HC Deb 21 November 1837 vol 39 cc114-6
Mr. C. Buller

rose for leave to bring in a Bill of considerable importance. He could not say that he thought it likely he should be able to carry it through the House without much opposition and discussion; but he must declare, on the experience of Gentlemen of all parties, that he did flatter himself in a matter like this, in which justice was the interest of every Member of this House, those feelings of honour which were prevalent among Gentlemen would induce them to give up that lamentable party feeling which had brought their conduct on these questions into disrepute in the country. He hoped, from the indication he witnessed of an improved temper in the House, that they would endeavour to establish a tribunal such as would not subject them to the reproach which was now directed against their Election Committees. The plan which he was about to bring in, and which he brought in under the direction of the Committee of which he had the honour to be the chairman, was the result of their mature deliberation, and was before Parliament in the course of the last Session. During that Session he did not succeed in getting it discussed, but it was printed and placed in the hands of hon. Members. His present plan was different from that of last year only in this respect, that it did not make any alteration which involved considerable complication; it did not renew the attempt which had been made, very properly, to get rid of the present system of composing Election Committees from the whole House, and substitute a smaller number whose attendance could be compelled. Though he submitted that the House would do well to adopt that plan, he did not propose to endeavour to establish it at the present moment. In other respects the measure he now introduced was the same as that of last year. Under these circumstances he did not consider it necessary for him to go into any explanation of the details. The Bill having been brought in on the report of a Select Committee, he thought he had a right to ask that it be printed. He trusted that every facility would be afforded to the passing of the measure, which would get rid of an evil of the most crying and disgraceful description. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in a bill to alter and amend the law relating to controverted elections.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that perhaps this Would be the most convenient time for him to state why he had given notice of a motion to the same effect: and he should do so very briefly. It appeared to him that the plan of deciding a mode of trial as it was stated by the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard was not such a one as would do away with the substantial objection. The substantial objection was, that they had the same parties jurors and prosecutors; that, hitherto, had been the objection to the whole House being concerned in those trials. The Grenville Act removed the mischief for a considerable period, but for a long time it had been renewed in another shape. His plan was just this—he should propose to bring in a Bill authorising the Speaker when a petition was presented, to name, on his own responsibility, five persons as a Committee to conduct and manage the trial of that petition. He should propose that those five persons should retire as a Committee to receive the petition and counter-statement of the petitioners, and the statement of the sitting Members; that the Committee having received those statements and counter-statements, as the present Committees did, should retire and make an abstract of the different facts and points in controversy, and make that abstract numerical; that the parties should then be called before the Committee, that they should be furnished with copies of the abstract, and that they should be required to state their objections, if any, or any reasons they might urge, why they consider it necessary to enlarge the number of the questions. The Committee then, after hearing counsel on both sides, would decide what the questions should be, and having so done, they would report those questions to the House, whereupon the Speaker would issue his warrant to the Court of Queen's Bench, in the nature of an order issued out of the Court of Chancery for the trial of a feigned issue. The Speaker's warrant would be for the impannelling of a special jury before the Chief Justice, and the trial would take place before the Chief Justice and the special jury and the five persons who comprised the Committee, whose duty it would be, to report to the House the proceedings and decisions of the jury,—the decision of the jury to be decisive as to the seat. The House would thus have the opportunity of making itself master of what was the law laid down by the judge, and what were the facts on which the jury founded their verdict. He also proposed that litigious persons should be punished with costs, and that a distinction should be made between those who were and those who were not of that character. He must admit that this plan of his was liable to many objections—he did not pretend to bring it forward as a perfect one—but it was the best he could suggest; and the only thing he asked was the permission of the House to lay it upon the table, that they might consider it without any one being in the slightest degree pledged to acquiesce in it. The course he meant to pursue was, after the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard had been carried, to submit his proposition.

Mr. Williams Wynn

said, he did not rise to urge any objection to the introduction of the Bill, but he deprecated applying the proposed system to any of the petitions already presented. He hoped the House would not, without the greatest deliberation, pledge itself to this or any other scheme.

Leave was given to both hon. Members to bring in their Bills.