HC Deb 29 June 1857 vol 146 cc601-5

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, the object of which was to prevent collusive presentations and withdrawals of election petitions. It had five clauses, the first and fifth of which contained one provision, and the second, third, and fourth another. The first provision was, that an affidavit should be taken by every petitioner or his agent, both on presenting and withdrawing a petition that in their belief there were good grounds for so doing. The second provision was, that no election petition should be withdrawn without the leave of the House. In exceptional cases the House might refer the petition to the examiners of recognizances to make inquiry as to the grounds of withdrawal, and on his Report might refer all the petitions which he thought should not be withdrawn to one Select Committee. Such were the main provisions of the Bill; they were simple, and he believed they would prove efficacious in remedying an evil which was alike degrading to the House and detrimental to the public interest. It was objected that the Bill would lead to an unnecessary multiplication of oaths, but the affidavit proposed to be taken was the same that was already taken in courts of law—namely, an affidavit of merits. Even if it did make a new oath, however, that ought to be no objection if the oath was necessary. He thought the House, instead of the present loose system, should adopt a course of proceeding more in accordance with that which was followed in courts of law. With regard to the second part of the Bill, it was objected that the House ought not to delegate its functions to any officer; but, in point of fact, that functionary had only to report, the House being at liberty to take what course it pleased in the matter. The Bill was approved of by a very high Parliamentary authority, and he called upon the House to give it a second reading with a view of going into Committee and there improving its details should any alteration for that purpose be thought necessary.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he would admit that this Bill dealt with a real evil, but he did not think the House would be justified in going into Committee on the Bill unless there was some prospect of moulding it into an unobjectionable shape, of which he saw little prospect. The security afforded by the affidavit of an interested party would be worth nothing; for these oaths would come to be taken just as a matter of course. The Bill would, in short, be laying a snare for persons inclined to petition. It would cause false swearing, and would give no protection. The next part of the Bill seemed to be still more objectionable. At present a petitioner was allowed to withdraw his petition, which on the whole was favourable to the hon. Member petitioned against; but the third clause proposed that he should not be allowed to withdraw it without the consent of the House. The policy of the House was to send these petitions to a Committee, so that the matters in dispute were withdrawn from the consideration of the House; but the Bill proposed that the House collectively should be called on to consider whether a petition ought to be withdrawn or not, but how could that be determined without going into the merits of the various cases. The Bill then proposed that in cases where persons who had presented petitions desired to withdraw them they should not be permitted to so do without the permission of the House; and that if the House refused the permission then the petitioner should be compelled to prosecute the petition at his own expense. What success could be expected from a petition prosecuted by a reluctant petitioner at his own expense and against his will? The effect of the Bill would be to leave the practice just as it was at present, and therefore he could not assent to the second reading. He should, therefore, move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three mouths."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he wished to ask whether, it being admitted that election petitions were grossly abused, such a state of things ought to be allowed to continue unchecked. He thought, where a man made charges against an hon. Member of that House he ought to be prepared to swear to their truth. But at present petitions were presented without reason and without responsibility, for the most unfounded charges might be made against any hon. Member without the party preferring them being liable in any way. Now, were the honour, character, and station of hon. Members to be trifled with in that way? For fourteen days after the opening of a new Parliament hon. Members were liable to have the most unfounded petitions presented against them; in many instances such petitions had been presented, and after the hon. Member had been put to the utmost amount of trouble, annoyance, and expense to contest it, the petition was withdrawn, and there was no opportunity afforded him of proving its entire untruth. Was that system to continue? It was not a new principle to require parties to swear to their belief in the charges they made, as in the Court of Chancery there were some bills which could not be filed without such affidavit. The right hon. Gentleman had said there would be great inconvenience to the House in requiring its sanction to the withdrawal of petitions, but there was no necessity that such sanction should be given by the whole House. There might be a standing Committee for that purpose. He believed the Bill would be eminently useful in preserving the dignity of the House, in suppressing unjust charges, and in preventing the gross jobbery of Parliamentary agents.


said, he would move the adjournment of the debate. It was then half-past one, and many hon. Members had been closely attending to their duties for more than thirteen hours.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"

The House divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 77: Majority 22.

Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he thought that the fact that so many hon. Members were smarting under threats, was a reason for not going on with the Bill. He would characterize it as a most impracticable measure. If the Bill were confined to making the unsuccessful party pay costs, then perhaps no one would object to it; but that was the smallest portion of the Bill.


said, he should support the Bill, and would refer the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Report of the Committee on the city of Durham election, of which the late Sir R. F. Lewis was Chairman, calling the attention of the House to the abuse of the right of petitioning against the return of Members.

MR. RIDLEY moved the adjournment of the House.


said, it would be inconvenient, on account of the other orders, to adjourn the House, but he hoped that the debate, in which several hon. Gentlemen wished to take part, would be postponed till a more fitting occasion.


said, the general understanding was that opposed Bills should not be taken after midnight; it was now nearly 2 o'clock, and Mr. Speaker would have to take the chair at 12 o'clock for the morning sitting.


said, that the hon. Member for Staffordshire had stated early in the evening that he would proceed with the second reading that night, early or late; and no objection had been taken to that arrangement. It seemed as though the Government were afraid of being put in a minority; and hence this very unfair attempt again to adjourn the debate.


pointed out that private Members had no other time except these late hours to bring forward their Bills.


said, he wished, as an earnest of his strenuous support of the Bill, to announce his intention of moving in Committee that a sum of £200 should in every case be deposited by agents as a pledge for good faith.


said, that the Bill did not emanate from one side of the House only. Its real author was the senior Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe).

Motion made, and Question "That this House do now adjourn "put, and negatived.


said, he desired to state his objections to the Bill, and to deny that there was any analogy between the provisions of this measure and ordinary legal proceedings. There was no instance at equity in which a legal proceeding merely requiring an answer was required to be verified by affidavit. It was only when some judicial step was to be taken that such a process occurred.


said, a petition against a return was in the nature of an indictment, and the petitioner ought therefore to be compelled to verify his statement on oath.


observed, that he had reason to complain of the loose state of the law on this subject. A person presented a petition against his return, but shortly afterwards withdrew it, having first had the confidence to state that his only object was to use the Parliamentary petition machinery as a means of advertising himself as a boot and shoe-maker.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Friday.

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.