HC Deb 11 August 1879 vol 249 cc804-10

Order for Committee read.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short Title), agreed to.

Clause 2 (Trial of election petitions before two judges).

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved, as an Amendment, in page 1, line 9, after the word "judges," to insert "instead of one."

Amendment agreed to; words added.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved, as an Amendment, in page 1, line 13, after "shall," to insert "if necessary."


said, that that was the time to take exception to the Bill. When they were told that it was desirable to make a change for England, as well as for Ireland, he thought that some ex- planation was required. His hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury had stated that a majority of the Select Committee had recommended that Election Petitions should be tried before two Judges, instead of one; but he went on to say that the Government differed from that opinion, and considered the present arrangement to work satisfactorily. A very sudden change now seemed to have taken place in the opinion of the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General when on Committee, strongly opposed the alteration being made, and he (Mr. Monk) really thought that when the Front Bench of the Opposition was nearly empty, at 6 o'clock in the morning, the House ought not to be called upon to make so serious a change as was proposed. He should certainly take the sense of the House upon the Amendment which his hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) would propose.


remarked, that the general feeling of hon. Members seemed to be very much in favour of the change proposed when it was mentioned.


said, it met with general approval from the Irish Members; but it was not so with regard to the English Members.

Amendment agreed to; words added.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved, as an Amendment, in page 1, line 23, after "void," to add— And if the judges differ as to the subject of a report to the Speaker, they shall certify that difference, and make no report on the subject on which they so differ, and if they differ on any other matters, the opinion of the senior judge shall prevail.


wished to call attention to the very extraordinary proposals of the Government. He was quite willing that Election Petitions should be tried by two Judges in Ireland. In Ireland, Judges were not overwhelmed with work, and as the Irish Members desired it, there was no invincible objection to having Election Petitions tried by two Judges. The Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman enacted, that if the Judges differed as to the subject of a Report, they should certify that difference, and make no Report; if they differed in other matters, the opinion of the senior Judge should prevail. He would like to know what would be done where the House received separate Reports from the two Judges; was it intended in that case that the opinion of the senior Judge should prevail? Then, again, as to the difference of opinion on other matters, such as the admission of evidence, was the opinion of the senior Judge again to prevail? He must protest against the introduction of any such proposal as that into the English practice. No one asked for such a change to be made in England. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer put it upon the ground of the general wish of hon. Members, but he really could not see that any such wish had been expressed. On the contrary, some of the greatest authorities who sat upon the Committee were opposed to the change.

Amendment agreed to; words added.

MR. COURTNEY moved, as an Amendment, in page 1, line 24, before "save," to insert—"The provisions of this Clause shall apply to Ireland only, and." He had already explained the reasons which had induced him to urge the adoption of this provision in the Bill. He trusted that they should, at all events, hear some reason why it should not be inserted.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 24, before "save," to insert the words, "The provisions of this Clause shall apply to Ireland only, and."—(Mr. Courtney.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


remarked, that he had already stated that the Government saw no reason for making invidious distinctions between England and Ireland.


said, that the Government were departing entirely from opinions which had been expressed on a former occasion by the hon. and learned Attorney General. Last year, the hon. and learned Gentleman stated, in discussion on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, that although the majority of the Committee had recommended that two Judges, instead of one, should be appointed to try these Petitions, the Government differed from their opinion. Was it possible that the Government could have changed its opinions since that time, and wished to retract what the hon. and learned Attorney General had said? Only a week ago, the Government were opposed to the appointment of two Judges to try Election Petitions in England. English Members were always willing to give way to Irish Members, when they could do so without injury to their own constituencies, and when the unanimous opinion of Ireland demanded a change. But the change in question was not desired for England, and he did not believe that the majority of the House would support the Government in its proposal to make so serious and uncalled-for an alteration in the law in what ought to be a mere Continuance Bill.


said, that, in the first place, the adoption of the Amendment would draw a most invidious distinction between England and Ireland; it would be a slur upon the Irish Judges, if the House were to declare that two Judges ought to try Election Petitions in Ireland, and one in England. The hon. Member (Mr. Monk), had charged the Government with changing its opinion on the subject; but he would point out that the Government had always said that the question was one much more for the House, than for it to decide. A very general wish had been expressed on both sides of the House, both by English and Irish Members, in favour of the change. It was said that there was a feeling on the part of persons who were subject to the jurisdiction of one Judge, in the matter of Election Petitions, that they should not have to be subject to the sole discretion of a single Judge. The impression was very strongly left upon his mind, from what was said, that it was the general feeling that questions of personal character and questions of very great moment to the parties concerned, should not be left entirely at the mercy of a single Judge. As there had been a general expression of opinion to that effect, the Government had introduced the provision in question.


observed, that the opinion of one Judge would continue to prevail in certain cases, where there was a difference of opinion.


said, that that was a matter at issue, and involved the question of a Court of Appeal.


remarked, that if the seat of the candidate was vacated, there ought to be an appeal. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had expressed his opinion that there ought to be an appeal, if cases were tried by two Judges.


said, that he should most strongly object to the power of appeal being given. The expenses of his Election Petition were £11,000, and that amount was paid by the country for him. But if there had been an appeal, it would have cost another £11,000. He looked upon an appeal, whether from the decision of one or two Judges, simply as a means of doubling the expenses. Two Judges were necessary to try Election Petitions in Ireland, in order to prevent one Judge being carried away by bias or prejudice, and he thought that the change proposed would be most beneficial. He thought a mistake had been made in a popular Assembly like the House of Commons, by placing the power of deciding as to who should occupy seats outside the House. He did not, however, believe that any Act passed by the late House of Commons could, as a matter of law, prevent the House of Commons from resuming its power to decide upon Election Petitions without the consent of the Upper House. He should support the Government all through the Bill; and, in doing so, he did not think he was binding himself to the opinion that a popular Assembly like the House of Commons could divest itself of the power of deciding its own Elections.


said, the real point was, whether the opinion of the senior Judge was to be taken. With respect to the question of two Judges deciding the matter, he must say the opinion of the Judges themselves in Ireland was in favour of an opinion of that kind, and they considered that the change made of giving one Judge the assistance of another, was a great improvement.


said, the Amendment had been met with the argument that it would be introducing an invidious distinction between England and Ireland. The hon. and learned Member for Kildare had now told them that the Irish Judges desired the change. But the English Judges did not desire a change, nor did the English people desire it. They were, in fact, going to make a change against the opinions of the English Judges and people, for no reason whatever, except that not making it would create an invidious distinction between England and Ireland. Moreover, the change would cause a considerable amount of additional and unnecessary expense. As the Government had stated that the question was one rather for the House, than for it, to decide, he should take a division upon his Amendment.


, speaking as an individual Irishman, could not see why a proposal like that of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) could be regarded as a slur upon Ireland. The Irish Judges were different from the English Judges, for they were appointed from purely political reasons; while the English Judges were not. When they found a difficulty arising in Ireland, which did not exist in England, he could not see why different regulations should not be made for the two countries. He did not at all think that it would be casting a slur upon Ireland to confine the change to that country.


thought that the change would diminish the strength of the judicial power much more in England than in Ireland. He could not see how the work of trying Election Petitions in England would be carried out at all, in the event of the General Election, with the present number of Judges. The work of trying the Petitions would withdraw six Judges from their ordinary judicial duties. In Ireland it was well known that the Judicial Bench was not so fully occupied as in England, and the withdrawal of the necessary Judges to try the Election cases would not so greatly affect legal Business. He was not entirely in favour of Election Petitions being tried by two Judges, and he believed that if the question were put to the House a considerable majority would prefer the old tribunal of the Committee to the new one which had been formed. Under the old system, the power of seating and unseating a Member was vested in the House, and not in any person outside it. But now it was in the power of the Judges not only to unseat a Member elected by a majority, but to give a seat in that House to a man representing only a minority of the constitu- ency. The position of Members who might be seated in that way was not enviable.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 8; Noes 52: Majority 44.—(Div. List, No. 233.)

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 (Continuance of Acts) agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.