HC Deb 18 February 1842 vol 60 cc641-6

The Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned debate on the petition of Baron Ennishowen and Carrickfergus having been read,

The Speaker

put the question "that the petition being the petition of a Lord of Parliament be not referred to the election committee."

Mr. C. Wood

said, that, on looking carefully over the act, he had come to the conclusion that the House had no alternative but to refer the petition to the committee; and he had the greater satisfaction in coming to that conclusion, because he felt that the House would attain that object which the right hon. Baronet had declared to be of immense importance— namely, that the House ought not to be called upon to decide on questions connected with contested elections. The right hon. Gentleman had truly stated, that, ever since the passing of the Grenville Act, it had been the policy of the House to leave the determination of questions connected with election petitions to a body resembling a judicial tribunal, rather than to take upon itself to determine the matter. He confessed he could see no reason for refusing to refer this petition to the committee in the usual manner, and he considered that by so doing they would be acting in strict conformity with law and precedent. On looking at the act he could not see on what ground the House could refuse to send this petition to the committee. There could be no doubt but that it was an election petition. The 3d section of the act 4th and 5th Vict. defined what constituted an election petition. Every petition which shall be presented to the House of Commons within such time as shall be limited, complaining of the undue election or return of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament, &c., shall be deemed an election petition. He apprehended that no person would dispute that this was a petition presented within the limited time, complaining of an undue return. And then came these words— But no election petition shall be received by the House unless at the time it is presented it shall be subscribed by a person claiming therein to have been a candidate at the election. He apprehended that no one would deny that the petition was, at the time of presentation, signed by a person alleging himself to have been a candidate at the election. If that were the case, then it must be apparent that this came under the definition of an election petition; and he also contended that it had been received by the House. It had been sent to the examiners of recognisances, who had reported the recognisances to be unexceptionable, and he did not know what other act was necessary to constitute the reception of a petition by the House. He would now read to the House the first part of the 30th section:— And be it enacted, that all election petitions which shall be received by the House shall he referred by the House to the general committee of election, for the purpose of choosing a select committee, as hereinafter provided, to try such petition. It seemed to him that if these points were granted, this came strictly within the definition of an election petition—that it was not included in the exception at the end of the third clause, and that the 30th section rendered it imperative that all election petitions received by the House should be referred to the committee for the purpose of being tried. He apprehended, therefore, that the House had no alternative. The only ground on which this petition could be refused was, that it was signed by a Peer of Parliament. He, however, did not think it was competent to any one now to argue that the petition bad not been received. He did not wish to inquire what the decision of the committee might be, whether or not they might make a special report to the House that in consequence of Lord Ennishowen being a Peer they would not go into it; but he apprehended that it was incumbent on the House to refer this petition to the committee.

Mr. Williams Wynn

quite agreed with the hon. Member for Halifax that this was a question of some nicety and difficulty. As far as related to the petition now before the House it might be of little importance, inasmuch as there were other petitions to which no objection applied containing the same allegation. The fact of this petition being signed by a Peer of Parliament was a decided objection to it being considered by a committee. That objection might be taken in a preliminary manner, and upon that, a committee might determine as they had done in the case of a petition presented by a Member who had been reported to be guilty of bribery, or as in a case where the petitioners were insufficiently described as having a right to vote. The preliminary objection might be taken, and they might refuse to hear it. If this objection were taken before the reception of the petition, he should certainly think it a valid one. He thought the House ought not to receive a petition which upon the face of it purported to be addressed by a person, who, according to his own description, had no right to interfere or address the House upon the matter of an election. But then came the words which the hon. Gentleman had quoted, That every election petition which has been received by the House shall be referred to the general election committee. He supposed, with the hon. Member, that these words would override the other, and that if the petition had been received the House would be bound to refer it to the committee. The doubt which he entertained was, whether this petition had been received. No order whatever, so far as he was aware, had been made. With respect to the petitions being referred to the examiner of recognisances, the recognisance was not conditional upon the petition being received; on the contrary, it was entered into before the petition was presented. On the recognisance being entered into, no order was made for referring the recognisance to the examiner. It was done as a matter of course. The House therefore had not done any act amounting to the petition being received. It seemed to him the question now to be decided was, whether the petition had been received or not. If it had been received, the House was bound to refer it to the general committee, and that committee might report upon it. If it had not been received, the House had a discretion on the subject, which it ought to exercise, for the petition was signed by a person designating himself by a title which had been inserted in the Gazette, from which it appeared that he had been summoned to the House of Parliament. The real question, as he said before, was, whether the petition had been received by the House. If it had, he thought they were bound to refer it to the committee. If not, then he thought the House ought to exercise a discretion on the subject.

Mr. C. Wood

said, he did not mean to argue that the petition being sent to the Recognisance-office was a proof of its reception. He merely meant to say that everything which was directed to be done until they came to the 30th section had been done. That section declared that all petitions which had been received should be referred, necessarily implying that before reference they must have been received. Everything had been done regularly up to the point of reference.

Sir G. Grey

said, that on referring to the votes it would be found that an order had been made on the subject of this petition. In the case of the Sunderland election petition he observed that it was ordered to lie on the Table, and that order constituted the reception of the petition.

The Speaker

said, that all petitions when received by the House were ordered to lie on the Table.

The Solicitor-general

felt the objection of receiving an election petition signed by a Peer of Parliament, for if he had a right to petition against the election, he had also a right to appear before the election committee, and conduct the case in the inquiry against a Member of that House. That certainly did appear to him (the Solicitor-general) contrary to the resolution of the House of Commons, preventing a Peer of Parliament horn interfering with elections. But he did not rise to discuss that point, because he entirely agreed with the view taken by the hon. Member for Halifax. It appeared to him, under the 30th section of the act, to be quite imperative to refer to the general committee all election petitions which had been received by the House. The petition in question had certainly been presented, and he did not quite feel the difficulty suggested by his right lion. Friend as to its having been received. It had been presented to the House last Session, and remained there since, and therefore appeared to come fully within the 30th section, which directed that all petitions that had been received should be referred to the general committee. It would still be for the general committee, or the select committee, to consider the question as a preliminary point; and he (the Solicitor-general) must own that he was glad to come to the conclusion which he had stated, because he was glad of any question relating to election petitions being taken away from the body of the House, and transferred to a committee. He trusted his hon. and learned Friend would not press his motion.

Sir R. Peel

entirely agreed with his hon. and learned Friend, and with the hon. Gentleman opposite, that the House had no option in the matter. They had received the petition, and the terms of the law were imperative as to its being referred to the general committee. At the same time he was afraid they were only postponing the difficulty, and he thought it would be well both for hon. Members and Members of the general committee to refer to the Act, and consider what would be required in the future stages of the case—whether, for instance, it might not be imperative in the general committee to refer it to a select committee. He felt some doubt whether it would be in the power of the general committee to make a special report on it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that the error with regard to this petition had been committed in the first instance by the hon. Member who had taken charge of it. Every Member taking charge of a petition should see whether it contained any thing affecting the privileges of the House, and if it did, make a statement of it before presentation.

Mr. Thesiger

said, that after the opinions that had been expressed, it was impossible for him to persevere with the motion. But he felt that they were still placed in a situation of great difficulty, for the petition being referred to the general committee, it was doubtful whether they could make a special report upon it, and if they were obliged to refer it to a select committee, it was doubtful whether the select committee would not be obliged to try the merits of the question. At all events, he thought it right that such a petition as this should not appear hereafter to have been referred to the general committee without discussion or objection.

Mr. Aglionby

trusted it was not to go forth as a decided point of law that a petition could not be received from a person who at the time of the election was entitled to be a candidate. He thought the House was bound to receive this petition.

Mr. Watson

said, that there were several cases which proved the competency of a committee to try the right of a party to petition. There were eight or ten cases —those of Middlesex, Carmarthen, and others—in which the question had been investigated, and in some instances it was held that the petitioner had not a right to petition.

Motion withdrawn.