HC Deb 23 November 1837 vol 39 cc135-7
Lord Stanley

said, seeing the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department in his place, I trust that I may be permitted to ask a question of considerable importance, to which hope to receive a decided and positive answer. At the opening of the Session the noble Lord announced that it was the intention of the Government nominally to fix all Election Petitions to be taken into consideration on the 12th of December, upon the understanding, however, that they should be postponed till after the holidays; and although that side of the House had objections to their postponement, yet considering the short time for which that postponement was to take place, and the inconvenience that might result in consequence of the short period that would take place between the hearing of the first petition and the adjournment of the House for the Christmas vacation, it was thought desirable on all hands that the arrangement should be carried into effect. But within the last few days it had been rather ostentatiously announced that the noble Lord would be forced, by a considerable body of his supporters, to depart from that arrangement, and not to take election petitions into consideration until after the passing of an expected measure, by which an alteration would be made in the tribunal before which their merits are tried. Now, I can say for myself, and for many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, that if we had had the least idea that the noble Lord would be induced to accede to any such proposition, no consideration on earth could have induced us to acquiesce in his arrangement, or admit of the delay for a single hour. I therefore ask the noble Lord, and I hope the noble Lord will give a distinct answer to the question, first, as to whether it is his intention to proceed in the regular course with the election petitions immediately after the Christmas holidays? and, secondly, whether it is his intention to apply the provisions of any bill that may be introduced this Session to the petitions arising out of the late election.

Lord John Russell, The noble Lord has rightly represented what I proposed to do with respect to election petitions, namely, to defer them to the 12th of December, with a view of adjourning them till after the holidays. I made that proposition from a consideration of the convenience of the House, which I thought would be interfered with if we were to proceed to the consideration of election petitions immediately before the Christmas holidays. At the same time I did not ask the House to assent to that proposition immediately because I thought it was right that every Member should be fully aware of it before he was formally called upon to agree to it. The noble Lord is likewise correct in stating that announcements have been made, whether ostentatiously or not I do not know, that an expectation is entertained that in certain cases election petitions will be postponed until some bill has passed through Parliament enacting a different mode from the present of trying the merits of election petitions. Now, all I have to state is, that I think the reason or convenience which I originally proposed for postponing the election petitions will be a sufficient reason why, and I give notice now, that to-morrow I will make a proposition for the adjournment of the consideration of the election petitions till after the holidays, on the ground of convenience, to which I think the noble Lord himself does not seem to object. With respect to the other ground, I am entirely at a loss to give any answer, because although I am perfectly aware of the law, and what might be done before the existence of a new law, yet it is impossible for me to say, that before the expiration of fourteen days there may not appear to be an evident intention to take advantage of that law to set aside, not any false returns, not any returns made by illegal voters, but to set aside a great number of elections that have been manifestly and obviously fair and legal. Now, I do not say that that will be the case, but I mast say that there were indications in the month of August last—not earlier than that—which induced me to think that that may probably be the case, Therefore, with respect to the question the noble Lord asks me now, until the fourteen days have elapsed I cannot make any answer to it. But if it does appear that there is an intention to take advantage of the law for the perversion and abuse of that law. I cannot conceive, if that case is clearly and plainly made out, that this House will not at least think it a matter of grave delibera- tion. Whether in such a case Government would propose any measure—whether any individual Member would propose a measure, or whether the House would agree to any measure—I cannot at present answer; but when I say there are such indications which convince me that I should not be quite safe in presuming that these intentions are perfectly fair, therefore I cannot say that it is intended by those parties to abide by the fair interpretation of this law, and not pervert it to party and improper purposes.

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