HC Deb 14 April 1851 vol 116 cc143-6

brought up the Report of the Committee.

House informed, that the Committee had determined— That Jacob Bell, Esq., is duly elected a Burgess to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of St. Albans. To be entered in the Journals.

House further informed that the Committee had come to the following Resolutions:— That, notwithstanding successive special adjournments of the Committee for the purpose of procuring the attendance of persons whose evidence was proved to be most material to the prosecution of the case of the petitioners, such evidence has not been produced; and that, although all diligence has been used for the purpose of securing the attendance of the parties required, such endeavours have been unsuccessful. That it has therefore been impossible for the Committee to investigate thoroughly the allegations of the Petition referred to them. That it has been distinctly stated by some witnesses, and the general tenor of the evidence given leads the Committee to believe, that a system of gross corruption prevailed at the last Election for the Borough of St. Albans, and also on former similar occasions. That it is the opinion of the Committee, that further inquiry, by means of a Commission under legislative authority should he made, into the corrupt practices alleged to be customary at Elections for the Borough of St. Albans.


wished to draw the attention of the House to the point which had so often been raised as to the legal constitution of the St. Albans Election Committee, namely, that whereas the law forbade a Committee on a controverted election to adjourn (except on certain specially excepted occasions) for more than twenty-four hours without the leave of the House being first asked and obtained, the Committee in this case had adjourned first and then asked permission, whereby he understood it had been held by hon. Gentlemen far more able to judge in the case than himself, that the Committee had ceased to exist. If that were so, then the Report which had just been presented, was no more the Report of a Committee of that House, than it was of a Committee of the Carlton or the Reform Club. He gave no opinion upon the merits of the case, for he had not read the evidence; but he was bound to say that though it appeared from these Resolutions that five hon. Gentlemen had stated their conviction that a system of gross corruption had prevailed at St. Albans, it was not equally clear to him, that these five Gentlemen constituted at the time a legal Committee; and therefore the House ought to be very careful how it seated Mr. A. or Mr. B. on the Report of a Committee which might have no right to be recognised as such. In order that this point might be settled before the House adopted the Report of what might turn out to be a defunct Committee, he should move that the Report be considered to-morrow, or on any other day that would be more convenient to the House.


said, the Act 11th and 12th Victoria, c. 98, required that after a Committee had made their Report to the House, the House should order the same to be entered on the Journals.


But here it is a question whether the Report made be not the work of a Committee which has ceased to exist, and, therefore, an invalid Report.


said, that in consequence of what had passed in the House the other night, the Committee, in accordance with what seemed to be the general feeling of the House, was prepared that morning to hear any argument upon the point which had been raised. It had not, however, been alluded to by the counsel on either side; and therefore, as neither he nor any Member of the Committee thought it would be right or proper to broach the subject, they had heard the case to its conclusion, and formed their judgments upon its merits.


thought the question was not one between the parties, but it was one in which the House was peculiarly concerned, affecting, as it did, the regularity, as well as the legality, of its proceedings. The further consideration of the question, which had previously been before them, had been adjourned till five o'clock that day; and he therefore suggested that the subject be postponed until after that hour.


was of opinion that they could run no danger of having their decision questioned elsewhere, if they merely recorded upon the Journals the Report of a Committee upon an issue which they had been specially appointed to try. The decision of the Committee upon the merits of a return was final against all parties whatever; and, if the House were to take upon themselves to say that the Committee had been guilty of some slight informality or irregularity, and they would not therefore record the Report, they would at once reintroduce all the evils with reference to deciding controverted elections which the Grenville Act, and, still more, the Act under which these Committees were appointed, were designed to remedy. Suppose that the Committee had decided otherwise, and declared the election to be null and void, would the hon. Baronet propose that a writ he not issued for a new election? [Sir R. H. INGLIS: Hear, hear!] The hon. Baronet was inclined to go the full length; but he believed that that Gentleman considered a Committee of the House was an altogether improper tri- bunal for such inquiries; and he would remove them into another court. Whatever informalities, however, might have been committed, he (Sir G. Clerk) was convinced that the House was bound at once to receive the Report, and the Act made it imperative upon them to order it to be recorded in the Journals of the House.


agreed with the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down; and considered that if the House adopted the course proposed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis), it might get involved in far more serious difficulties. The course which it was their duty to pursue was perfectly simple. The Act said that the decision of the Committee should be final to all intents and purposes; and in fact the simple duty of the House was merely to record the Report which the Committee made. It appeared that the question as to jurisdiction had not been raised at all by the parties interested; and, with great submission, he suggested that there was a Motion before the House on which they could discuss the subject. The Committee had brought in their Report: that Report was not objected to by any of the parties concerned, and therefore he apprehended that it must be received. With respect to the party in custody, he hoped that he would, under the circumstances, be discharged; but that was a subject which would come before them at another period of the evening.


quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk), and the hon. and learned Gentleman, for bethought that if the House followed the advice of the hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis), it would be establishing an awkward precedent. He was of opinion, however, that the whole subject ought to be taken into consideration, and that a Committee should be appointed for that purpose.

Report to lie on the table.

Minutes of Evidence to be laid before this House.

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