HC Deb 02 June 1841 vol 58 cc965-8
Mr. T. Duncombe

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the non-compliance with one of its orders, namely, an order made by the House on the 20th of May last. This was a matter of some importance, as it had reference to the law which regulated the representation of the country. Upon the 20th of last May, upon the hearing of a petition, this House came to a resolution, and an order was thereupon made to the effect, that the clerk of the peace of the county of Hertford should furnish and forthwith lay before the House a copy of the list of voters for the county of Hertford, from the registry book of the county, for the years 1840 and 1841. The motion which the hon. Member had made upon that occasion, was seconded by the noble Lord, one of the Members for that county. Upon that order being made, the clerk of the House wrote to the clerk of the peace for the county of Hertford, intimating to him, that he should forthwith furnish the desired return to the House. The clerk of the peace wrote back to say, that it was not his duty to furnish the return, but that it was the duty of the sheriff of the county, in whose custody the registry book was. The clerk of the House, immediately upon this, wrote to the sheriff of the county, desiring him forthwith to supply the House with the return required. A fortnight had now elapsed, and the sheriff had not as yet furnished the House with the return; but he should state to the House, that the sheriff had written a letter, dated 29th May, which, with their permission, he would read to the House, in which he assigned his reasons for not having as yet laid the return before the House. The hon. Member then read the sheriff's letter, wherein he stated, that the registry book of the voters of the county was in his custody, that it was a very large book, containing 15,800 pages, and that the copying it, at the rate of 6d. per folio, would amount to the sum of 37l. 19s., beside the expense of the paper, and that it would take from three weeks to a month to have it copied, and that only one person could take a copy at a lime. The sheriff, under these circumstances, begged to be informed at whose expense it was that the copies were to be furnished, and whether he was to be put to so great an expense. The hon. Member, under this state of circumstances, wished to know from the House what was to be done? A fortnight had already expired, and yet there was no return, as orderered, made to the House. He begged the House would order the sheriff forthwith to furnish a copy of the registry. Upon referring to the Reform Act he found that the clerk of the peace or other returning officer was required to cause to be printed or written, copies of the list of voters upon the registry, and to furnish the same to any person applying for them, upon demanding and being paid a reasonable fee or charge. The hon. Member, in conclusion, said, that he hoped the House would see that its orders were obeyed.

Mr. Estcourt

said, it appeared to him, that there was some misconception here as to which officer should furnish the House with the return in question—whether it was to be the clerk of the peace or the sheriff? The House had always held, that when an order was made upon a public officer, that order should be complied with without hesitation. By the act of the 2nd of William 4th, cap. 5, it was expressly stated in one of its clauses, that the clerk of the peace should cause copies of the registry to be printed or written for the use of the electors, and that every clerk of the peace and every returning officer should deliver to every person applying for a copy of the same such copy or copies at a reasonable charge. Now, it appeared, it was supposed that this clause did not sufficiently provide for the expenses which might be incurred by the proper officers in furnishing the copies of the registry; but if that clause had not done so, the next clause had, for it was therein stated that any expenses incurred in making out the copies of the registry, whether written or printed, or any other expenses incurred in carrying out the objects of that act, should be defrayed out of the treasury of such county. The magistrates of the county ought, therefore, to be applied to for an order on the county treasurer for the payment of such additional expense.

Mr. Alston

said, that the question was, how the expenses of making out the return were to be paid? He conceived that the expenses should be paid by the clerk of the peace in the first instance, and the magistrates were bound to give an order on the county treasury for the expenses incurred in publishing these lists. He would take an early opportunity of explaining this to the magistrates of the county. The House was not aware how difficult it was to get a body of magistrates together until the quarter sessions commenced. He hoped the House would now give a direct, specific, and imperative order that the return of the list of electors of the county of Hertford, for the years 1840 and 1841, should be forthwith delivered.

Mr. Williams Wynn

said, it was per- fectly clear that the duty in the first place was imposed upon the clerk of the peace, and that he must perform that duty, and that he must incur the expenses of it. If not paid by an order from the magistrates upon the treasury of the county, the Court of Queen's Bench, upon an application to it, would grant a mandamus directed to the magistrates to compel the payment of such expenses. The first person who was bound under the act to furnish copies of the lists of voters was the clerk of the peace, and it was his duty to obey the order of the House.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that, according to the provisions of the Act of Parliament, the sheriff had nothing whatever to do with the matter. It was undoubtedly the duty of the clerk of the peace to take care that the lists should be forthcoming; but it appeared that the provisions of the act did not apply to the case.

Mr. Duncombe

then moved, that the clerk of the peace for the county of Hertford, be called to the bar of the House on Monday next, unless the register be furnished to the House in the mean time.

Dr. Lushington

said, he would not have risen if it had not been for an observation which had fallen from his hon. Friend (Sir E. Sugden), who had not expressed himself with his usual perspicuity. He contended that when a return was ordered by that House, if addressed to a public officer, it was his bounden duty to make the return instanter; he had no right to make frivolous excuses.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that the hon. Gentleman had entirely misunderstood him. What he had stated was, that there were provisions in the Act of Parliament which provided for the payment, but that those provisions did not meet this particular case.

Motion agreed to.