§ Mr. Fitzstephen French
, in bringing forward the motion of which he had last night given notice, would only detain the House by laying before them the precedents which, on searching the journals he had found, and which appeared to him to prove, that both before and since the passing of the Grenville Act, it had been the uniform practice of the House to reject all petitions which were not duly subscribed by the petitioners. It might be considered by some Members unnecessary for him to refer further back than the 10th of George 3d; but there were reasons connected with the ulterior steps which it might be necessary to take in this case, which made him anxious the House should be in possession of all the cases which appeared to him similar, and on which the House had already decided. Three petitions had been presented to the House, complaining of an undue election for the borough of Sligo; these petitions severally purported to be signed by John Wood, James Winterscale, and Robert George Tyler. The signature of Tyler to two of these petitions appeared to be written by the same hand; but his name to the third petition, which was the only one on which recognizances had been entered, appeared to be written in a different hand. The sitting Member was prepared with evidence to prove, first, that Tyler asserted he had only signed two petitions; and secondly, to prove by the evidence of persons well acquainted with his handwriting that the signature to the petition now before the House, and purporting to be his, had not been written by him. The House of Commons by its resolution of 1689, had declared that all petitions presented to it, ought to be signed by the petitioners with their hands or marks, and he would show by the precedents he held in his hand that where this was not the case, the House steadily adhered to its resolution and invariably rejected the petitions; that where any doubt existed as to the authenticity of the signature before the Grenville Act, the matter was referred to the Committee of privileges and elections, to inquire into and report thereon, or else evidence was heard at the bar; and that since the 1034 passing of the Grenville Act, if the signatures being authentic were a matter of doubt, a Select Committee was appointed to investigate the truth, and report their opinion to the House. The precedents upon which he relied, and to which he begged to call the attention of the House, were as follow:—On the 12th of May, 1628, the 4th year of the reign of Charles the 1st, it was recorded in the journals of the House that "Mr. Burgess sendeth in a petition, but it being not signed, the House signifieth to him that brought it, (by the Sergeant), that they would not meddle with it in that respect." On the 14th day of November, 1689, the first year of the reign of William and Mary, a petition of the bailiffs, wardens, and assistants of the Company of Weavers of London, was presented to the House and read, setting forth that certain persons had lately presented a petition to the House, and the weavers whose names were thereunto subscribed, had declared that they never subscribed the same, and praying to be heard before any proceedings should be had upon the said petition. It appeared that the petition objected to had been a short time previously presented to the House, and purported to be a petition of Abraham Lovenne and others, whose names were thereunto subscribed, but on examination it was found that the names to the said petition appeared to be written by the same hand; and Lovenne, when examined at the bar of the House, acknowledged that they were written by a scrivener, under his directions, but he endeavoured to justify himself by asserting that he had directions from the persons whose names were thereunto subscribed to put their names down. Upon this a debate arose, and the House unanimously passed the following resolution; viz., "That all petitions presented to the House ought to be signed by the petitioners with their own hands by their names or marks." And the petition was delivered back to Lovenne. On the 3d of March, 1713, a petition of Theophilus Oglethorp, Esq., was presented to the House, and read, setting forth that at the (then) last election for the borough of Haslemere, in the county of Surrey, the petitioner was duly elected, but in wrong of petitioner, that Thomas Onslow, Esq., was, by means of bribery, &c, unduly returned to serve in Parliament for the said borough. The House being informed 1035 that it was not believed that the said Theophilus Oglethorp did or could sign the said petition, as he ought to have done, he being abroad beyond the seas, and it appearing to have been delivered to the clerk of the House soon after the election for the said borough by one Mr. Orby; it was ordered "that the petition do he on the table, and that Mr. Orby do attend at the bar of the House." Mr. Orby did attend accordingly, and was examined at the bar, and acknowledged that he had delivered the petition to the clerk of the House, declaring that he had received it from Lady Oglethorp to be delivered, but that he knew nothing as to the signing of such petition. And such petition not appearing to have been signed by Mr. Oglethorp, it was resolved without a division that it be rejected. On the 9th of March in the same year the House was informed that a petition of Colonel John Erskine, which had been a short time before presented to the House, complaining of an undue election and return for the Borough of Stirling, Culross, Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, and Queens-ferry, was not signed by the petitioner. It was, he presumed, known to every Member of the House, that at this period, although it was occasionally ordered that petitions complaining of undue elections and returns should be heard at the bar of the House, yet they were generally tried by a Committee called "A Committee of Privileges and Elections," appointed at the commencement of each Session, and consisting of certain Members of the House specially named for that purpose, but with a proviso that all Members who came to any such trial should have voices. The Committee, upon hearing the evidence, came to certain resolutions touching the disputed election, which were laid before the House with their report, and upon which the House afterwards decided. The last-mentioned petition of Colonel J. Erskine bad been referred to this Committee, but upon being informed that it was not signed by him, the House ordered "that it be an instruction to the Committee of Privileges and Elections, before they proceed on the said petition, that they do examine into the manner of signing the same." The Committee, after having examined all the parties connected with the petition, reported accordingly to the House "that the said Colonel John Erskine did not sign the said petition, but that he had 1036 given authority to have his name subscribed thereto." On the 6th of May following, it was unanimously ordered by the House, "that the petition of Colonel John Erskine be discharged, the same not having been signed by the petitioner." On the 12th of March in the same year (1713) the House was informed that the petition of James Barry, Earl of Barrymore, in the kingdom of Ireland, which had been presented to the House, complaining of an undue election and return for the borough of Wigan, in the county of Lancaster, was not signed by the petitioner. The House, thereupon ordered "that it be an instruction to the Committee of Privileges and Elections (to whom the said petition had been referred), that, before they proceed on the said petition, they do examine into the manner of signing the same." The Committee reported, "that, in pursuance of their instructions from the House, they had examined Edward Harvey, esq., who had delivered the petition, and also the petitioner, the Earl of Barrymore; and it appeared, that his Lordship had given Mr. Harvey authority to set his name to the petition; and that his Lordship had declared, that he owned the petition, and was ready to proceed upon it." After this report had been read in the House, a motion was made "That the Committee of Privileges and Elections be discharged from proceeding upon the said petition." Two amendments to this were proposed and acceded to by the House; the first, that the following words be added, viz., "the said petition not having been signed by the said Earl himself;" and the second, that a further addition be made of these words, viz., "but having been signed by the order of the said Earl, and owned by him." The motion, so amended, having been put, the question was carried, that the Committee of Privileges and Elections be discharged from proceeding upon the petition of the Earl of Barrymore. A second motion was made, that the Earl of Barrymore be at liberty to present a new petition, signed by himself, and containing the same allegations which were contained in the former petition, and no other; which motion was negatived by a large majority. On the 13th of April, 1735, the eighth year of the reign of George 2nd, a petition of certain persons, inhabitants and free burgesses of the city of Bristol, was presented to the House and read, setting forth that they had heard 1037 with great surprise, that a petition had been presented to the House complaining of the return of John Coster, esq., to serve in Parliament for that city, and that their names appeared subscribed to that petition, although they never signed it, nor authorised any one so to do. It was thereupon ordered by the House, that the matter of such petition be heard at the bar. It was so heard accordingly; and on the 22nd of the same month of April, it was ordered by the House, without a division, that the petition complained of might be withdrawn, and the order which had been previously made for the hearing of the said petition was discharged. On the 2nd of December, 1742, the 16th year of the reign of George 2nd, the House being informed that the petition of Nicholas Robinson, esq., complaining of an undue election and return for the borough of Wotton Basset, in the county of Wilts, presented to the House on the preceding Tuesday, and referred to the Committee of Privileges and Elections, was not signed by the petitioner, it was ordered "that it be an instruction to the said Committee, that before they proceed on the said petition they do examine into the manner of signing the same, and make report thereof to the House." On the 10th of the same month, it was ordered by the House, that Nicholas Robinson, esq., be at liberty to withdraw his petition. It would be tedious to multiply examples; but from the precedents he had quoted, and which were taken from the Journals of the House of Commons, it would be obvious that the House, before the passing of the Grenville Act (10 George 3rd), steadily acted on its resolution of the 14th of November, 1689, and rejected all petitions which were not signed by the petitioners; and when any doubt existed as to the authenticity of the signatures, the House either referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges and Elections, to report thereon, or received evidence at the bar. Since the passing of the Grenville Act, a more stringent enforcement of the law of Parliament with respect to the signing of petitions presented to the House had prevailed, based on a resolution of the House of the 2nd of June, 1774, which declared the setting the name of any person to any petition presented to the House by any other person to be a breach of privilege. And when any doubt had arisen as to the authenticity of the signatures, it had since 1038 been the practice of the House to appoint a Select Committee to take evidence as to the facts, and report thereon to the House; a change which had been rendered necessary by there being no longer any standing tribunal for the trial of election petitions, to which, as before the passing of the Grenville Act, the question might be referred. On the 28th of February, 1774, the 14th year of the reign of George 3rd, a petition was presented to the House from the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of Barnstaple, for leave to bring in a bill for building a market-house in that borough, and for other purposes. On the 9th day of March following a petition was presented to the House purporting to be from the merchants, tradesmen, and freeholders of the said borough, praying to be heard against such Bill. On the 16th day of May following, a petition was presented to the House from several persons, whose names appeared to be subscribed to the last-mentioned petition, and declaring the same to be without their knowledge. It was referred to a Select Committee, thereupon appointed to investigate the matter and report thereon to the House. On the 2nd June following the Select Committee reported "that the names of several persons to the petition objected to were not subscribed by them, but were set thereto by others without their authority, privity, or consent." The resolution of the 14th November, 1689, was then read, and the House unanimously resolved, "That it is highly unwarrantable and a breach of the privilege of this House for any person to set the name of any other person to any petition to be presented to this House." On the 3rd of June, 1784, the 24th year of the reign of George 3rd, a petition, complaining of the election and return of Matthew Bricklade, esq., for the city of Bristol, appearing to consist of two pieces of paper pinned together, on one of which papers the petition was written, and on the other the petitioners' names, the same was stated by Mr. Speaker to the House; and the Member who delivered the petition in at the table having informed the House, that, upon inquiry, he had found, that the names were written on the paper on which they appeared before it was pinned to the petition itself, and that the petition had not been signed as required by the orders of the House, it was directed by the House, that the said petition be re-deli- 1039 vered to the Member who gave it in, which was done accordingly. On the 1st of June, 1809, the 49th year of the reign of George the 3rd, a petition of several noblemen, gentlemen, clergy, and freeholders of the county of Cavan, in Ireland, was presented and read, complaining of the inadequacy of the laws for the prevention of illicit distillation and the protection of his Majesty's revenue. And it appearing, that the signatures to the said petition were all in the same handwriting, the said petition was, with leave of the House, withdrawn. On the 28th of January, 1819, the 59th year of the reign of George the 3rd, a petition of John Moxon and others, regarding the case of Robert Christie Burton, esq., a Member of this House, who had claimed the privileges of the House, he having been elected to represent the borough of Beverley whilst in the custody of the warden of the prison of the Court of Common Pleas for debt, was offered to be presented to the House; and it appearing that the said petition was not signed by the petitioners according to the order of the House, but by an agent only, the said petition was not received. On the 1st December, 1826, the 7th year of the reign of George 4th., a petition was presented to the House, purporting to be a petition of certain persons inhabitants of the borough of Athlone, there undersigned, complaining of the undue election and return of Richard Hancock, esq., for the borough of Athlone. On the 14th of March, 1827, the House was moved, that a petition of James Hannan and others, complaining that their names were forged to the above-mentioned petition against the return of Richard Hancock, esq., presented to the House on the preceding day, might be read, and the same being read, it was ordered, "that the said petition be referred to a Select Committee to examine the matter thereof, and to report their opinion thereon to the House." And a Committee was appointed, consisting of Mr. Hancock and twenty-one other Members (five to be a quorum), to whom the petition was ordered to be referred. On the 25th of May following the Select Committee reported, "that certain signatures to the said petition were not the signatures of the persons whose names were thereunto subscribed, and that Thomas Flannagan was privy to and cognisant of the forgery of such names." On the 14lh June following, the House 1040 was moved, that Thomas Flannagan, being so privy to and cognisant of such forgery, had been guilty of a high breach of the privileges of the House, and that he should be taken into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, which was ordered, and the Speaker's warrant issued accordingly. On the 19th of June he was committed to Newgate. On the 15th November, 1830, the 1st yeaár of the reign of King William 4th, a petition was presented to this House, purporting to be a petition of certain freemen (there undersigned) of the borough of Carrickfergus, complaining of the election and return of Lord George Hill to serve in Parliament for that borough at the then preceding election. On Thursday, the 16th day of December, a petition was presented from Lord George Hill, stating that several of the names subscribed to the said petition against his return were forgeries, and praying for inquiry. It was thereupon ordered, that the petition objected to should be referred to a Select Committee, to examine into the manner of signing the same, and that the said Committee should report their opinion thereon to the House. On the 4th day of February, 1831, the Committee reported, "that fourteen out of thirty signatures to the said petition were forged, and that Hutchinson Posnet and John Morison Eccleston were privy to the forgery of such signatures." On the 22nd of February it was moved "that the House doth agree with the Committee, on the resolution reported on the 4th of February;" and a debate thereon arising, such debate was adjourned until Tuesday, the 8th of March. On the 25th of February the Select Committee appointed to try and determine the merits of the return or election of Lord George Hill reported that the said Lord George Hill was duly elected, and the debate on the forged petition of the freemen was not resumed. He would not detain the House by quoting any further precedents; he thought that the last two he had mentioned were strongly applicable to the present case; and he certainly did not anticipate any opposition from the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, by whom the petition in the Carrickfergus case had been brought under the consideration of the House, nor from several right hon. Gentlemen opposite, by whom the motion of the hon. Baronet was supported. Thanking the House for the 1041 patience with which it had listened to him, he would now conclude by moving, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the manner of signing the petition against the return for the borough of Sligo, and to report their opinion thereupon to the House.
felt it to be his duty to move an amendment to the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Roscommon, not for the purpose of stifling inquiry into the allegations of the petition presented by that hon. Gentleman, because he had no doubt whatever of the authenticity of the signatures to the election petition; but he was induced to adopt this course for the purpose of preventing great inconvenience and unnecessary expense to certain parties connected with the case in question. It was, therefore, his intention to move that a witness should be called to the bar of the House and examined on oath, that the House itself might decide as to the course which was proper to be taken after hearing the evidence of that witness. He could not but express his regret that his hon. Friend did not give him a few days' notice of this petition and its contents, because in that case he should have made it his business to produce at the bar of the House the three persons who had signed the petition. It was true that his hon. Friend had told him, more than a week ago, that he would present a petition bearing strongly on the case; but he did not intimate its purport, and he believed that his hon. Friend was not then aware of the subjects of which the petition would treat. He now, therefore, on the part of the petitioners, and as the representative of the county of Sligo, complained that the materials, or purport, or subjects of the petition had not been made known to him before, or he would have secured the attendance of the subscribing petitioners at the bar of the House. He thought he had a right to complain, because now at the eleventh hour, this petition was brought forward for the purpose of stifling investigation into the merits of the election petition. It was now the 13th of February, that this petition, and the motion founded on it, were brought under the consideration of the House, while the order of the day for the ballot for the committee on the original election petition was fixed for Thursday next, the 15th of February. The consequence would be, that if this motion, were agreed 1042 to, the time must be extended, and the witnesses who had been brought up to town in support of the case of the petitioners, would have to be retained here at a heavy and an unnecessary expense. He was the last man in the House who would attempt to stem the current of fair justice, but he would ask, was it justice to come down at the eleventh hour with such a petition as this, proposing to do that which the House was already fully competent to do if it thought proper? He should be able to satisfy the most scrupulous that the names of Robert George Tyler, John Wood, and James Winterscale, attached to the petition were the genuine signatures of those persons. He should be able to prove that by the evidence of a professional gentleman of Dublin, who was present when the petition was signed, and at whose desk Mr. Tyler signed it. If necessary documentary evidence consisting of letters and other papers could be produced in confirmation of that testimony; under the circumstances of the case, he thought the House could not hesitate to adopt the amendment he would propose, namely, that Mr. John George Moffat be forthwith called to the bar and examined. The witness was a professional gentleman, as he had already stated, and was known and respected by many hon. Members around him. He was in attendance, and ready to be called in to prove the handwriting of the parties.
§ Mr. Warburton
was understood to say that the course proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo was not perhaps the most convenient, and that the party who had denied the authenticity of the signatures was the party who should begin, and who should be prepared with evidence to prove his allegations. If it could be proved that only one of the signatures was genuine, he apprehended that the petition would be valid.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
said, that in the case of the Carrickfergus petition, which had been referred to, the petition which was from the sitting Member, stated that a number of signatures to the petition which had been sent in against his return were forgeries, and prayed the House to inquire into the allegations, and that the petition against his return might be forthwith discharged. The House granted the first prayer, but refused the second. In the present instance, the House was called on to appoint a Select Committee 1043 for the purpose of examining into the allegations of the second petition, and to report thereon. Upon that motion his hon. and gallant Friend had proposed a very simple amendment, namely, that a certain individual be called to the bar of the House, who, on being sworn, would give evidence that he saw the petition signed by one of the parties. It was said that evidence could be produced to verify the signatures of all the parties, but proof of the genuineness of one would be sufficient. He saw no reason why the inquiry should be postponed, since the necessary evidence was at hand.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
thought, all parties were agreed that the subject matter of the complaint was such that the House was bound to inquire into it, in order to satisfy their own minds. The only question between the hon. and gallant Officer opposite and his hon. Friend behind him, was, as to the mode in which the inquiry should be conducted—whether by an examination at the bar of the House, or by a Select Committee. It remained, then, for the House to say whether it was disposed in matters of this kind to bring more questions under the immediate cognizance of the House, than it had been customary for Parliament to do. It was a better mode, he conceived, to have this subject examined before a Committee, than to call witnesses to the bar of the House. That had been the usual practice. A Committee of five or seven Members would be able to collect the evidence on all the allegations, in a satisfactory manner, and then to report thereon to the House.
§ Mr. French
had been informed there was a witness ready to depose that Tyler had told him that he had not signed the petition. If one of the signatures should prove to be spurious, the whole petition would fall to the ground.
§ Mr. Goulburn
agreed with an hon. Member opposite, that it was perfectly competent to the Committee under the Grenville Act, to inquire whether a petition had been properly signed or not, and if not signed by the proper parties, they had the remedy in their own hands, and might saddle the offending party with the costs of a frivolous and vexatious petition. He did not wish to interfere and stop a due inquiry into the transaction, but at the same time he was averse from permitting preliminary statements to be 1044 made of such a kind as must necessarily to some extent prejudice the deliberations of the Committee. If there were an allegation that the party did not sign, and such a statement or charge of fraud was made a day or two before the merits of the petition came on to be tried, and a Select Committee were granted thereupon, such a course of proceeding must inevitably tend to postpone the petition inquiry, and would virtually operate to repeal the Grenville Act. If the Select Committee were to wait for witnesses from Ireland, they might have to morrow an application for the postponement of the election petition, instead of a resolution of the committee, unless it was understood that the proceeding of the Select Committee should not interfere with the Committee appointed to try the merits of the petition.
§ The Attorney-General
was disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that election petitions should not be impeded by useless delay, and that the petitioner ought to be able to make out his case before the ballot took place, as otherwise the order to take the petition into consideration might have to be discharged.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that in the present instance, the House should not devolve its powers of inquiry upon a Select Committee. The facts of the case were these:— a petition stood over for consideration on Thursday next, the day after to-morrow. A petition was presented on the Tuesday, two days before the ballot should take place, the hon. Gentleman who presented it having ten days ago intimated to the sitting Member that a petition would be presented, but not having stated what that petition was. Two days before the Committee is to be nominated, the hon. Member presents this petition, alleging that he is prepared to prove that one of the signatures to the original petition complaining of an undue return is not authentic, and that he has reason to believe that the two other signatures are also not authentic, but that one signature at least is not so he is prepared to prove. The inquiry must, therefore, be brought to a close to-morrow, because the Committee will be ballotted for on Thursday. Let the House beware of establishing as a precedent the instituting of. a preliminary inquiry, which may possibly have the effect of rendering it impossible for the Election Committee to proceed with their 1045 inquiries, or at least oblige them to postpone their inquiries for an indefinite time. The Select Committee may entertain doubts—they may wish to consult the House. He thought it better that the evidence should not be brought on that evening, because the sitting Member may probably not be ready with his witnesses, but that it should stand over till tomorrow, in order to place both parties in an equal situation. If the election had stood over till Thursday week, then no inconvenience could arise from appointing a Select Committee. As time was pressing, it was of great importance that the House itself should proceed with the inquiry, as being better able to form a judgment than the Select Committee. The willingness of the House to entertain the question would be more likely to guard against the inconvenience of presenting petitions of such a kind just before the ballot. If he heard from the chair the House was competent to do so, it would be satisfactory to him. If, however, there was any doubt upon the subject, his impression was, that they ought to-morrow to proceed with the matter.
said, that Mr. Moffat, being one of the sureties, could not be examined before the Select Committee. By referring it to a Select Committee, they would therefore be depriving the sitting Member of his evidence. He thought it would be more convenient to follow the course recommended by the right hon. Baronet opposite, and examine the witnesses to-morrow. At the same time, he wished, that Gentlemen would endeavour to satisfy themselves by an inspection of the signatures. He did not know himself in which of the petitions the signature was disputed, as three of them appeared to be in the same character and handwriting.
§ Amendment and original motion withdrawn. Witnesses to be examined at the bar on the following day.