HC Deb 02 April 1889 vol 334 cc1392-3

asked the President of the Local Government Board whether his attention has been called to the fact that at the recent County Council Elections for Cornwall the Saltash ballot boxes were improperly opened and their seals broken at the private house of the legal adviser to the deputy returning officer on the evening of the polling day, and that they remained open until the official counting of the votes at nine o'clock on the following morning; whether he would cause inquiries to be made with a view to punishing the offenders and preventing the recurrence of the offence against the Act; and, if not, what course he was prepared to take or to recommend in the matter?


The Local Government Board have no jurisdiction in this matter; but I learn from the Under Sheriff for Cornwall that what is said to have taken place at the recent County Election is as follows:—The presiding officers handed to the legal adviser of the Deputy Returning Officer for the electoral divisions in the St. Germans Union with their ballot boxes their ballot paper account, which stated the number of ballot papers which had been used. This gentleman considered that he could not receipt the account and give the presiding officers their discharge unless they counted the papers in the several boxes. He, therefore, in the presence of each presiding officer and of his own son, all of whom had taken the declaration of secrecy, opened the boxes, and without looking at any of the papers counted them, and saw that they corresponded with the numbers in the ballot paper account. He then again locked each box and kept the key. It is stated that no voting paper was opened further than was necessary to count it, and that the boxes remained in his custody until the next morning, when they were re-opened for the purpose of counting in the usual way. I find that the Returning Officer believed this explanation to be true, and took no further notice of the matter. Section 3 of the Ballot Act imposes penalties on every person who, without due authority, opens any ballot box in use for the purposes of an election; but whether the gentleman referred to has rendered himself liable to penalties under this section is a question upon which I do not think I ought to express any opinion. If those locally interested consider that he has, they can institute proceedings against him if they think proper to do so, or they can bring the matter under the notice of the Director of Public Prosecutions.


Apart from the question of penalties or otherwise, is there any question about the invalidity of the election?


I do not think that any question of that kind can arise; but I have told the hon. Gentleman that I have no authority in the matter. Those who feel that they ought to take steps have a remedy.