HL Deb 26 March 1847 vol 91 cc414-8

said, there was a subject which he wished to bring under the notice of their Lordships, though he believed he was prevented by the rules of the House from making any distinct Motion on the subject. The facts of the case which he desired to bring under notice were these: On Wednesday, the 17th inst., in consequence of the death of Lord Rollo, and pursuant to Her Majesty's Proclamation, there was a meeting at Edinburgh, to elect, in the room of the deceased Nobleman, a Representative Peer for Scotland. On that occasion a certain individual, on the union roll being called, answered to the name of Lord Colville, of Ochiltree. To his (Lord Colville's) very great surprise it did not appear that any Peer present entered any protest against that vote. That was a most irregular and most improper course; and as the consequence might be of some moment, it was desirable that their Lordships should express a decided opinion on the proceedings. He conceived that that individual having proceeded to give his vote on that occasion, without any protest being entered against it, that gave him facilities to exercise the uses of the privilege of a Peer in future. [Cries of "No, no!"] He begged to call the attention of their Lordships to a circumstance connected with the individual himself. The individual in question moved the Court of Queen's Bench, little more than a year ago, to grant a rule for his discharge from the custody of the Sheriff of Middlesex; he obtained a rule nisi, and an inquiry into the merits of the case which was then put forward was not entered into, the discharge having been acceded to in consequence of some technical informality in the warrant on which he was arrested. This kind of occurrence was not unfrequent. He believed there were instances of persons attending and voting at the election of Peers in Scotland, who were afterwards brought into a court of justice, and got free from their debts and engagements in consequence of having to exercise the privileges of a Peer. He (Lord Colville) was so well convinced that the individual to whom he was alluding, had not a shadow of a shade of right to that title, that he could not omit calling the attention of the House to the matter. He (Lord Colville) had no personal interest in the matter, or claim to that title. It was a title conferred upon the first Lord Colville of Ochiltree, so lately as the reign of Charles the Second, long after the creation of the Peerage which he (Lord Colville) had; and he had no interest in the matter any further than this—he had a great many unpleasant applications made to him, brought upon him by claims upon this gentleman, of which he (Lord Colville) would be very sorry to incur the responsibility. It was hardly credible that the individual should have had the assurance to come forward and tender a vote; it was not more credible that that vote should have been accepted: but, as this had taken place, it became incumbent on their Lordships to inquire if some step could not be adopted to render it impossible for a man, under such circumstances, and without having shown his credentials, to vote in that way. A series of resolutions suggested by the noble Earl (the Earl of Rosebery) had been passed some years ago, with a view to obviating the difficulty in which they were now placed. They had proved inoperative in this instance; and the necessity would be acknowledged of creating some safeguard for the future. In 1806 there had appeared a pretender to the title of Ochiltree, and the claim was then rejected as invalid. It was a most flagrant and scandalous case. His inclination was to move that the person or his counsel be summoned to the bar of that House; and if he was not at liberty to do that, he would enter his protest in the most formal manner against the vote given at Holyrood-house being received.


apprehended that the noble Lord could not do what he now proposed, and that their Lordships would not assent to what he conceived would be an unprecedented act, namely, moving that this person who assumed the title of Lord Colville of Ochiltree, should be brought to the bar of the House. The resolution of which he (the Earl of Rosebery) was the author, was unanimously assented to by the House, and was passed in the month of May, 1822. That resolution was simply to the effect that from that time no person other than the son or lineal descendant of a Peer of Scotland, or the brother of such Peer, on the decease of any Peer, should hereafter vote at any election of any Peer of Scotland to sit and vote in this House without having previously come before the House and proved his right and title to do so. If his noble Friend was anxious to pursue this subject in order to bring it to a point, he would venture to suggest that the only proper plan for him to follow was to give notice in the first place, and then to move their Lordships that a copy of the proceedings at the last election should be laid before them, with a statement of the Peers who voted at that election, and the grounds of their doing so. If this person were a lineal descendant, or if he assumed to be a lineal descendant, of a former Lord Colville, of Ochiltree, the resolution which was carried would not apply to his case, because it only prevented collateral Peers from voting until they should establish their claims. If the noble Lord chose to do what he suggested, and on that coming in the regular way before their Lordships, a Motion might be made to investigate the claims of this individual.


said, it was felt that the resolution of 1822 afforded no sufficient protection. It did not protect them from the very thing that had here taken place; for if a person said he claimed as a lineal descendant, or that he claimed as the brother of the last heir, he doubted but that put an end to the protection of the resolution. They tried in 1832 another plan, namely, to have a roll—a purified roll was the only thing—but they found the plan was encumbered with many difficulties. It should be recollected that they had no jurisdiction on any Peerage question until it was referred to them by the Crown, except in one case, and that was the case of the contested election of a Peer.


agreed with the noble and learned Lord, that the resolutions passed by that House were insufficient for the purpose intended. There was at present nothing to prevent any man voting if he maintained that he was the lineal descendant or the brother of a deceased Peer. Any discussion upon the occurrence at Holyrood-house would now be useless; but it was of importance that they should enact some measure which would secure them from any such event in future. No person should be permitted to vote as a Peer of Scotland without producing a certificate from the Chancellor that he was entitled to vote; those entitled to vote could make good their claim; and, if met by this form, no pretender could then succeed in having his vote recorded.


observed that the noble Lord (Lord Colville) was wider a mistake in supposing that any legal right was acquired by this person being put upon the roll; and though he had been allowed to vote without protest, there was no legal right whatever conferred by the usurpation. The present practice in this respect, he knew from experience, had given swindlers the opportunity of imposing upon and defrauding the public. A man without any claim whatever pretended he was an Earl or a Baron, with ancient blood in his veins—the world believed he was the person he represented himself to be—they gave him credit—he incurred debts he was totally unable to pay — and the credulity of the world was such on the subject, that people were anxious to come forward and support him, and enable him to make good a claim to what he had not a shadow of title, in order that they might get their debts paid. He thought there could be no objection to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord on the Woolsack, and that their Lordships should say that no person assuming to be a Scotch Peer should be allowed to vote without either a resolution of the House that he was entitled to vote, or a certificate from the Lord Chancellor. He thought the noble Lord (Lord Colville) was entitled to their Lordships' thanks for bringing this abuse before their Lordships' House.


was satisfied of the propriety of bringing this case under their Lordships' notice. Such a flagrant instance had occurred at a recent election, that he could not any longer suffer the occurrence to remain unnoticed. There was great danger in allowing these matters to remain in their present state. He was satisfied that something ought to be done, and on Monday next he should move for a return of the Peers who voted at the last election on the 17th of this month, at Holyrood-house, for the election of a Representative Peer for Scotland.

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