HC Deb 28 February 1839 vol 45 cc1013-9
Captain Pechell

said, the case to which he was about to call the attention of the House would show the great inconvenience that had resulted from the course which a great majority of the House had determined to pursue with respect to receiving petitions. He would confine his observations to the narrowest limits consistently with the justice of the case that had been committed to his charge. He begged to call the attention of the House to the petition of Jacob Lebright, in the hope that the Government would devise some means of giving protection and encouragement to foreigners who settled in this country. The petitioner stated, that upon the ground of his being an alien, he had been struck out of the list of electors for the borough of Brighton, although he had been an inhabitant householder for twenty-three years, and had paid rates and taxes during that period; that during the late war he served under Sir Ralph Abercromby and the Duke of Wellington, and was twice severely wounded, and that, after a long and faithful service, he retired from the army, in the expectation of enjoying the rights of a British subject, but that he now found himself deprived of the elective franchise, which had been conferred upon him by the Reform Bill, on the ground of his being a foreigner. He also stated, that he felt deeply mortified, that while he acted as a special constable, and was called upon to pay all rates and taxes, that be should be prohibited from giving a vote for a Member of Parliament, and prayed the House to take into consideration the law on this subject, in order that he might no longer be excluded from enjoying the elective franchise. The hon. and gallant Member then stated, that the disqualification of foreigners rested on the common law of the country, and not on any statutory enactment, and that law principally related to the disqualification of aliens sitting in that House or in the Council. There was only one resolution, that of 1698, declaratory of such disqualification, and it stated that an alien, not being naturalized, had no right to vote for the election of Members to serve in Parliament. Very shortly after that, it was shown that a Scotch Member was not qualified to sit in the House, for Mr. Stewart was objected to as a Scotchman, and as not being a natural born subject, and his election was declared void. But since that time no enactment could be found which prevented an alien voting for a Member of Parliament; on the contrary, there were various enactments from the time of Queen Anne down to George 3rd, which showed, that every encourage- ment was given to foreign Protestants to settle in this country. The petitioner was a staunch Protestant. He had paid all rates and taxes, and by the statute of 5th Anne he ought to be considered as a natural born subject of the realm. By the 28th of George 3rd a great latitude was shown to foreigners, for it was enacted that any foreigner trading for five years in the whale fishery, was considered a natural born British subject. He thought the Government ought to give greater facility for the processes of denization or naturalization. In the present instance he stood forward on behalf of our old soldier, and a man could not obtain a Naturalization Bill without incurring great expense. The process of denization was tedious, difficult, and expensive, and a great many persons would be glad to become British subjects, if the process was more simple. In the process of denization an affidavit was required from a certain number of householders of the residence of the party; the Secretary of State took the case into consideration, and if the alien were fortunate in his application, he had to pay 140l. He understood that a number of persons might be included in one patent, and so far the expense would be diminished. If seven people applied, they would have to pay 224l., and the cost to each person would then he 32l. He found, that on one occasion, in 1795, sixteen persons, had been bundled into one patent of denization, and the expense to each of them was 22l. That was the old German band of George 3rd, and the great drum and all were bundled into one patent. But since that time, he could not find that more than seven had been introduced into one patent. He believed that when the subject was fairly brought before the Government, they would find the means of remedying the evil. He hoped that no advantage would be taken from his not having gone further into details. He had on one or two occasions been thrown overboard because he had not properly gone into the case. But this was one that would speak for itself, and therefore he hoped there would be no opposition to the motion he made, which was to facilitate the object of the Reform Bill. In conclusion, he would simply move for a return of all fees and expenses charged on letters patent of denization, and also for a return of the greatest number of persons included in one patent.

Mr. Mackinnon

seconded the motion. He thought in doing so, he should be like a small tender following in the wake of a line of battle ship. He did so, because he hoped it would clear up a point, not generally understood in the country, with regard to the franchise under the Reform Bill; and he wished to ask the Law Officers of the Crown, how the law stood on this point. In the first place, he was not aware that there was anything in the Reform Bill which stated a foreigner should not have a vote for a borough. He believed there was nothing in that bill which said that an individual, who occupied a tenement of 10l. a-year, and paid rates and taxes, should not have a vote for Members to serve in Parliament. That was the first point he wished to have cleared up by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The next question he wished to ask was, whether in the case of an individual who was placed on the list by the Churchwarden, and who was objected to before the revising barrister, on the ground of his being a foreigner, the onus probandi did not lie on the person making the objection. He believed, that the hon. and gallant Member rested his argument on this, that by the 7th Anne, c. 5, all individuals, Protestant foreigners in this country, if they took the oaths and the sacrament, were natural born subjects. His hon. Friend had urged, that individuals who had served in the army should have the same privileges as natural born subjects; and, as he confessed he was not very well informed on the subject, he requested the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would be good enough to give him his ideas on the subject without a fee.

The Attorney-General

would feel much pleasure in giving the best answer he could to the several questions that had been put to him. In the first place, it had been asked what alteration had been made by the Reform Bill respecting the rights of aliens? He answered—none at all. The law, in their case, had always remained the same, and an alien had no right to vote any more than to have a seat in Parliament. The next question was, on whom did the onus probandi lie, supposing an objection had been made after the overseer had returned the party as duly qualified, and having paid his rates and taxes? Most clearly the objector was the person upon whom the onus rested. It was to be presumed, that a person so returned was a British born subject, until the contrary was proved. The third question administered to him was, if his being placed on the registry was conclusive, and whether the returning officer could in such a case refuse his vote? Most unquestionably not. If the objection had been taken before the revising barrister, it might have been good; but unless a petition was presented against the return, he doubted whether any authority, except that of a Committee of the House of Commons, could entertain the objection and strike him off the poll. With respect to the returns moved for by the hon. and gallant Member, he had not the slightest objection; let these returns be produced, and if the fees were found too exorbitant, let them then be reduced. With respect to Mr. Lebright, it was admitted that he was an alien, and in his case, therefore, the revising barrister had done what was right. Mr. Lebright had voted when he was not in possession of the franchise; and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had his vote, it ought to have been struck off his poll. He (the Attorney-General), should rejoice to see those persons who had, for a number of years, loyally and faithfully served her Majesty, intrusted with the franchise. But he certainly, for one, would not go the length of the hon. and gallant Member, in proposing that a residence of six months after landing upon these shores, should entitle them to the franchise. Such a proceeding would be found to be highly prejudicial, and would lead to the discussions of national questions of great intricacy and inconvenience; and on these grounds he should certainly oppose it.

Mr. Pryme

hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would at least be willing to extend the rights of citizenship to those foreigners who, after residing a certain time in that country, had taken the oaths of allegiance.

Captain Pechell

replied. He denied that he had proposed, or wished to introduce, so sweeping a measure as had been asserted by the hon. and learned Gentleman. The object he had in view, was to lessen the expense of denization; but he certainly had no intention of submitting such a proposition as the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded to, to the House.

Motion agreed to.

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