HC Deb 09 July 1868 vol 193 cc915-7

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. H. B. Sheridan) asked me some short time ago what was the course which Her Majesty's Government intended to take with reference to the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill, which stands as the sixth Order upon the Paper for to-day. I then said I thought it would be more convenient to reserve my reply until I had the opportunity of stating to the House what our intentions were generally with regard to this Bill. The important decision at which the Committee upon this Bill arrived the other night virtually brought back the Bill to the scheme originally proposed by Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, that plan has been the result of very deep deliberation. It was of course the decision of the Committee. Although we did not think ourselves justified in adopting the course which apparently the House had rejected some months previously—or at least the course which it had not sufficiently encouraged Her Majesty's Government to proceed with—we did not think, considering the position of the House generally, and the approaching termination of the Session, that we ought to run the great risk of assenting to that proposition. We thought, on the whole, that it would be more prudent to adhere to the Bill as it was introduced to the notice of the Committee. The Committee, however, having come to a decision, and by an unequivocal majority expressed an opinion upon the subject, it appears to me it would be a matter very deeply to be lamented if we should allow any difficulties to prevent us from carrying out the proposed legislation) or from fulfilling our promises on this subject. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government have considered whether, notwithstanding the obstacles that apparently present themselves, it will not be possible to legislate upon the subject this Session, and fully enter in the spirit of the Resolution of the Committee which was the other day agreed upon. And after deliberation and taking such steps as we thought would be conducive to the success of the proposition which I am now about to make, I will very briefly state the proposition I am authorized by my Colleagues to submit to the House; and I will take care in the course of the evening to lay upon the table clauses to carry out this proposition. What we propose is the following:—We propose that at the commencement of every Michaelmas Term each of the Superior Courts of Common Law should form a rota, and by the decision of the majority one of the Judges of each of those Courts should be selected to try these Election Petitions. We propose that each of the Judges so selected should receive an increase of income of £500 per annum, but that sum is not to be taken into consideration in calculating the pension to which he would be entitled after a certain duration of service. We propose also that the chief of each of the Superior Courts shall be exempted from this duly. But considering the very great increase of business in the three-Superior Courts, and the great pressure which is now experienced in getting through it, we propose that three new Judges shall be appointed to those Courts, and we shall make provision that the services of a Judge of each of the Superior Courts shall be at the command of the other Courts—such as the Divorce Court, where occasionally there is a great pressure of business. We propose that if the three Puisne Judges thus selected and forming a rota are not sufficient to transact the business of the Election Committees, which after a General Election is peculiarly heavy, to reserve this power—that if the three Judges on the rota should make a requisition to the Secretary of State or other officer of the Government, that a fourth Puisne Judge of the Court of Exchequer should be associated with them for that purpose. I must say, however, I cannot doubt without this provision there would be ample power to transact this business of Election Petitions. I have now stated one provision we propose. The remaining provision is this—After all, this measure must be considered but an experiment; and we therefore propose that if there should be any vacancy in either of the Superior Courts of Common Law it shall not be filled up without the consent of Parliament. These are the principal outlines of the scheme which is embodied in the clauses which I shall lay upon the table of the House in the course of the evening. I think it is a subject which has been well-considered; and, as time is now very pressing, I propose that the House shall meet at two o'clock to-morrow, when it may not be impossible that we may get into Committee, and resume our labours upon this Bill. I therefore propose to take the consideration of these clauses to-morrow.


desired to know how it was possible that lion. Members could pro pose any Amendments on clauses which they would not receive till to-morrow morning. Hon. Members would, by the course now proposed, be virtually deprived of the opportunity of proposing any Amendments; and he trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would to-morrow proceed with the other portions of the Bill instead of with these clauses.


I should have thought that four or five hours devoted uninterruptedly to the Bill would have been sufficient for all purposes.


said, he felt that this was an exceptional matter; and though lion. Members had, no doubt, a right to demand at the hands of her Majesty's Government time to enable them to propose Amendments which they desired to bring forward, he could not but acknowledge that the question of time was really a pressing one. The right hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, would no doubt give due weight to any suggestions that might be made. He desired, however, to ask the right hon. Gentleman—and if the right hon. Gentleman could not give an answer at present he might, perhaps, be able to do so to-morrow—what it was proposed to do with regard to a point of considerable importance—limiting the duration of a Bill which, after all, was of an experimental character?