§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, the object which the measure contemplated, that of checking the presentation of frivolous Petitions, was undoubtedly beneficial; but it was necessary to surround the Bill with some precautions, otherwise it might discourage the presentation of bonâ fide Petitions. Considering the importance of the subject, and the number of Amendments which it was proposed to introduce, he thought it would be better that the Bill should be committed pro formâ, in order that when reprinted it might be referred to a Select Committee composed of gentlemen 1018 of experience in election inquiries. In any case he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not ask them then to go into the details of the measure.
§ MR. HUNT
said, the opportunities at the disposal of private Members were very limited, and he was therefore indisposed to accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. There ought not to be the least difficulty in proceeding with the consideration of the Bill, to the second reading of which, when it was last before the House, no opposition had been offered. He had eagerly caught at every suggestion for its improvement. The Amendments on the paper were no doubt extensive, but some had been rendered necessary in order to carry out alterations which the Government had itself suggested. He had gone through the Bill, clause by clause, with his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, and was under the impression that the hon. and learned Gentleman had assented to the Clauses and the Amendments. To refer the Bill to a Select Committee, would be to postpone it to another Session; and he therefore trusted that the House would consent to go into Committee on the Bill at once.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, the Bill might have the effect of preventing the presentation of some vexatious Petitions, but it might also prevent the presentation of some which were of bonâ fide character. He hoped the Bill would not pass without further consideration than it had hitherto received.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
said, he thought a fair opportunity was afforded for the consideration of this measure, the principle of which had already been affirmed by the House. The necessity for the measure had been acknowledged for many years, and he therefore hoped to see it passed at once.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, he could speak from his own experience of the great necessity for some such legislation on the subject. In 1859 he was returned for Sandwich. A few days after the election a carriage containing some Conservative agents came over from Dover, and the result was a Petition against his return. When he accepted office, and went down for re-election, the Conservative party in the borough repudiated all knowledge of the Petition which was then hanging over his head. Certain parties, however, who opposed his return, issued a placard adopting in effect the charges made against him in the Election Petition. He brought an 1019 action against those persons for libel, and but for that accident he should have had no opportunity of proving his innocence of the charges of corrupt practices, because the Petition against his return was withdrawn. There ought to be a Committee to take cognizance of Election Petitions, not only on their withdrawal, as was proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. Hunt), but on their presentation. Such a Committee should act as a sort of grand jury, to see whether there was a primâ facie case for proceeding with the Petition. It would be the duty of such a Committee to see that the person who made such a charge was not a man of straw, as frequently happened, and also to compel him to come forward and make an affidavit that he had some grounds for his allegation. No one gained by the present system but a class of of men who made a trade of such practices. He trusted something would be done before another general election, to check a system that was unfair both to Members and constituencies, and which neither added to the dignity of the House, nor the character of its proceedings.
§ SIR WILLIAM MILES
said he thought that was a very fair opportunity for considering the details of the Bill. The Attorney General was present, and he hoped the House would at once go into Committee, and consider the matter clause by clause.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that if the Government would not do their duty, and incur the responsibility of bringing in such a Bill, it was necessary that any measure introduced by a private Member should be very carefully examined. There was a good deal in the law relating to election Petitions which was of a very minute and technical character, and he moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be committed to a Select Committee,"—(Mr. Ayrton,)—instead thereof.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 91; Noes 92: Majority 1.
§ Words added.
§ MR. HUNT
said, that as the House had determined that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, he trusted that no 1020 time would be lost, so that the House might have an opportunity of discussing the Bill before the close of the Session.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that he had not voted for the Amendment in order to defeat the Bill. The House had, however, never passed a measure on the subject without first referring the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee; and on June 18 Committee nominated.