HC Deb 09 May 1853 vol 126 cc1381-4

said, he would now move for a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances attending the prosecution of the petition against the last return for the borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. In doing so he wished to refer to a speech delivered by the late Attorney General (Sir F. Thesiger) on a recent occasion, for the purpose of correcting certain statements which the hon. and learned Gentleman had made, no doubt upon the information of others. At the late election Mr. Forster defeated Mr. Hodgson by a majority of 412 to 210. A short time after the election, Mr. Hodgson met Mr. Forster in the lobby of the House of Commons, and being about to present, or having just presented, a petition against him, said, "I have got a very clear case against you and your Colleague, and I should be very glad if the matter could be settled." Mr. Forster having referred Mr. Hodgson to his son, he had an interview with that gentleman. The late Attorney General said that Mr. Hodgson at this interview said that what he was then about to say must be considered as being in confidence. Now he (Mr. Mitchell) was not prepared to deny that Mr. Hodgson made use of such an expression; but he was prepared to deny that Mr. Forster, jun., assented to Mr. Hodg- son's statement being made in confidence. Mr. Hodgson then said that there was no chance of the election standing, and that he proposed that Mr. Forster's Colleague should retire, and that he (Mr. Hodgson); should come in in his place. Mr. Forster, jun., laughed at such a proposal, and said, "How am I to carry it out?" Mr. Hodgson said, "If Mr. Stapleton (the other Member) retires, and I am not returned in his place, you enter into a bond to pay me a certain sum." Mr. Forster, jun., replied that such a proceeding would, he believed, come under the operation of a penal Act of Parliament; on which Mr. Hodgson said, "Then you make a bet with me, which I win if I do not come in." Mr. Forster, jun., repudiated the proposal altogether, and so the matter rested for two or three months. Shortly before the petition came on for trial, but before any of the witnesses had been brought to London, or any of the legitimate expenses for its support had been incurred, Mr. Hodgson Hinde, a brother of Mr. Hodgson's, made a fresh proposal to Mr. Forster for a compromise of the petition against him. That proposal was made through another gentleman, who was a Conservative Member of that House, whose name he would not then mention, though he was ready to mention it privately to any hon. Member. In consequence of Mr. Hodgson Hinde having stated to the electors of Berwick that he had not sought to effect a compromise, but that the proposal for that purpose came from Mr. Forster, and through this gentleman, the latter had addressed to Mr. Forster a letter, in which he said— I have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Hodg son Hinde asked me to call upon you to negotiate the withdrawal of the Berwick petition, so far as you were concerned, on consideration of your paying the costs of the proceedings against the other Member, not to exceed 2,000l. Mr. Hodgson also expected that you should not offer any opposition to his brother's return, to which you agreed, but you repudiated in the strongest terms any compromise in the shape of money. No doubt this gentleman would be produced before the Committee, if one was agreed to. Here was a gentleman who admitted he had made proposals to withdraw a petition against a Member of that House for 2,000l, and who had proposed that this 2,000l. should be applied against the other sitting Member on the same side. Taking simply the Parliamentary ground, and not inquiring how far this conduct was decent or gentlemanly, he thought the matter was one to be investigated by the House. If this system were allowed, of individuals presenting petitions against Members with the deliberate intention of afterwards selling those petitions, there would in future be no borough in which some person would not present such a petition at every election. That, it appeared to him, was good ground for a, Committee, which should first of all inquire whether Mr. Hodgson Hinde did make proposal to sell this petition for 2,000l., and should then suggest means by which such attempts might be put a stop to for the future. He had to move for this Committee; but, before he concluded, must be allowed to state that Mr. Forster utterly and entirely repudiated the offers made to him.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the circumstances attending the prosecution of the Petition against the last Return for the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed."

The House adjourned at Two o'clock.