HC Deb 31 January 1860 vol 156 cc390-1

said, he then rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Election Petitions Act. His object was to amend the practice as to the withdrawal of Election Petitions by repealing the 8th section of the Election Petitions Act of 1848. The House was aware that at present the practice was that any person having presented a petition complaining of an undue return might, by letter to the Speaker, with notice to the parties, and on payment of any costs incurred, withdraw that petition without any inquiry. It must be in the recollection of every hon. Member that many instances had occurred in which petitions had been withdrawn under very peculiar circumstances. A very remarkable compromise, for instance, had taken place at Berwick, after the last election, when a petition which had been lodged had been withdrawn, and the writ had been allowed to issue, although, bad the circumstances since disclosed been then known, he, for one, would never have consented that a new writ should issue. His Bill would provide that the House should be informed of the grounds on which a petition was withdrawn, and this would of itself furnish some check on the presentation of frivolous and vexatious petitions. They all knew that at present on the last day of presenting petitions a gentleman usually appeared with a large number of petitions, informing hon. Members that undue practices prevailed at the last election for the places they represented. These petitions were never intended to be proceeded with; they were mere jobbing compromises by electioneering agents. To put a stop to this practice he proposed to repeal that section enabling parties to withdraw a petition, and to provide that they should only do so on leave of the House and on cause alleged in a petition to be presented, stating on what terms it was to be withdrawn, so that the House might take the means of ascertaining the bonâ fides of the whole proceeding. He thought this would be an effectual mode of checking the evil, and undoubtedly all sides must be anxious to put an end to it. The only other amendment he proposed was to give Election Committees the same power with reference to the examination of witnesses, provided in the other Bill with regard to trials on indictments. If a witness declined to answer a question on the ground that it tended to criminate or degrade himself, he proposed that no proceeding be taken against him in respect of any answer he might have given in evidence. He hoped there would be no objection to the introduction of the Bill.

Leave given.

Bill to amend "The Election Petitions Act (1848),"ordered to be brought in by Mr. MELLOR, Mr. PAGET and Mr. DESMAN.

Bill presented and read 1°.