HC Deb 28 February 1840 vol 52 cc770-4
Mr. Ord

, the Chairman of the General Committee of Elections, moved "That the order of the 19th of February, for the attendence of panels No. 1 and 2 on the 12th and 16th of March be discharged, and that the petition of George Hooper and others be referred to the general committee of elections."

The Solicitor-General

said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had called his attention to the difficulty in which the general committee of elections found themselves in reference to this subject, and had consulted him as to the course which ought to be taken. With the permission of the House, he would state what the difficulty was, and what appeared to him to be the remedy. The difficulty had arisen from this circumstance—that the Ludlow Election Petition was an election petition of last ses- sion. By the 93rd section of the bill brought in by the right hon. Baronet opposite, it was enacted that all petitions of a former session should be brought forward before any petitions of the present session. He believed, that petitions, when so brought forward in the present session, would be subject to all the provisions which would apply, supposing the petition had been in fact presented in the present session. It appeared, that in the Ludlow Election Petition, the sitting Member declined the defence of his seat. Certain electors petitioned to be let in to defend in his stead. The clauses which related to such a state of things he had read to the House. The first section which applied to it was the 19th, which provided, that when the sitting Member declined defending his seat, notice thereof should be given in the London Gazette. By section 20 the electors might be let in to defend in his place; and upon their admission, the petition should be treated in all respects as an election petition. Section 30 provided, that all election petitions, and petitions treated as election petitions, should be referred to the general committee; that proceedings, in cases where the sitting Member declined defending his seat, should be suspended for thirty days after the appearance of the required notice in the London Gazette. It provided further, that the general committee should make out a list of petitions, putting them in the order in which they have been reported on by the examiner of recognizances, and not including in the list any petition in which the proceedings had been suspended; that is, petitions in which the sitting Member had declined to defend his seat. In every case in which proceedings should be afterwards suspended, it was provided, that it should be struck out of the list of the general committee and placed at the bottom of the list. This section, therefore, directed, that the list to be prepared should not contain any election petitions in which proceedings had been suspended, and also contemplated cases in which proceedings might be suspended afterwards. By this section he believed the present difficulty would be determined. The 47th section directed the general committee to give three weeks notice of the day appointed for choosing a special committee, and required those special committees to be chosen in the order in which they stood on the list. The 48th section provided that notice of the day should be given to all parties, including the parties let in to defend instead of the sitting Member. These were the questions affecting this case. The Ludlow election petition was referred to the general committee, who, believing it regular, proceeded to appoint the day for nominating the special committee, and to give the proper notices. It was afterwards discovered that, by reason of the omission to refer to the committee, the petition of the electors praying to be let in to defend, there was no provision for giving notice to the parties connected with that petition. The day was now approaching on which the special committees should be nominated in the order in which the petitions stand on the list. The Ludlow petition stood early on the list, and the committee, for the reason he had mentioned, were not in a situation to nominate the committee upon it. The question then was, what were they to do with the remainder of the petitions—whether to propose all, or to postpone the Ludlow committee only, and proceed to nominate the others? It had been proposed to postpone; but he (the Solicitor-general) submitted, that that was not necessary. It would induce an inconvenience by no means necessary, resulting from the act of Parliament. By section 30, the Legislature had provided for cases in which, after petitions were put upon the list, proceedings were suspended, by directing such petitions to be struck out of the list and placed at the bottom. He thought, from the short consideration which he had been able to give the question, that there would be no difficulty in the general committee striking the Ludlow petition out of the list, and placing it at the bottom. They would then be in a situation to proceed with the nomination of the other committees. He might farther observe, that if this particular case was not exactly provided for by the act, it should be borne in mind that those sections in the act which had reference to the point were the director's part; and, therefore, though the House was bound to adhere to them, and, in certain cases, parties might be punished for not doing so, yet if the necessity of the case compelled steps to be taken which the act did not provide for, they would not affect the validity of the proceedings under it.

Mr. Ord

said, that perhaps it would be better to withdraw his motion if the course pointed out by the Solicitor-general was the proper one to be adopted.

Motion withdrawn.

Sir George Clerk

did not gather from the observations of the learned Solicitor-general, that, in his opinion, the general committee had authority to suspend the proceedings in the Ludlow petition only. No doubt it would be productive of advantage if they had; but it appeared to him that an order should be made for the purpose by the House itself. The provisions of the act showed the greatest jealousy of allowing the general committee to alter any of the arrangements by which the committees were chosen.

The Solicitor General

thought, that from the provisions of the 30th section, the general committee might exercise the power of striking out the Ludlow petition from the list, and placing it at the bottom.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

said, that there appeared to him to be great doubt whether the committee could exercise such a power.

Sir E. Sugden

thought it would be desirable that this question should be adjourned till Monday, to give time for consideration. He was disposed to think that the committee had not the power of themselves to place the Ludlow petition at the bottom of the list. The cases in which election petitions could be struck out were specially provided for, and this did not appear to be one of them.

Sir R. Peel

said, that it appeared to him of the greatest importance that the course which they took should be consistent with justice to the individuals concerned, and should not be such as to establish an inconvenient or dangerous precedent. He thought it desirable that they should have the opportunity of a few hours' consideration. He thought the hon. and learned Solicitor-general observed that he had not had time fully to consider the act. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had time to express a positive opinion, that opinion would be decisive with him (Sir R. Peel). It was, therefore, with perfect respect for his legal opinion, that he suggested it might be advisable to take some time for consideration. There were two questions—one was, whether the general committee had the power of suspension in this case, which he confessed he had some doubt of. It should be recollected, that their inherent and constitutional power was fettered by positive enactment, and if the power of the committee were doubted, another question might arise, whether the House had power to make an order on the subject. He trusted it would be found that the House had that power, because no authority but the House could exercise it satisfactorily. He submitted that there would be no inconvenience in the delay, and if the debate were adjourned till Monday, perhaps the learned Solicitor-general would have the goodness maturely to consider the question.

Lord John Russell

had no objection to the postponement of the debate. He wished to give no opinion upon the point. He was inclined, so far as a bias went, to think, that if the general committee could decide the question, it ought to be decided by them. One of the inconveniences of the former practice was, that so many questions were brought for the decision of the House. Questions of this nature could be decided with much more deliberation, in the committee than by the House at large.

Subject postponed.