HL Deb 17 April 1848 vol 98 cc399-401

LORD MONTEAGLE moved the Second Reading of the Election Recognisances Bill. He denied that it was a fair objection to the Bill to say that it was an ex post facto enactment. In the case for which it was provided as a remedy there had been great carelessness and inadvertence on the part of the officers whose duty it was to examine the form and nature of the recognisances; and the petitioners ought not to suffer on account of that inadvertence, for which they were not to blame. The noble Lord then went into the full particulars of the several cases which had been referred to the Cheltenham Election Committee, and which had been several times alluded to in the debates upon the subject in the other House of Parliament, and concluded by saying that he would only remind the House that the Bill was one which involved the privileges of the other House, and it had come up from the House of Commons with a large majority.

LORD BROUGHAM denied that the measure was one which required any legal argument at all. He would go upon irrefragable grounds in asking their Lordships to refuse their assent to the Bill. It was no argument against their refusal to say that it would be an interference with the privileges of the House of Commons, as regarded the right of election, with which their Lordships had nothing to do. His objection to the Bill was, that there existed still unrepealed an Act of Parliament which chalked out a certain course for the parties, by which they should abide; and it was only owing to the gross blunders of the parties that the provisions of that Act had not been complied with. The 14th section of the 7th and 8th Vic., c. 103, gave to the Examiner of Recognisances the power of determining certain matters, and made his decision final and conclusive, and binding upon the parties. The noble and learned Lord concluded with moving as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

LORD REDESDALE supported the Bill, on the ground that it was to remedy an injustice which could never have been contemplated by the Legislature as being likely to occur.

LORD CAMPBELL said, it had been observed that ex post facto laws were often passed in furtherance of justice; but this was an ex post facto law in violation of all the rules of justice. As things now stood, if this Bill were rejected, there could be no doubt that the petitioners, in each of the eight cases now pending before the House of Commons, had a right to proceed and have the merits of their petitions inquired into. By Sir Robert Peel's Act it was directed, that when the Examiner of Recognisances had endorsed upon the petition that the recognisances had been entered into, then the petition must be referred to the General Committee, and that General Committee would make their report to the House. The preamble of this very Bill recited that this had been done in all these cases. But what was now proposed to be done? It was proposed to give an appeal from the Examiner, who had already judged these matters; and to whom was that appeal to be made? To the Election Committee—the most unfit tribunal that possibly could be selected.

LORD STANLEY said, looking upon this Bill as the only practical means of escaping from a dilemma into which, partly by the operation of an Act, and partly by the conduct of those appointed to act under that statute, the other House of Parliament was placed, and believing that this Bill, although it might partake of the nature of an ex post facto law, would be the means of correcting an error which was a casus omissus in a former Act of Parliament, and enabling substantial justice to be done between the parties, he confessed, notwithstanding the legal objection raised, he was prepared to give his assent to the second reading of the Bill.

The LORD CHANCELLOR could not let their Lordships go to a division without stating that he entirely concurred with those who thought that this was a most objectionable measure. It appeared to him to be against all principle and every rule of justice.

The EARL of DEVON, considering the circumstances under which the error had arisen, could not see any great objection against assisting the House of Commons to set the matter right.

LORD DENMAN could not allow their Lordships to divide without expressing his dissent from the principle of the Bill. The whole object of legislation upon this subject, since the passing of the Grenville Act, had been to guard against the practice of canvassing the whole House upon election petitions; and an officer had been specially selected for the very purpose of preventing that system. That officer had in the cases now pending performed his duty; and, if they were by special legislation to prevent the effect of what he had done, they would be opening a door to everything that was dangerous, and that ought to be avoided.

After a few words from Lord BROUGHAM in explanation, their Lordships divided:— Contents 19; Not-Contents 9: Majority 10.

The Lord Chancellor Brougham
EARLS Denman
Zetland Campbell
Strafford Sudeley
LORDS Milford

Bill read 2a. House adjourned.