HC Deb 01 June 1864 vol 175 cc1044-6

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


expressed his opinion that the Bill deserved more discussion than it had hitherto received, but it was too important to be discussed at that late hour. The Bill was an attempt to improve the law relating to election petitions. There were already two Acts of Parliament on the subject, one regulating the presentation and trial of petitions complaining of undue elections, and the other dealing with the question of the withdrawal of election petitions. In the latter Act very careful provisions were embodied for the purpose of prosecuting an inquiry into corruption and bribery, when the original petition was withdrawn, and there was ground for suspecting collusion. It appeared to him that those two acts dealt with the whole question as far as was practicable. However, the hon. Member who introduced the present Bill thought that the existing law allowed undue facilities for the presentation of petitions for which there was no solid foundation. Still it would be impossible to legislate in the way proposed by the hon. Member, for if the right to a seat in that House was to be regarded as a personal right concerning the sitting Member, the electors, or unsuccessful Member, all litigation with regard to that right must be subject to the ordinary conditions under which all other rights were tested and decided—by judicial inquiry. The person claiming the right to sit in the House must have the unfettered power of asserting his right before the proper tribunal, and onerous conditions could not be imposed on him at the outset. But the Bill attempted to make a petitioner asserting his right, not only responsible, in case of failure, for the costs of his opponent, but also for any amount of costs on account of another investigation to which he might not be any party—namely, public inquiry into the question of bribery. The Act for the better discovery of bribery and corruption expressly provided, in the case of the withdrawal of a petition, for the examination both of the personal and public questions involved. He was afraid that the present measure, by throwing obstacles in the way of presenting petitions against election returns, would tend rather to hinder than to promote the discovery of bribery. These petitions were usually drawn up in a general stereotyped form, and did not contain libels against individuals. Their presentation, therefore, could not be supposed to do injury to anyone. In his opinion the sitting Member, had no right to claim greater protection than he already enjoyed. The proposal now made, that when the Committee on a petition had made their report it should be considered by the House at large, would lead to the introduction of all sorts of questions, and would create much confusion. The Bill as it then appeared was more objectionable than that of last Session. It contained a provision, for instance, that the Committee should be at liberty to appoint an agent at the public expense if they thought fit, but he should like to know whether the Treasury had sanctioned that proposal. If not, then he apprehended it ought not to be proceeded with. He should have been prepared to move the rejection of the Bill had it not been for the remark made by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, when discussing the failure of justice in the Lisburn case, that the law relating to election petitions should be made the subject of investigation by a Select Committee. He had adopted that suggestion, and begged to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the expediency of amending the Election Petition Act (1848) and the Act for the better Discovery and Prevention of Bribery and Treating at Elections.


seconded the Motion. He opposed the Bill on the ground that for the first time it proposed that a plaintiff was to be compelled to prosecute his suit at the discretion of a third party. He did not think the House of Commons was the proper tribunal to decide what degree of right a petitioner should have when he presented his petition.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the expediency of amending the Election Petitions Act (1848), and the Act for the better discovery and prevention of Bribery and Treating at Elections,"—(Mr. Ayrton,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to he left out stand part of the Question."

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.