HC Deb 06 June 1839 vol 48 cc10-30

The House resolved itself into a Committee on the Controverted Elections Bill.

The Chairman

read clause 22, which, had reference to the appointment of the general committee by the Speaker, that were to select the sub-committee to try election petitions.

Lord Mahon

entertained considerable doubt as to the practical working of this clause. The committees to try petitions were to consist of seven Members, to be chosen by the general committee of selection. Now in what manner would this committee of selection be able to proceed? Six Members, indeed, they might choose without difficulty—three from one side of the House and three from the other—but he (Lord Mahon) did not understand in what manner the seventh Member of the committees could possibly be selected so as to constitute an impartial tribunal. It was well known that there were but few Members in that House who were not attached to one or the other of the two great political parties into which the House was divided. Now, it was equally well known that a strong difference of opinion existed on the part of the Members of those two great political parties, on many disputed points of law. As an example he would take the question of opening the Irish registry. Judging from the committees of last year, it might be asserted, that with scarcely an exception, one side of the House was in favour of opening the registry, while the other was opposed to it. Now, then, in the case of an Irish petition of which the success should depend wholly upon opening or closing the registry, he did not know in what way the seventh Member could be so chosen as to secure an impartial decision upon it. The opinions of the few Members who might be regarded as unconnected with either of the two great parties on the question of opening the registry would soon become previously known, therefore the hope of selecting one of that class to constitute the seventh Member, with a view to form a tribunal, satisfactory to both parties, could not long be entertained. This had always appeared to him to be a great practical objection on the face of the bill. The principle of selection involved the certainty that the seventh Member would give a predominance to one political party OF the other. How, then, in practice, was this difficulty to be overcome? Which of the two parties was bound to yield? If the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) conscientiously believed, as no doubt he did, that in point of good law the registries of Ireland ought not to be opened, and if, being a Member of the committee of selection, he were to have before him the case of a political Friend, whose seat depended solely in this very question, and being right in that question, as the noble Lord believed—could the noble Lord in honour or in justice allow a seventh Member of the Election Committee to be named, if previously knowing from the opinions of that seventh member that he would inevitably turn the scale against his Friend? The same argument applied just as strongly on the other side to the right hon. Member for Tamworth. How then would this practical difficulty be met? He (Lord Mahon) believed that in practice it could only be met by alternate concessions. The one party would say, "Let us have our seventh man in the Carlow Committee, and then you shall have your seventh man in the Kilkenny Committee." But he (Lord Mahon) must contend that this was not justice—it was a miserable makeshift for justice. It might give a rude kind of balance and equality as regarded the strength of contending parties, but how would it afford any satisfaction to the claims of individuals? If no justice was done to the candidate at Carlow, it would be very poor comfort to tell him, that in return full justice would be done to his brother candidate at Kilkenny. And yet in his (Lord Mahon's) deliberate conviction unless the clause worked in this manner it would not work at all. Therefore, while he considered the twenty-one preceding clauses on the subject of recognizances to have been most ingeniously and correctly devised, he had ventured, before the question was put, to suggest the doubts he entertained as to the practical working of this clause.

Sir Robert Peel

said, he would endeavour to give a satisfactory answer to the objection of his noble Friend. He would first take it for granted, that the jurisdiction was to remain in the House of Commons. If his noble Friend urged his argument for the purpose of showing that that jurisdiction ought to be transferred to another tribunal, that would be an entirely different question; but he had a right to assume that the intention of the House was, that the jurisdiction should remain with them. Then the objection of his noble Friend proceeded upon the assumption that the House was divided into two great parties, one decidedly in favour of opening the registry, and the other as decidedly opposed to it. Now, he denied that assumption. He had never given an opinion upon that question, and he believed there were a great many other Members who had not done so. He did not believe that, however forcible the arguments which might be addressed to the House on one side or the other of that question, Members were so determined to maintain their own opinions, as not to admit those arguments to have any weight in coming to a decision. He did not believe that hon. Members were so wedded to their political opinions, as to afford no chance of justice being done to the parties, whose case might rest upon those arguments. And yet this was necessary, in order to support his noble Friend's view. His noble Friend would leave the ap- pointment of the special committee of seven Members to chance. How would he better the case by that? There was to be an odd Member. Now, according to the hypothesis of his noble Friend, every Member would vote according to his party bias, and not according to argument. Was it not at complete matter of chance, then, what the opinion of the seven members would be? On one occasion, the committee might be in favour of opening the registry, and on another it might be against it; so that; although in the general result a sort of wild justice might be done; yet no justice would be done in any individual case. One man would have injustice done him, and another man would have injustice done him, but neither political party would in the result be injured. But if it happened that there were a number of Members who were not Committed upon that particular question of opening the registry, and he believed there were more than fifty who were perfectly willing to attend to the arguments that might be urged on the subject, and who would not decide upon mare party motives; then what he contended was, that selection would afford a greater probability of justice being done, than to leave the appointment of the seven Members to chance. If so, and if the jurisdiction was to remain in the House, though the remedy he proposed might be imperfect, still it was better than the present state of the law. But it was the duty of Parliament to settle the question of opening or not opening the registry. His noble Friend took one single point, on which he urged an objection—namely, the manner in which parties were divided, and then charged that defect, not on the party which ought properly to bear it, but on the tribunal itself. Why could they not so far disarm themselves from party feeling as to address themselves to the question, and determine whether the Irish registration should be opened or not? In the first place, then, he denied his noble Friend's assumption, that the parties were completely divided upon that question. He denied it for himself, and for a hundred Other Members, all of whom he was confident would decide by argument, and not by party feeling. His second answer to his noble Friend's argument was, granting his hypothesis to be correct, that parties were equally divided upon the question, that selection was better than chance; and in the third place he would say, that it was the duty of Parliament to settle the question, and if they neglected that duty, that was no reason why the House should not make the best provision they could to meet the difficulty.

Mr. Vernon Smith

did not think the right hon. Baronet had met the difficulty suggested by the noble Lord; and had not made out a case to justify the House in adopting the measure. If the Selection of the seven Members who were to form the particular committee were impartially made, it might be a better mode than to leave their appointment to chance, but he could point out to the House cases where selection would be much worse than chance. The right hon. Baronet had not pointed out how the selection was to be settled when he came to appoint the seven Members. Could he say, that while there should be three Members of one set of opinions, and three of another, yet the seventh would be a Member who would act with perfect impartiality as an arbitrator? If not, then the right hon. Baronet could not maintain that the principle of selection was better than that of chance. This bill had not been brought forward in accordance with the views of any previous committee of inquiry. On the contrary, it was actually in the face of the committee, which was conducted by the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard (Mr. G. Buller). The House had nothing but the right hon. Gentleman's own showing to justify their adoption of the measure. He had no objection to the selection of the general committee of six Members by the Speaker, but then his appointment ought to be imperative upon the Members, and not optional. But the right hon. Gentleman, by this 22d clause, required two things—namely, the willingness of the Members to serve, and that the list of the Members nominated should be open to the disapproval of the House during the next three days. Why should not the appointment be imperative?

Mr. O'Connell

thought the noble Lord's objection on the ground of party feeling biassing the decisions of election committees was borne out in many instances. Political feeling had created a difference of decision upon questions; for instance, as to the value of the franchise. The assistant barristers selected in Tory times were of opinion that 10l. clear value meant 10l. paid by a solvent tenant; whereas, the assistant barristers who had been appointed latterly had been of a different opinion. Thus a question, which was strictly one of law, was regulated by the party bias of the individual. The right hon. Baronet had asked, why should not the Legislature decide whether the registry should be opened or not? Was there the least chance of their obtaining such a decision? Everybody knew, that if any bill went to the House of Lords upon the subject, they would introduce a clause for opening the registry, while the Commons would be for closing it. They must then take the law as they found it. The right hon. Baronet had said, that selection was better than chance. It was, however, contrary to the practice with regard to other tribunals. In trials by jury the tribunal was appointed by chance. Selection was the original mode; but that had been abandoned, and chance adopted in its place. The great mischief in that House was men deciding upon oaths questions upon which they were influenced by party feeling. It was a great evil that persons of the rank and station in life of those who composed that House should be led to decide in that manner. To reserve the decision of election committees exclusively to that House, might, perhaps, be justified on general and constitutional principles; but it had manifestly a most unhappy result. There was this to be said for appointments by chance instead of selection: a person who was defeated by chance, was certainly not so much irritated as if he had been defeated by selection. He did not, therefore, think there would be any improvement by resorting to selection instead of chance. He had another objection to urge. He thought the mode proposed, to select the particular committee for trying election cases would do away with all responsibility. He would prefer—if seven Members were to be selected at all for the trial of petitions—that the Speaker should have the responsibility of appointing them. It was a mere nominal responsibility to appoint the six Members who were to constitute the general committee, because those six persons would have to try nothing. If they, who formed that general committee, did not act egregiously wrong in the selection of the particular committee of seven, public opinion would not affect them; nor as the case stood, would public opinion affect the Speaker, because the general committee of six would stand between him and the particular committee of seven. Responsibility was, in fact, annihilated by multiplying the number of those who were to be on it. Upon this ground, also, as well as concurring in the able argument of the noble Lord (Lord Mahon) upon the other point, namely, party bias, he should take the sense of the House upon this clause.

Viscount Howick

concurred in the argument urged against the principle of giving to the general committee the power of selecting the particular committees; and thought the answer of the right hon. Baronet to that argument a most inefficient one. At the same time, he could not concur in the objection to the clause now before the committee, which had no reference to the power of selection; that being given by a subsequent clause. He thought the present clause, which only referred to the appointment of a general committee by the Speaker, a most useful one. He was anxious that such a committee should be appointed, and thought that the functions pointed out in the twenty-one preceding clauses could be very well discharged by such a committee; he alluded particularly to the division of the House into panels. But he would suggest, that instead of the general committee selecting the particular committee, they should ballot (without requiring the presence of the Members) for those who were to constitute that particular committee; and he would also propose, that after balloting a list of seven, they should ballot a supplemental list of seven other Members, which latter list should be kept sealed up, and only opened in the event of any one or more Member or Members of the first list being objected to, and the objection held good. In that case, the name objected to should be struck off the list, and the first name of the supplemental list be substituted for it. With respect to the questions of law that might arise, he thought the only mode of escaping from the inconvenience of the existing system was to adopt the proposition made a few years ago by the committee conducted by the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard—that of appointing assessors learned in the law. Those assessors would soon authoritatively settle all disputed questions, and then the Members of the House, with the assistance of the assessors, would be perfectly qualified to dispose of the cases that might be brought before them. It was not only a question of opening the register, or a question of beneficial interest, but there were many other questions, all of which however resolved themselves into questions as to the construction of the Act, so as to enlarge or contract the franchise. It might be very easy for the selected committee to discharge some duties, but if the duty were imposed upon them of selecting the trial committee, which would give away the seat to one party or the other, the House would soon ruin their character, that neither the one side of the House nor the other would place any confidence in their decisions. But those were not the only objections. He objected to the arbitrary power of appointing the gentlemen to serve upon the election committees. All knew that it was a disagreeable duty, but all were willing to take their chance of being called upon to perform it, though they would object to being called upon imperatively and at whatsoever inconvenience, by other Members to undergo this onerous and painful restraint; or if the House gave this tyrannical power, they would enable the committee to press into service on long and difficult cases any gentlemen that they thought ought to serve, and if excuses were to be listened to, what endless irregularities and jobbing would be produced! Were they to throw extra duties upon those Members of the House who were conversant with the laws, and was an extra share of those duties to be thrown upon them? If so, they would be subject to render services which could not fairly be required of them; and if these calls were not to be made, then the House was not in a situation to dispense with the appointment of assessors. Indeed, the whole question was, whether they ought not to adopt the suggestion of the committee in the proposal of his learned Friend the Member for Liskeard, and appoint permanent assessors. He, for one, was decidedly favourable to such a course.

Sir Robert Peel

thought, that it would be better to answer objections made to his bill one by one, as they arose. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. V. Smith) asked why he did not give the Speaker the power to insist upon Members serving on these committees. Now, they did not find any deficiency in Members undertaking the voluntary duties of the House, there was no difficulty in finding Members who would serve on the committee of private business, or on the standing orders committee, or on others having difficult duties to discharge. What induced individuals now to discharge these extra duties? The desire of forwarding the public service and the anxiety for distinction. Nay, what had recommended the right hon. Gentleman to the Chair of that House, but the exemplary manner in which he assisted in conducting the private business of the House. He was sure, that if they placed confidence in this election committee they would have the duties discharged without party feeling, and sure he was, that six Members of the House in whom confidence could be placed, would be found. Then the hon. and learned Member for Dublin (Mr. O'Connell), who was opposed to the principle of the bill, did not seem to be able to forget, that he wished to remove the jurisdiction from that House. That might be a fair proposition to be discussed on the second reading, or on going into committee, but now that they were in committee he only asked them to proceed to the consideration of the clauses, as if the jurisdiction was to be continued in the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that twenty-three committees had tried the question as to opening the register, and that all had decided the question according to their party bias. This was a confirmation of the view of the noble Lord. And if this were the case, could there be a stronger condemnation of the evils of selection by chance? If what the hon. Gentleman said was true, that twenty-three committees were selected by chance, and that each had decided according to the preponderance of party feeling, could anything more strongly condemn the present system? What, then, did the hon. and learned Gentleman say to induce the House to let the jurisdiction go out of the House? Why, that there was another question — a question of value, and that the revising barristers of long standing decided one way, and that the barristers of more recent appointment decided another. This showed, that party influence swayed others who were not in that House as well as those within it. The hon. and learned Gentleman told them, that so predominant was party feeling that the barristers decided the same question different ways. But if it were true, that the old barristers decided one way, and the new barristers another, and that the barristers appointed by one administration decided one way, and barristers appointed by another administration decided the other, was not that a conclusive reason why the House should pause before it parted with its jurisdiction? If they allowed this — if they deprived themselves of their legitimate privileges, the sooner they shut the door the better. Then the noble Lord opposed all chance and he (Sir R. Peel) was asked why he did not allow the Speaker to name the particular committee as well as the permanent committee of selection; but if the Speaker were to name the particular committee, he thought, that he would be brought too much into immediate contact with their party discussions. He thought, however, that the Speaker would make a fair selection of the six, and that then he should be relieved from further responsibility. He wished and believed, that the Speaker would choose three Members from each side of the House; they might not be thought by Members on either side quite so eligible as if all had been chosen from their own party, but they would be generally admitted to be capable: and he thought, that it would not be fair to throw upon the Speaker the immediate responsibility of selection. Then the noble Lord would permit a choice of Members, partly by chance and partly by selection; he was not adverse to the selection of the first committee, but then he wished to divide the House into panels, and to make use of the ballot, but how would any good be effected by this? And how would the parties know how to object to the first seven drawn, if they did not know, that those who would supply their places were less objectionable? And was there to be given a power of objection from party or personal interest? If so, the challenge would be almost useless. But the last point touched upon by the noble Lord was the most important; he alluded to the appointment of assessors. This was a grave question. He thought, that it might well form a question on the registration bill, whether, if they were determined to have a court of appeal, they would employ the judges as assessors on election committees? But, as the noble Lord had now brought forward the question of the appointment of assessors, he must say, that he entertained the strongest doubts upon the subject. If a permanent body of assessors were attached to the committees of the House, they would have most important duties to perform in one session out of five or six, but would have no onerous duties to discharge in the others, and the result would be that the House, discovering that able man only labouring one year out of five, would say, "Let us find for them some other duties;" and the House, as a consequence, would lose credit with the country, for it was already thought that there was a disposition in the Members of the House to shrink from the discharge of important legislative duties not connected with party. He did not speak of one side or of the other—the evil might arise from the balanced state of parties, but when questions the most important were Under consideration, such as related to the criminal law or to the regulations of prisons, Members asked, "is there to be a division upon this?" and if they were answered in the negative, though the question might involve interests the most important in a judicial or a commercial point of view, hon. Gentlemen were very careless in the discharge of their duties. And with this feeling existing, if they appointed these assessors, it would be said, why not refer the private business to them? Why not give them all bills to look over instead of passing them through a committee of the whole House, and so on till they resolved themselves info a mere political debating society, loosing their hold upon the confidence of the country, which would think that they were unwilling to enter upon their legislative duties. He was sure that if hon. Members would apply themselves, they would be able to understand it. He for one, though he had every respect for the bar, did not look upon a wig or gown with any degree of reverence; and he thought that a plain country gentleman, without making any mystery or puzzling himself to find the meaning, could easily know something of election law. If they turned their minds deliberately to the consideration of the election law, they would be able to do this; but if there were assessors appointed they would never do it, for they would say, "We are but jurors; the assessor will direct us; to find out the law is a tedious duty, and we need not do that which we have paid a man to do for us." In fact, if there were assessors there would soon be found other duties to perform. The learned Gentleman (Mr. Buller) had said, that ninety-nine out of every hundred gentlemen qualified to act as chair- men at quarter sessions, would be competent to decide on points of election law, and he saw no reason why it should not be left with those who were admitted to be competent. He recollected when young Members applied themselves to the conduct of public business, and did not confine themselves to speeches in debate; and he believed that if the Members of the House did not discharge this duty, they would paralyse the House, injure its character with the public, and prevent the younger Members from qualifying themselves for higher duties afterward.

Mr. C. Buller

said, that as the hon. Baronet had gone at some length into the question of the appointment of assessors, it was necessary that he should answer one or two of the arguments advanced. The hon. Baronet thought, that the appointment of assessors was a question which had better be left for consideration on the Registration Bill; but it certainly did seem equally proper for this bill, as for the other, and he, for one, thought that it was, of the two, better introduced into this bill, because this bill had a better chance of passing than the other. In much that the hon. Baronet had said relative to the assessors, he concurred; he concurred in thinking that it was indispensable for young Members to make themselves acquainted with the work of the House; and be agreed also in the right hon. Baronet's statement, of his total want of reverence for the superior qualifications of lawyers, and he did not consider them more fit, because they put on a wig and gown, to decide legal questions; but he wished to select them on the same principle as he deemed country gentlemen who were chairmen of quarter sessions fit, because it was a great thing to secure the services of those who were in the habit of attending to these questions. He did not wish that Members should be taken this day, and never chosen afterwards; it was the habit of directing the mind to judicial decisions which gentlemen acquired at the bar which he required. He did not so much require legal knowledge as a permanent Judicial character in these tribunals; he would not take a Member one day to decide one point, and then turn him adrift the next, and have the same point decided by another Gentleman of equal intelligence, and of equal competency, but who had never had his attention directed to it before. He took the lawyers, therefore, as assessors, not because they were the sole persons qualified, but because their habits of life led them to a method of judicial thinking. He would rather take Members of the House, if they ware qualified, but his chief object was to obtain assessors of a permanent character. He thought that the plan of the right hon. Baronet would secure a better committee, and that the Members would have a better sense of justice; but his plan was still open to the objection, that there would be one committee one day called upon to decide a particular point of law, and in which the Members would get in their minds a certain degree of knowledge on the law of evidence, and a certain insight into election law, and the next day they would be turned out, and others appointed who would have none of the advantages of their legal knowledge; the new committee would have to learn all that the former committee knew, and there was not the slightest chance, even under the right hon. Gentleman's plan, of obtaining permanent decisions. The second committee might be as intelligent as the first, and yet come to directly opposite conclusions. Great crotchets had been invented even by able lawyers; but the only chance for security or permanence was to have the same person present at each tribunal. The intolerable length of many committees arose from the Members' ignorance of the law. The right honorable Gentleman said, that this was under a system of chance, but his method did not provide any remedy for the evil. Under that, as under the present system, all the Members would have to learn election law. Everybody did not learn it as a matter of course, and indeed he believed, that very few Members knew even the elements of election law till they were put upon a committee. This was the reason why he wished for the appointment of permanent assessors, as authorities to point out to the committee the law of evidence, and as chairman, to settle mere questions of customary proceedings. There would then be little trouble. He would take the power out of the hands of the committee, but he would place one intelligent man upon the committee, that upon all minor points, his opinion might be taken. Again, the Members of the House were constantly fluctuating, and a fluctuating body could never do judicial duties well. One part would be upsetting the law of its predecessors, and if they had assessors the country would still complain, as it now did of the bad manner in which Members of Parliament did their duty. The right hon. Baronet thought, that if assessors were appointed, there would be an inclination on the part of Members to shift great duties upon them; but there were many duties which no one now discharged and which it would be desirable to give to lawyers appointed assessors, such as a permanent chairman on private bills, on which they might, in many instances, interfere, so as to improve the character of the House; and again, that they might see, that the provisions of many new laws passing that House were consonant with the old laws. The main objection to the appointment of assessors seemed to be, that they would not have sufficient business, but if they considered the great delay, expense, and uncertainty of the present system, which caused great evils to the public, he thought, that much good would be effected by appointing these assessors; and if they were appointed, the House need not fear, that their abilities would be wasted, and that there would be too little for them to do. He regretted, with the hon. Baronet, the general inattention of Members of that House to the private business; but he believed, that without reference to party questions, there was quite work enough for them all, both young and old, without also calling upon them to do business of this kind, which was of an extraneous nature, and quite beside their duties as Members of that House. As to the assessors, many objections had been made. One did not like their being Members of that House; another objected to them because they were appointed by the Speaker; but if there was something like permanency and competency established in the tribunal, he cared not by what precise means the principle was carried out.

The Solicitor-General

conceived, that the suggestion which had been thrown out, that the services of the assessors should be employed out of the session of Parliament, if acted upon, would entirely divest those officers of the character of permanency which it was proposed to give to them; and he thought that the plan suggested of procuring the assistance of Members of that House to act in this capacity was equally objectionable. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Exeter (Sir W. Follet), for instance, during the last session, was one of the counsel who most frequently appeared before the election tribunals of that House; but was it to be supposed that a Gentleman in his situation quitting the profession, as it were, and the ordinary course of his practice at law, would fix himself as an assessor, to act in turn one year out of every seven? He begged to enquire too, whether it was at all probable that a gentleman so chosen and so acting, would be likely to have much influence over those counsel who appeared before him? There was another reason which weighed very heavily on his mind against the introduction of assessors at the present time, which was, that in case of necessity their assistance might hereafter be secured, although, if they were now adopted, it would be exceedingly difficult to get rid of them. He thought, therefore, that it would be better to proceed, first with the committee only, and then, if in the course of years it should be found that something was still wanted, the change might easily be made. He could not help saying, however, that in his opinion it was matter which the House should deeply consider, whether business of this kind should not cease to be legislative business at all.

Sir R. Inglis

said, that his objections to the plan of appointing assessors were these:—They were either to have some authority, or not. If they had not they would be a useless incumbrance to the proceedings of the committees. If it were proposed that they were to have any powers conferred upon them, he considered that such a course was equivalent in principle to a surrender pro tanto of the exclusive jurisdiction of the House in the trial of elections. To that surrender he was quite prepared to assent; if it were made fully and entirely: but the present suggestion combined the evils of retaining and the evils of relinquishing such jurisdiction. He did not concur, therefore, in the proposition for their appointment; and although he felt the difficulties pointed out by the noble Lord in the plan of the right hon. Baronet, yet he thought that no better plan could be devised, and that the House ought to give it a full and fair trial.

Mr. Warburton

was certainly very desirous of retaining the jurisdiction in cases of this description within the House. The conclusion to which he had come was this: he agreed to the committees, as they would be composed under the bill of the right hon. Baronet; if the questions referred to them were of a proper nature they might decide upon questions of bribery, and as to the conduct and misconduct of returning officers, and he believed, that such committees without assessors would decide fairly enough. But then he thought that the assessors might form an appellate court for deciding any questions which might be referred to them. Then, as to undecided points of law, he agreed with the right hon. Baronet that they were for this House to decide. If the legal assessors decided them, and the decisions should prove disagreeable to the House, he believed that the House would take upon itself to give their judgment also, and so the principle would be lost. If, then, these powers were taken away, the assessors would be deprived of all their functions. He was willing, therefore, to abstain from making any further general observations upon the bill, but would reserve to himself the right of making any further objection on its third reading.

Sir Charles Grey

said, that every one who gave his opinion upon this subject spoke in a manner condemnatory of the confusion caused with respect to the conflicting decisions formed by different election committees. That arose from there being a number of tribunals created by the present law, possessing co-ordinate powers, which were obliged to decide mixed questions of law and fact on a sudden. There was another objection which must also be admitted, but which was the least of all, perhaps, that the tribunals consisted of persons who did not belong to any profession, whose nature made them competent to give such decisions, although he agreed, that every Member of that House, if he pleased to apply his attention and time, might and could arrive at a fair conclusion upon the cases submitted to him; but the main defect was, that there was no tribunal which was competent to pronounce a final decision. He conceived, therefore, that some general committee should be appointed, which should have the power of pronouncing a final decision; and he thought, that any measure which secured that object, whether by means of assessors or not, would be the most desirable.

Mr. Williams Wynn

was decidedly in favour of the manner in which it was proposed, that the Committee should be appointed by the bill of the right hon. Baronet: and he thought, that the six Members could much better appoint the seven Members who were to try the pe- tition than the Speaker. It might be that there were some instances in which some good ground of objection might be urged against an hon. Member, which, while it could be noticed privately, could not be put forward in a public manner. He conceived, therefore, that it would be the best plan to give a peremptory challenge, without any reason being openly stated for it; and, if such a plan were adopted, at all events the Committee must be considered and admitted to be impartial. He thought it very desirable that there should be an appellate court for the immediate decision, on the spot, of all questions disputed before the revising barristers. The decisions so come to should, in his opinion, be annually laid before Parliament, in order that should conflicting decisions be come to, Parliament might lay down the law by specific enactments. Uniformity of decision would be ultimately arrived at by the appointment of such a court.

Mr. Villiers

said, it was admitted on all hands that the plan proposed by the right hon. Baronet was a decided improvement on the existing system. It was also generally agreed, that it was most desirable to have an appellate court to decide questions disputed before the revising barristers, and which afterwards came, under the present system, before election Committees of that House. He did not think there could be much difficulty in agreeing on the constitution of such a court. It would decide four-fifths of the business usually brought before the election committees. All that remained was to decide upon the constitution of the appellate court.

Lord John Russell

said, it appeared to him, after hearing all that had been said upon this subject, that the first great object to be gained was, the insuring greater certainty than could now be obtained in decisions upon questions of disputed votes—that there should be a tribunal (a court of appeal or otherwise) by which the right of voting in particular cases might be decided on with more uniformity, and whose decisions would have a greater public notoriety. Such a tribunal should be of a permanent nature. What the court should be that was to try election petitions was quite a different question. Indeed, the whole course of this discussion had been to separate those two questions. A sufficient tribunal to decide the more restricted and contracted questions, arising out of election petitions, might be formed within the House itself. At one time he was disposed to think, that with advantage assessors might be attached to the election committees; but he now saw many objections to that plan, particularly as it broke in upon the principle that all decisions on election petitions should take place with the House itself, and not before an external tribunal. Two objects might thus be gained. First, a permanent tribunal might be constituted for the settlement of questions disputed before the revising barristers; and, secondly, a mode of trying election petitions preferable to the present system might be obtained. Now he certainly did not see that it was either proper or necessary that both these questions should be combined in one bill, as in the bill before the House. It appeared to him that it would be much better for the hon. Member for Liskeard to take away from this bill the clauses which had reference to the court of appeal, and embody them in a separate bill, which bill he should make go along as far as he could with the present bill. If there were such a bill, however, he (Lord John Russell) would vote against the proposal that professional men should act as chairmen of the election committees. He did not mean finally to decide nor to adopt that principle; but he thought that for the present they might try another mode, one which would not render it necessary to ask for the assistance of others than Members of that House. A difficulty had occurred to him with reference to the practical operation of the clause now before the House, and the clauses dependent on it. He referred to the general and the select Committees. He thought it would be very difficult to obtain a general committee which should for any length of time agree in the selection of a select committee. He could conceive, that if the House were divided into five panels who had only to choose one select committee, a very good select committee might be chosen; but when there were a great many of such committees to be chosen, as for instance at the commencement of a new Parliament, it would, he thought, very soon be found that differences of opinion would arise—that the six Members of such select committees would be very easily chosen, but that there would be some difficulty in choosing the seventh, because he would necessarily belong to some party or other, and the appearance of impartiality would not be attained. Now it seemed to him that a better plan might be adopted, one which he would now suggest, though, as he had not yet consulted any one upon it, it would, no doubt, be open to many objections. He would suggest, that there should be a division into panels, as proposed by the right hon. Baronet, and that they should choose six members of the proposed select committee, but that the seventh, or chairman, should be chosen out of a separate list of forty or fifty Members previously selected for the purpose, and placed alphabetically on such list. The six Members having been duly chosen, he would propose that the first Member on the alphabetical list should, as a matter of course, be taken as chairman, and so on with the next, and the next, until the whole list was exhausted, after which it should be recommenced. This plan, it appeared to him, would insure the services of persons of experience to be chairmen of such committees; at the same time, that all selection on the score of party would be avoided, inasmuch as the next name on the list, of whatever party the Member might be, would be that taken. He only threw this out for consideration: and in the meanwhile he would suggest to the hon. Member for Liskeard to incorporate his plan of an appellate court in a separate bill.

Mr. C. Buller

expressed his willingness to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord. He had listened attentively to this discussion, and he confessed, that he had been a good deal surprised with reference to the expediency of appointing legal assessors. It must be borne in mind, that when he first proposed the appointment of assessors, the hon. Member for Bridport had not suggested the adoption of the principle of an appellate court. Since that very valuable suggestion had been made, however, the necessity for assessors had become very considerably diminished. The appointment of the appellate court, would so materially diminish the duties of the election committees as to render the appointment of assessors less necessary. With regard to what had been thrown out by the noble Lord, he was disposed to concur in it, with the exception, that he thought, certain Members of that House might be fixed on as permanent chairmen of election committees. A certain number of Members might be selected as eligible for the office (without salary, of course), and they could select one of their own body to act as chairman in each particular case. Suppose six permanent chairmen were to be appointed with this power.

Sir Robert Peel

thought the proper time for discussing the question of the appointment of chairman would be when they came to the clause relating to it. He had not the slightest objection to the principle of the appointment of a court of appeal from the decisions of the revising barristers. He had not the least wish to adhere to the details of his plan, feeling, as he did, that, after all, the real difficulty would consist in the appointment of the seventh member of the proposed committee. He was wholly unprejudiced and unprepossessed on the subject, and would be happy to attend to any suggestion; but he thought, the fitting time for any such discussion was when they came to the proper clause.

Mr. O'Connell

suggested to the hon. Member for Liskeard, that he should endeavour so to arrange the introduction of his proposed bill and its progress, that it might proceed pari passu with the present bill, and the third reading of both come on at the same time. One circumstance he could not help remarking, that not a single word had been said on either side of the House in favour of the present system.

Clause agreed to.

The remaining clauses were, with verbal amendments, agreed to.

Mr. Charles Buller

was unwilling to press the introduction of the clauses of which he had given notice, if by doing so any delay or difficulty should be produced with regard to the progress of the bill of the right hon. Baronet. He was ready, therefore, to make those clauses the subject of a separate bill, and would accordingly, on a future day, if agreeable to the House, move for leave to bring in a bill to appoint a Court of Appeal from the decisions of the revising barristers.

Mr. Warburton

said, if there were any risk that by proceeding with the clauses proposed by the hon. Member delay should take place so as to endanger the passing of the bill this Session, he thought, it would be most prudent to make them the subject of a separate bill.

Sir Robert Peel

The clauses of which the hon. Member has given notice, were intended to provide the means for reconciling the conflicting decisions of the revising barristers. They proposed to establish a Court of Appeal for that purpose, and to that principle he had no objection, nor to the bringing in a bill to carry that principle into effect. But he trusted, that the course which the hon. Member had adopted would not operate so as to interfere with the progress of the present measure.

Lord J. Russell

said, certainly nothing of that kind ought to obstruct the progress of this bill; but he did not think it would be so complete without some such measure as that proposed by the hon. Member for Liskeard.

The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.