irregular. He might, perhaps, agree to the motion at another time, but he thought that it was, as brought on then, a departure from the uniform practice of the House. [Expressions of dissent.] It certainly was, and he would instance the Carlow Election Committee, at which the challenge was objected to because not noticed. He saw no reason why an exception should be made in this case.

Mr. Williams Wynn

had been forty years in the House, and till then had never heard it doubted that it was the duty of a Member of Parliament, on receiving information of a breach of privilege, to complain of it immediately to the House. The House was accustomed to proceed to the consideration of it at once, causing it to supersede every other business, even the consideration of the King's speech, as was the case when Mr. Heed's pamphlet was published.

Mr. Wason

remarked, that if the writ were not properly sent, the election would be void.

Mr. Williams Wynn

said, that in the case of Poole there had been a delay of three weeks, in the case of Kirkcudbright of four months, and yet there had been no void election. The House of Commons had thought it right that the Executive Government should have nothing to do with the issue of writs. So important did the House think it, that it voted a sum of 520l. per annum, as a compensation to the Messenger of the Great Seal.

The Attorney-General

said, the case appeared to him a fit subject for inquiry, although he did not think the right hon. Baronet had made out a strong case, or indeed any case at all; but after the observations of his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury he should not oppose it. There were portions of the Act of Parliament directory, as was the case with respect to the transmission of the writ; but to suppose that a non-compliance with that directory part would vitiate the election was absurd. If any proof was given of the electors not having had an opportunity of fully and fairly expressing their sentiments, then there would be good grounds for setting the election aside, but nothing of the kind could be proved in the present case.

Mr. Wakley

begged to know if the right hon. Baronet meant to found his motion on the 53d of Geo. 3rd? The right hon. Baronet nodded assent; and that being the case, he (Mr. Wakley) would deny that the House could exercise any jurisdiction in the matter. If the right hon. Baronet would read the sixth section he would acknowledge such to be the case. The sixth section provided that if any person wilfully neglected or delayed to deliver the writs, they might be proceeded against by indictment in his Majesty's Court of King's Bench. Now, he begged to ask whether the House meant to summon the parties before it, and compel them to confess that they had been guilty of this offence? If so, he for one would most decidedly oppose such an inquisitorial proceeding.

Mr. Lambton

begged to ask the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) if he had any objection to furnish the House with the authority upon which he made the statement.

Sir J. Graham

stated most distinctly that he would not mention the name of the party from whom he had received his information. As it appeared to him to touch the privileges of the House, he thought it to be his duty to have the matter cleared up without delay; and as his Majesty's Ministers had the power to clear it up, he felt himself compelled to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department whether the writ had been sent by express or post; and if by the former, whether it had been done under his direction. The noble Lord had stated he was not aware of the manner in which the writ had been transmitted, and that if sent by express, it had not been done by his direction. Upon the noble Lord making that statement, he (Sir J. Graham) then asked the hon. Member the Secretary for the Treasury whether the writ had been transmitted in the usual manner? To that question the hon. Gentleman had stated that he had written a note to the Postmaster-General, or his deputy, stating that it was of importance that the writ should be transmitted without delay; but that right hon. Gentleman had not stated whether it had been transmitted by the mail or not. With respect to the observations of the hon. Member for Finsbury, he would only say, if there had been any infraction of the law it was competent for the House to direct his Majesty's Attorney- General to prosecute the party who had infringed it.

Motion agreed to.

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