§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 8 (Disfranchisement of certain Boroughs).
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he proposed to postpone this clause, in order that he might place an amended clause on the table reciting the causes of the policy which the Government recommended with regard to those boroughs.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be postponed."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
asked when the right hon. Gentleman expected that this clause would come on—because he understood that it would not be possible to take it if postponed until all the other clauses of the Bill had been disposed of.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that they had postponed 1297 clauses, and since proceeded with them, in this very Committee.
said, that if a clause were postponed, it was postponed till the cud of the Bill. What had been done the other night was to postpone all clauses before Clauses 34 and 35, in order that they might deal with those two clauses; and then, in order to revert to Clause 5, all the subsequent clauses were in turn postponed.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, it was desirable to know the exact time at which the clause would come on.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he believed that the ordinary practice in such a case as the present was to negative the clause for which you wished to substitute another; and the new clause could only be proceeded with after the other clauses in the Bill had been disposed of.
§ MR. AYRTON
thought that in so simple a matter the recital might be laid before the Committee at once. The only recital necessary was that the Commissioners had found that corrupt practices extensively prevailed in those places — naming them. As the House had met for the very purpose of discussing the clause, it was most desirable that there should be no postponement, especially as the clause had given rise to a great deal of "lobbying," and you could not go into the precincts of the House without somebody taking you by the arm and asking you whether you did not sympathize with one of these corrupt places, and whether you could not squeeze your conscience in its favour. It was very desirable that hon. Members should be delivered from this state of things.
§ MR. LIDDELL
reminded the Committee that it was not possible to proceed with the consideration of the re-distribution of seats until they had come to a decision upon this clause.
said, he was sorry to disagree with the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), who appeared to have no proper estimate of the value of the franchise for which he had lately been voting so enthusiastically, or of the value of representation to those boroughs. He took it that this was one of the most important constitutional questions which could be brought before Parliament. The hon. Gentlemen opposite had been on all occasions most strenuous in their desire to prevent the improper disfranchisement of any borough; and early in the 1298 Session, and other times, he (Mr. Bright) objected to the disfranchisement of these boroughs wholesale, and pointed out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that such a thing had never before been heard of, as boroughs being disfranchised by a Bill which had no special reference to their case, and which contained no recital of the causes which had led to that policy. Twenty or fifty years hence two large and two small boroughs would be stated to have been disfranchised, and nothing would be found in the records of Parliament to show why. He gathered from what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was going to introduce a recital and alter the clause itself, probably not taking both Members from such of those places as returned two Members. He wished now to make what he thought was a very sensible suggestion, though he did not on that ground expect it would receive universal support. It being very desirable in his opinion that the registration under the new Bill should be completed within the present year, he thought it would be a wise tiling if the Bill could be divided into two. ["Oh, oh!"] He did not expect that this suggestion would be received, but he thought it his duty to make it. The franchise portion of the Bill might then go forward to the other House, where he hoped it might receive as kind attention as it had received here. The registration could then be completed at the usual period this year. Then, during the next month, they could proceed deliberately—because there had not been much deliberation lately—with this question of the distribution of scats. He must urge upon hon. Gentlemen that this was a very important matter; and that if it were disposed of in a slovenly, hasty, and insufficient manner, Motions would be made in the very next Parliament for the disfranchisement of more small boroughs, with a view to transfer their Members to large boroughs and populous counties. Now, he wished to avoid reopening this question, at least for some time to come; and he therefore hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who had been growing stronger and more resolute as the Session had advanced, and who had found his followers ready to co-operate in the passing of a useful measure of Reform—would be able to extend his scheme of re-distribution, and make it more acceptable to that side of the House. There were many Members on the opposite side of the House who had no affection for those 1299 small boroughs, and who wished to see the larger constituencies, both in boroughs and counties, provided with a larger representation. The House knew that the suggestion which he had made with respect to this part of the Bill was in accordance with the views he had expressed last year, and also at an earlier period of this Session. With respect to Clause 8, he protested against the doctrine of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. The clause was one of the greatest importance, and ought not to be proceeded with precipitately. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a new view with regard to it, he ought to take his time before asking the Committee to decide upon it.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that hon. Members bad come down to the House fully expecting that the clause would be discussed, not the slightest intimation having been given that it would be postponed. His wish was to support the Government in the course they proposed; but he thought it would have been better if this clause had been made the subject of a separate Bill. In all previous cases of disfranchisement the grounds of proceeding had been clearly stated in the preamble of a Bill, and if that course were not now followed it would have the aspect of an arbitrary disfranchisement for the purpose of obtaining certain seats with a view to their re-distribution. He did not understand the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the hon. Member for Birmingham understood him, to say that he contemplated any alteration in the enacting part of the clause, but merely that he wished to explain the policy of the Government in proposing it, which would be done by a preamble such as would be found in all disfranchising Acts, and this need not lead to a postponement of the clause. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to alter the substance of the clause, he agreed with the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) that the proper course would be to negative this clause, and to bring up a new one; but before deciding on the course to be taken the Committee ought to know the intention of the Government, and whether they intended to propose any substantial alteration in it.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the clause was one of some length, and it was customary where al- 1300 terations were proposed in such cases to have the amended clause re-printed, and he had therefore proposed its postponement. But he would read the Preamble, and did not imagine there would be any objection to it. He proposed to insert at page 4, line 23, the following words:—Whereas, upon representations made to Her Majesty in joint Addresses of both Houses of Parliament, to the effect that the Select Committees of the House of Commons appointed to try the Petitions complaining of undue Elections and Returns for the Boroughs of Totnes, Reigate, Great Yarmouth, and Lancaster had reason to believe that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the last Elections for the said Boroughs, Commissioners were appointed for the purpose of making inquiry into the existence of such corrupt practices, in pursuance of the Act of Parliament passed in the sixteenth year of the reign of Her present Majesty, chapter fifty-seven, intituled, 'An Act to provide for the more effectual Inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament;' and whereas the Commissioners so appointed reported to Her Majesty as follow:—
- (1.) As respects the said Borough of Totnes, that at every Election for the said Borough, since and including the Election in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven, corrupt practices had extensively prevailed;
- (2.) As respects the said Borough of Reigate, that bribery and treating had prevailed at the Election in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine, and had extensively prevailed at the two Elections in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-eight, and at the Elections in the years one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three and one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five;
- (3.) As respects the Borough of Great Yarmouth, that corrupt and illegal practices had extensively prevailed at the Elections in the years one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine and one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five;
- (4.) As respects the said Borough of Lancaster, that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed at the Election in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and with some exceptions had for a long time prevailed at contested Elections for Members to serve in Parliament for that Borough:Be it Enacted, That,"—With regard to the Amendments which had been placed on the Paper, with regard to the boroughs of Yarmouth and Lancaster, he should reserve his opinion upon them until they were brought forward.
§ Motion, That the clause be postponed, withdrawn.
, having read the Preamble as above, put the Question, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he had in vain endeavoured to catch the eye of the Chairman before the Question was put. 1301 He was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed the insertion of the preamble which had now been submitted to the Committee, it being in perfect accordance with the decision of the House last year that the Reform Bill should contain some provision for the prevention of corrupt practices at elections. That decision he was confident the House intended to maintain. The introduction of the preamble, however, had changed the position of those who, like himself, had given notice of certain Amendments. He had given notice of his intention to move that other boroughs should be included in the operation of the clause; but now he could not do so, because he could not say that those boroughs ought to be disfranchised on account of corruption. He trusted the Government would persevere with that part of the Bill, and not adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Birmingham to separate the franchise from the re-distribution of seats, because the question of re-distribution had become of greater importance since the House had adopted so large an extension of the franchise.
§ MR. BAXTER
, who had given notice of an Amendment that Lancaster and Great Yarmouth should be deprived of one Member only, thought it desirable that the House should have an opportunity of showing its reprobation of the corrupt practices which had prevailed in the boroughs which had been mentioned. But it should be recollected that Great Yarmouth and Lancaster were places of considerable size, the former borough having a population of 34,000 persons, and the latter a population of 16,000 persons. The number of electors in Yarmouth was 1,650, and the number in Lancaster was 1,463. If the question had been the disfranchisement of these places on account of bribery he should not have said a word in their favour. But it should be recollected that the House was about to create a new constituency, and it would be unjust to deprive a large number of householders of a vote when it was proposed to give the same class of persons votes in other places. He should be glad if the Government would accede to his proposition that the boroughs of Great Yarmouth and Lancaster should retain one Member each. ["Order!"]
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, the proposition of the hon. Member (Mr. Baxter) was not in order, because the Question 1302 was not what should be done with respect to Yarmouth and Lancaster, but the insertion of the words proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He (Sir George Bowyer) regarded the proposed recital as raising the whole question of the disfranchisement of these boroughs, and therefore opposed it. He opposed it on general constitutional grounds. He looked upon the clause as in the nature of a Bill of pains and penalties, and believed that no precedent could be found for including such a proposal in a measure having a general and entirely different object. It was an act of injustice to punish the whole of a borough when only a portion of the electors had been guilty of corrupt practices; but in this case they would not only punish the innocent and the guilty, but the whole town or city, which consisted of a community of perpetual successions with certain rights and obligations transmitted from one generation to another. In the same manner, the future inhabitants of these places would share the same punishment, though they would, no doubt, at a future time ask for the restoration of their privileges, and would urge the injustice of suffering for the sins of a former generation. Eminent jurists had held that a body corporate could not be punished for the delinquencies of individual members, and that principle clearly applied to the present case. It should also be borne in mind that the Bill would create a new constituency in these places, and at Lancaster would create 800 new voters. It could not be just to punish so large a number of persons who at present, whatever might be the case hereafter, had never been guilty of bribery.
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
observed, that the hon. Member for Birmingham seemed to anticipate that some alteration would be made in the clause by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that observation confirmed a rumour which he himself had heard, that only one Member was to be taken from Yarmouth and one from Lancaster. That was a proposition against which he entered his earnest and energetic protest. He had had the misfortune of serving on the Great Yarmouth Election Committee last Session, and must say that his opinion, and that of the whole of the Committee, was that gross, glaring, and flagrant bribery had taken place, not only at the last, but at many previous elections, and they were convinced that if a 1303 new Writ was issued and another election was to take place no candidate would have the smallest chance of being returned who did not resort to bribery. The hon. and learned Baronet (Sir George Bowyer) had talked about the great hardship of disfranchising these boroughs, but the inhabitants would only be placed in the same position as the inhabitants of other towns in the counties; for in the case of Lancaster they would be represented by the Member for the county, and in the case of Yarmouth they would be represented by his hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk. He thought these two hon. Gentlemen were sincerely to be condoled with on this unwelcome addition to their constituencies. These boroughs would be merely deprived of a privilege they had flagrantly abused, and if they were allowed to retain that privilege he could only say that all legislation against bribery had been a farce.
§ MR. HOWES
declared his perfect willingness to receive Yarmouth as an addition to his constituency. He rose, however, to protest against the statement which had just fallen from the hon. Baronet with respect to the impression produced on the minds of the Committee by the evidence which came before them. The expressions of the hon. Baronet are not justified by the evidence given before the Committee; and believing that the disfranchisement of Yarmouth would be a great injustice, he intended, whenever the Committee thought it most convenient, to move the Amendment of which he had given notice.
I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) is right in the observation that the principle of the clause is raised by the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and not only as to the clause in general, but as to each town severally, for each town severally is named in the preamble which the right hon. Gentleman most properly proposes; and although it may be that that preamble would be satisfied by enacting a portion of the clause, and stopping short of absolute disfranchisement, yet it certainly implies that something in the nature of a penalty is to be inflicted. The question of the clause, 1304 therefore, is fairly raised; and that being so, I think the arguments made by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk are inadequate to sustain the conclusion at which he wishes us to arrive. My hon. Friend says this is to be considered as a Bill of pains and penalties. No doubt, inasmuch as it excludes from the exercise of a public trust, persons who have hitherto been in possession of it, it is capable of being so stated; but I contend that it would be taking a very false view of the subject if this House were to consider that that is the principal aspect in which it is to be regarded. What we have to provide for is the pure and efficient exercise of the franchise, and we are bound to take the measures necessary to effect that object; and if it so happens that in the honest and deliberate adoption of those measures we inflict inconvenience upon any one, that may be a misfortune which we regret, but it is not to stand between us and our principal duty—that of providing for the purity of elections. My hon. Friend says that any Bill of pains and penalties of this character has always been treated by itself. I admit that in cases where particular boroughs have been found guilty of gross corruption the Government, of the day have not waited to inflict the penalty until the occasion of a Reform Bill—and very strange indeed would have been their course if they had done so. But when a case arose, they dealt with it. And what happens now? The case of these four towns arises at the very moment when Parliament has a Reform Bill before it—and therefore, though I do not say it proves that the subject ought to be dealt with in this Bill, still the force of the precedents against it is very small, because the occasion of dealing with these boroughs in connection with the general subject of Reform did not arise at those periods to which the hon. Gentleman referred. But when my hon. Friend says that this is a Bill of pains and penalties, and that such Bills have always been treated separately, I reply that this is no more a Bill of pains and penalties to disfranchise one of these towns than it was to disfranchise any one of the small boroughs which appear in Schedule A of the Reform Act. I do not say that those towns were of the same importance; but we are arguing a question of principle. The hon. Member says we are about to inflict a great wrong on the new voters; and again I say, the interests of the new voters and the in- 1305 terests of the old voters must be held as secondary to the public and national interests. A great deal too much has been said about these new voters. It is implied, and not only implied in the argument but taken for granted by many who argue, that these new voters would purify the old ones. I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) said last year, in reply to some supposed argument of this kind, "You seem to think that health is contagious as well as disease;" and my hon. Friend thinks that the disease of these old voters would be neutralized and their bad moral habits reformed by the introduction of new voters. I am very sorry that the capital town of the county a portion of which I have the honour in part to represent is one of the towns embraced by the enactments of this clause; but notwithstanding that, I cannot hesitate on that account. I am sorry also to point out, in the face of my noble Friend near me (the Marquess of Harrington) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Wilson Patten), that the position of Lancaster is not an enviable one. I have no doubt it will have its champions, and Yarmouth also. That is quite right under the circumstances, and we cannot regret it. I admit that every town in its position ought to have its advocates who take a warm and highly coloured view on its behalf in order that we may be assured that everything that can be said in its favour may be said in the best possible manner. But I have taken the figures from the Reports of the Commissioners to see how these towns stand as regards the proportion of pure and impure voters in each constituency, and they are rather curious. In Totnes the total number of voters on the register was 421, of whom there were 158 bribers and bribed, or 38 per cent. In Reigate there were 912 on the register, 346 of whom were bribers or bribed, or 38 per cent again. In Yarmouth there were 1,647 on the register, of whom 528, or a little less than 32 per cent, were bribers or bribed. We must bear in mind that this is not the first time that Yarmouth has appeared before us, and that it had so unenviable a distinction on a former occasion that this House was compelled to come down with a measure of disfranchisement for the freemen; and that class of voters, as we very well know, contributes largely to the category of guilt on occasions like this. Lastly, we come to Lancaster, where there are 1,498 on the 1306 register, of whom 916 were either corruptors or corrupted, or 64 per cent. That is not a satisfactory exhibition; but it is only fair and just to the ordinary inhabitants of Lancaster to say that the proportion of the corrupt is exceedingly different among the householders and the freemen. Of the 916 persons who have been corrupt no less than 708 are freemen, and only 208 are householders; in fact, 708 freemen have been corrupt out of 980, whereas 208 householders have been corrupt out of 439, giving nearly three-fourths of the freemen, but much less than one-half of the householders. That peculiarity in the construction of the constituency explains in a great degree the position which Lancaster holds on this occasion. I confess I am not able to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) in his desire, and indeed I am not quite able to embrace the opinion of my right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey), who wishes this matter to be dealt with in a separate Bill. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), speaking of the compound-householder, said that the spirit of Mammon was strong, and that if you separated the question of dealing with the peculiarities of compounding from the Reform Bill you would find it difficult to deal with it as a separate subject. I think there can be no doubt that that would be the case if the Government were to consent to exclude this clause from the Reform Bill, and deal separately with these towns. In cases of this kind the tendency generally is to push a good principle to excess—that is to say, in our regard for the sacredness of private rights, which is the foundation of law and order, we are sometimes apt to follow the mere phantoms and simulacra of right, which we are ready to fall down and worship if they correspond substantially with that definition. Sometimes a real public right is thus sacrificed to an imaginary private right. I think we ought not to get into this position; and I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham if he thinks we are unfit to deal fairly and impartially with this subject on this occasion. The number of seats which are to be obtained from these boroughs is not so large as to blind our view with regard to the general question of re-distribution of seats. Whether this clause be inserted or not, I shall feel it my duty to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Laing), which I hope 1307 the Government will accede to, or some such Motion with regard to the re-distribution of seats. I support the clause of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this principle—I think that local communities must in cases of this kind be held responsible for the acts of large portions of their Members; and that general proposition becomes infinitely strengthened when we recollect that in all those cases, besides the number of individuals against whom corruption is proved, there is a further percentage whose corruption you fail to prove; and, besides these, there are others who wink at, and laugh at, and make light of bribery, who connive at it, and by conniving participate in it; and, in point of fact, with regard to the rest of the constituency, on whose behalf the boast of innocence is made, though you find many honourable and upright men, perfectly clean-handed and indignant at the state of things which exists, yet the proportion of innocent persons is not so large as we might be disposed to think. The question involved is a very serious one indeed, and as to the question of bribery, above all others it is one in which we are apt to beat about the bush. It is easy to make speeches in favour of severe laws about bribery—nothing is more easy than to pass severe laws—even severer than those which now exist—against those who take bribes, and nothing is more delightful to an excited audience than to hear the denunciation of those who give bribes. But how do these severe laws work? By the time you have gone through the whole of your investigation in nine cases out of ten you fail in proving anything at all; and when you come to deal with the tenth the sentiment of merciful consideration towards the individual becomes so overpoweringly strong that there is a reluctance to punish him, while it is notorious that many others just as bad have escaped through their more artful management and larger experience in evil. Thus all these penal enactments—though I will not say they ought not to exist — are almost wholly nugatory. Bribery grows and flourishes notwithstanding that they remain on the statute book; and it would be idle and ludicrous, if we purpose to extinguish bribery, if we proceed only upon penal acts against individuals in their individual capacity. I admit that dealing severely with local communities is open to one objection—that severe punishment administered against local communities in 1308 consequence of evidence obtained largely, as this has been obtained, from these communities themselves, may check the disposition in future to give such evidence. I do not deny that. But, on the other hand, that evidence is reduced to total and absolute inutility on that account, if after having made an investigation at the public charge, and establishing the existence of corrupt practices, we were to say, "We will not act on these facts so established for fear we should render it difficult to obtain evidence in future." I believe the punishment of communities is likely to be an effectual check upon bribery. You will create a public opinion in the local communities adverse to bribery if they know that you are determined to deal stringently with these cases when they come before you. It is to the action of public opinion adverse to bribery—the energetic exercise of influence and exhibition of example by the principal persons in those communities—to which we must chiefly look for its discouragement. I would not for a moment defend the man whose ambition to obtain a seat in Parliament has unfortunately led him to taint himself with these practices; but how does this arise? It is not because these candidates have such an avidity for expenditure that they are determined to force bribery on these communities, it is that they reluctantly — guiltily it may be, culpably I admit, but at all events reluctantly—give way, misled by the desirability or brilliancy of the end they have in view, and fall into the operation of the system which is ingrained in these communities, and is mixed up with their local habits and practices for a long period. It is there that the root of the evil lies, and it is there you must attempt the work of purification by great severity if you intend to make any serious effort at reform upon the subject. I confess I am most anxious either that the clause in its present form, or some clause not far short of it—perfectly unmistakable and highly stringent in the character of its penalties—should be passed for the purpose of bringing this about. I am prepared to say that I do not wish to draw distinctions between large communities and small ones. They may be great or they may be small; but permit me to say the larger communities are at present without the check which does operate to some extent upon the smaller communities. The small communities know that if they are caught they will be disfran- 1309 chised. Where is the man who will stand up for Totnes? I am not aware that any one can be found to do it. But in the larger communities there is a latent sense of their own influence and importance which I am afraid tends to weaken the operation of checks which ought to check bribery, and consequently I think we must be prepared to deal with large communities pretty nearly on the same principle as with the small ones—subject only to one exception, which I grant produces some amount of distinction, that if a community which has no title whatever to be represented except the fact of the status quo—except the fact of possessing the right of representation already—thinks fit to abuse that right, there is no argument whatever remaining to be made in such case. Reference has been made by the hon. Baronet (Sir Rainald Knightley) to the supposed intention of Her Majesty's Government on this subject, and I cannot help saying one word upon that. From the time when this matter was first mentioned in this House I have endeavoured to do what little I could to encourage Her Majesty's Government to proceed freely and stringently in this matter. I have not the least doubt that a pretty strong pressure has been brought to bear upon them in the opposite direction. What course they may ultimately determine to pursue I do not presume to say, and I have no means of knowing; but I do hope that they will adhere to the stringent measures they have proposed. If there be a disposition to adopt the plan proposed by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), I must say, though with great reluctance and regret, that I dissent from it. So far as I can judge, I cannot conceive a worse manner of dealing with a corrupt borough which possesses a double representation, than by taking away one only of its seats. Supposing you relent — supposing that capital punishment be the proper thing, but that when the moment arrives to let fall the blow you relent—I will assume that for a moment for the sake of argument—still, is it not perfectly clear that there is one thing which you ought to do, and that is to break the habit of bribery in the place? Whatever punishment you think fit to inflict, let it be a punishment which shall put a stop to bribery in that place. You may do it by disfranchisement, or by disfranchisement for a term of years; but it is absurd to say to the corrupt town, "You have been taking bribes from two Members for years, and that has become 1310 so intolerable that we can bear it no longer, but we have no objection to your taking bribes from one Member." It is absurd to pronounce such a judicial retribution upon these towns after all your solemn deliberations. I make great allowance for the kind of pressure that will be exerted in cases of this kind; but still I hope we shall not be led into a course which could only tend to stultify ourselves and to dissatisfy the country. If one Member were left to each of these boroughs I believe that would only tend to make them more corrupt than ever; because in places subjected as they all are, unfortunately, to election contests, where there are two Members there is a chance of two opposite parties coming together, and the leaders may be content to divide the spoils without going to the issue of a contest; but to say to any place where the habit of bribery exists, "You shall only have one man for the future," is to my mind the next thing to an absolute enactment that bribery shall not be discontinued there. I hope the House will bear in mind this consideration, and give the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the Government very great credit for the decided course they have adopted so far as this proposal is concerned; and I hope the Committee will resolutely support them, and that the Government will show themselves worthy of the proposals they have made.
§ MR. HENRY BAILLIE
said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken in his observations on the proposal of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). But he must confess that he also concurred in the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer); and, inasmuch as they were not living under the Mosaic dispensation, he thought they ought not to punish the children of the present generation of voters for the sins of their fathers. No doubt, corrupt election ought to be punished; but the question was in what manner that should be done. He could not help thinking that instead of disfranchising these boroughs for ever, it would be a much more just proceeding to suspend their representation for, say ten, fifteen, or twenty years. That would be a punishment to the existing generation; and, he asked, what right had they to punish the generations who were to come? There was another reason why, as regarded Lancaster at least, the course he suggested would be a much greater punishment than that pro- 1311 posed by the Government; for while the Government proposed to disfranchise the electors of that borough it intended to convert the greater portion of them into county voters.
§ MR. LOWE
I wish the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Howes) had made the discussion a little more regular by moving to strike out the borough of Yarmouth from the preamble of this clause, for it is quite impossible that we should go on in this way, and pass the preamble, which recites the name of the borough of Yarmouth, and then strike that name out when we come to the enacting part of the clause. It seems to me—though I do not wish to poach on the hon. Gentleman's manor — he would do well to raise the question on the preamble by some Motion of that kind. And now I wish for a moment to draw the attention of the Committee to a consideration which, I think, has not yet been brought before them—at any rate, not in a prominent manner. The case of Yarmouth is a simple one. There are about 1,650 electors there, and rather less than one-third of them have been proved before a Royal Commission to have been guilty of corrupt practices, either as givers or as receivers of bribes. There is evidence to show that two-thirds of those electors were pretty clear, and that one-third were guilty. If the state of the case were the same now as it was when these offences were committed, when this Commission reported, and when the Government first gave notice of this Motion, I should have no difficulty whatever in voting for the total disfranchisement of the borough. But the case does not now stand in quite the same position. Since that time we have undergone a revolution—a noiseless and a bloodless revolution—but not the less a revolution. We have changed, not only the figure of the franchise, but we have virtually—as will be found to be the case whenever we come to deal with the matter again—changed the principle on which the franchise is conferred. The principle on which it was conferred used to be, as I take it, that it was a privilege, or trust, or agency, deputed to certain places which were deemed fitted to exercise it for the general good. The principle on which the franchise is now conferred is obviously, phrase it how you will, the recognition at least in boroughs—and, I have no doubt, soon to be extended to counties—of a right of every citizen who has a settled residence, or even 1312 if he has not a settled residence, to be represented in Parliament. You cannot make this enormous change and go on as if you had not made it. I submit to the Committee that they must look at the matter from that point of view, and that they must consider how the principle they are now going to apply to Great Yarmouth can be applied for the future in this country generally. There are some Members present who, being acquainted with the borough, can give the Committee that local information which I am unable to furnish; but I have found as a general rule that if you divide the gross population of a borough by the number seven you will arrive at something not very far from what the constituency under this Bill is likely to be. Applying that rule, the constituency of Great Yarmouth, which at present amounts to 1,650, would amount under this movement to something like 4,500 new voters. Now, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire says that we must punish in this case the innocent with the guilty. Very well, let us grant it; but what about those persons who have never been electors? What have been their crimes? They could not have committed any; and I ask on what principle germane to the principles we have now adopted as the basis of our representation is it that you are going, on account of the fault of 500 existing electors, to prevent the coming into being of the 4,500 electors to whom this Bill would give a franchise? You must look that question fairly in the face; and I believe the more you look at it the more momentous you will see that it is. If it is a question of disfranchising these 500 persons, you have done so already, because the practical effect of this Bill will be to swamp them—if I may be permitted to revive the expression—in the enormous number of new voters, among whom they will hardly be recognised. But then it is said that they will contaminate the new voters. Is it, then, to go forth to the country that the House has no confidence whatever in this new constituency which it is now employed in creating? Are you prepared to admit to cavillers, like myself, that the new electors are not, after all, to be trusted with, the franchise?—that they are homogeneous with those freemen with whom it is alleged the corruption of Great Yarmouth originated? Is that the doctrine upon which the Committee is prepared to take its stand? If not, and if you stand upon the doctrine of numbers 1313 which you seem to have adopted, I ask you on what principle can you refuse to these 4,500 inhabitants of Great Yarmouth, whom your Bill would call into political existence, what you are going to give to hundreds of thousands of persons all over the country, of whom you know absolutely nothing? But there is another point involved in the question which is well worthy consideration. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire says that the size of the borough should make no difference in the mode in which it should be dealt with on the ground of bribery, and that we must deal with large boroughs just as we would deal with small ones. That is very grand and very Draconian; but I confess that I tremble for the results. I have not been partial to the changes that have been wrought; I wish to see a pure representation in the country; but, with my views of the probable character of those on whom the representation is about to be conferred, strengthened as those views are by the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, I begin to fear that if you really do lay down the rule that large boroughs are to be disfranchised like small ones, you will have to end by disfranchising all the boroughs in the kingdom. I have no particular sympathy with Great Yarmouth; but I do think you will find that you are entering upon a course in which it will be impossible for you to persevere in those principles which you have hitherto applied to this question. There is plenty of bribery in the United States of America; but nobody has ever heard of a proposal to disfranchise an electoral district in that country whatever bribery may have taken place; and I venture to say that the public sentiment would not for a moment suffer such a proceeding, and for this simple reason—I say it not as a matter of reproach—that there prevails among the people an ingrained conviction that the franchise is a right inherent in every citizen — that he has the same right to have the franchise as he has to be treated equally and impartially in the administration of the law. You have yourselves approximated so near to that principle that you will find, if you attempt to enforce the principle of disfranchisement, you must flinch before the difficulties you will have to encounter in cases of bribery, which you know very well will occur in every large borough under the new order of 1314 things. You must act warily in this matter, and not proceed as if you were at the fag end of an old system, but as if you were on the point of inaugurating a new one. And it will be an evil augury for the plan you are now about to establish if you should be obliged in the first case of flagrant delinquency to commence by an absolute reversal of the precedent you propose to establish this evening in the disfranchisement of Great Yarmouth.
§ MR. HOWES
said, he begged leave, on the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, to move the omission from the Preamble of the words "Great Yarmouth." He believed that if they were to disfranchise that borough they would inflict a great injury on the constituent body of the kingdom. Great Yarmouth was a large town of 40,000 in habitants, with a present constituency of 1,400, and a future constituency of above 3,000 under the Bill; the town was the centre, not only of a great shipping interest, but also of a great fishery interest, and its exclusion from the number of our Parliamentary boroughs would create a serious deficiency in our representative system, for not only would its peculiar interests be unrepresented, but the affairs of the town would be intrusted to the keeping of Members who must be looked upon as representing almost purely agricultural interests. Was the principle of disfran chisement to be indiscriminately carried out? Was it to be carried into effect in every case in which bribery was proved to have existed in a borough? He did not mean to contend that that principle ought never to be enforced; but he believed that it should be held to be applicable in exceptional cases only. They had, since the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, disfranchised only two boroughs—namely, Sudbury and St. Albans. But those were both small boroughs, the electors in each of them not having amounted to more than 500, and in both of them a large majority of the voters, including those of the highest as well as of the lowest class, were proved to have been guilty of corruption, not only at the election which led to the inquiry being instituted, but at every one of the six or seven previous elections. It besides had been shown that the bribery was not confined to the lowest, but extended up to the very highest classes. In the case of Great Yarmouth, on the contrary, the number of those who had been found guilty of bribery was small as 1315 compared with, the whole constituency, and to disfranchise that borough, and thus confound the innocent many with the guilty few, would, as a penal measure, he maintained, be a grossly unfair proceeding. There was another point which he wished to bring under the notice of the Committee. Was it a remedial measure? He would ask them whether they really believed that the disfranchisement of such a borough as Great Yarmouth would be attended with the effect of deterring other constituencies from adopting the practices which it was proposed they should thus punish? The extreme uncertainty of their action would, he believed, deprive that policy of any such result; and, in point of fact, their disfranchisement of the free men of Great Yarmouth in the year 1847 had not prevented other electors from imitating their example. Moreover, the present time would be a most unhappy occasion for giving effect to the principle of disfranchisement, for it was well known that they were in want of seats which they might dispose of. There was a general disbelief abroad that the House really desired to put down bribery; and the natural conclusion would be that the Government were for their own convenience assuming a virtuous abhorrence of corruption. Under those circumstances, he moved that the words "Great Yarmouth" be struck out of the Preamble.
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, in line 6, to leave out the words "Great Yarmouth."—(Mr. Howes.)
Whatever peculiar opinion any Member of the House may hold on this general question, we must all feel that it is an unfortunate thing for the fair discussion and examination of it that the case of the four boroughs is brought before the House in a clause in a Bill of this magnitude: because the Government having made certain arrangements as to what shall be done with these seven seats, some Members of the House may be influenced by that consideration:—the Government clearly must be influenced by it, for if the House were to reject this clause, it would interfere very seriously with all the arrangements of this small scheme for the re-distribution of seats. Therefore, I say, these four boroughs themselves have a right to complain, and every Member of the House has a right to complain, that the matter is not brought before the House 1316 in that distinct and simple form which a matter of such vast constitutional importance ought to be. Now the House, I think, will admit that I am not chargeable generally with a disposition to support the cause of electoral corruption either in boroughs or counties. I am not anxious to say anything in opposition to the Government in regard to this measure which I can avoid saying, and least of all am I desirous to put myself in opposition to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, who has spoken so strongly in support of this clause; but I never felt—I may say in all my life—so conscious of the danger the House runs of making a mistake in a matter of this kind than I do at this moment. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the boroughs which have been disfranchised before. I believe, as the hon. Gentleman who spoke last said, there are only two cases since the Reform Bill in which boroughs have been disfranchised—the borough of St. Albans and the borough of Sudbury. I was in the House when one of those cases—indeed, I believe when the two were before the House—and I venture to say, if those boroughs had been of the size of Lancaster or Great Yarmouth, neither of them would have been disfranchised, and that the House consented mainly to their disfranchisement, because, in the first place, the boroughs were so small, that really they ought not to have existed at all; and secondly, because, being so small, there was no expectation that there could be created in them any constituency of a less corrupt and more reliable character, so as to afford a hope that in future the representation of those places would be satisfactory and creditable to the country. Well now, what is the true course to adopt? Bribery is an offence known to the law. I do not speak now of the corruption of constituencies, but of the corruption of each individual member of constituencies. You have, in some degree, by granting indemnity, shut yourselves out from punishing any one from bringing before a court any one person who has been guilty of bribery in these four boroughs. But you have left yourselves clearly a right to disfranchise every individual person whose corruption has been proved before any Commission of Inquiry. If your indemnity has anything in it, it is quite clear you have no power, after the promise you have given to the witnesses, to do that which you propose to do 1317 by this Bill—if you have the power—to disfranchise them all in bulk, not only those who have committed the offence and are guilty, but those who did not commit the offence and who are innocent. But surely you have a right to take the list of all the men which the Commissioners have laid before you—of those who bribed and those who were bribed—and to enact that not one of these men, for any number of years, or for the term of their natural lives, should be entitled to give a vote. Now that is the honest, it is the just, I hold it is the proper course for you to take, and it is also in accordance with the opinion which has been held in this House by eminent men who have discussed this question in past times. But now you are about, in a manner so—the House will forgive me for saying so—flagrant, so atrocious, to punish a great number of innocent persons for an example to other persons. That is the theory of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire—that you tie them all up together and say, "It is all very well; we know that you, 1,200 nearly, are innocent of all these matters." [An hon. MEMBER: Some of them may have winked at it.] Of course, some of them may have winked at it; but we do not punish people for winking now-a-days, even though they wink very hard. If we take the 528 and tie them up with nearly 1,200 who have not been bribed, and say to them, "You are a community, and we will tie you all together, and punish you all in perpetuity, as long as you live in the town of Great Yarmouth, for an offence of which not only you have not been guilty, out of which your innocence was proved when £10 notes were lying in the streets, and any of yon might have picked them up if you liked to have them"—you punish the innocent men, when you can, if you like, put your finger on the guilty. It is not as if you had not a list of the guilty. You know them all. Then punish them all; for you can put them in the Schedule of an Act of Parliament this very week and disfranchise them. But, if you take the 1,200 who are innocent and the 4,000 or 5,000 who have all the chance of coming upon the register, as the right hon. Member for South Lancashire stated—although we may say that only 2,000 or 3,000 will really come upon the register—you take all these innocent men, including the 2,000 or 3,000 to be created by the Bill, and disfranchise them for ever—as long as they live in Great Yarmouth. 1318 You punish at least 4,000 persons for the sin of 500, and that, too, when you have the names of every one of the 500 on the table. I say that is a proposition so monstrous that I am surprised the Chancellor of the Exchequer has it in his Bill; I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire should support it; and I shall be amazed if it receive the sanction of the majority of this House. I venture to tell the hon. Gentlemen who support this proposition that there is hardly anything more uncertain as a remedy than disfranchisement. If you disfranchised Sudbury and St. Albans, you had no more corruption in these places. But the disfranchisement of Sudbury and St. Albans did not in the slightest degree, as I ever heard, diminish the corruption in other boroughs. I venture to say that if you disfranchise Great Yarmouth and Lancaster, there are other boroughs that ought to be in the same category which will be none the better for the course you take. Hon. Members know that the arrangement that the hon. Gentleman who preceded me (Mr. Howes) referred to is not at all an uncommon one. Since this Parliament met I have heard of a borough in which corruption was extensive, with respect to which a petition was presented against the sitting Member. The Committee met; it was not thought desirable that the charge of corruption should be proceeded with, and it was therefore agreed that nothing should be proceeded with except the question of scrutiny—whether the majority was valid or not. So the scrutiny went on until a sufficient number was struck off, and the gentleman who had come in went out, and his competitor came in in his stead. They had come to some kind of arrangement or understanding—I do not know what—but before two years had passed the seat for that borough was again vacant, and the gentleman who was originally returned came in unopposed. All the effect that the disfranchisement of these four boroughs will have is this—it will make corruption a little more discreet and cause greater cunning and management to be observed in its exercise than now. I should like to put to the Committee—and I hope my hon. Friend and relative, of whom I would speak, will forgive me for speaking of the way in which this system bears upon the case—I refer to the borough of Wakefield. In the election of 1859 there was, as they were all aware, extensive bribery in the borough of Wake- 1319 field, and one of the most honourable and conscientious men living, having unfortunately come in contact with this odious system, became almost inextricably involved in it. If there were no honourable and conscientious men in this House who have been connected with bribery, I must form a very unfavourable opinion of a good many of those I see around me. The House knows what took place in the case of Wakefield. There was a Commission, and a full inquiry, and a prosecution also; but the borough was not disfranchised. And what took place? When the next General Election drew on, my hon. Friend and relative had determined to have no more to do with affairs which had given him such great anxiety, and had brought him into condemnation of the acts of all those who were opposed to electoral corruption. But the constituency felt how much it had suffered from what had taken place. The leading men of the constituency came forward and would not allow him to go into the retirement he coveted; they asked him to stand, pledging themselves, as far as their party was concerned, that bribery should be for ever abandoned and discouraged, and promising to return him without expense. In all this they kept their promise. The borough returned him without a contest and without expense. What is the case now? The borough of Wakefield has entirely wrested itself from the corruption into which it had fallen in previous elections. ["No!"] I say yes; for there was a Committee on the last election, and before that Committee it was distinctly proved that, with the exception of some man who had run the country for embezzlement, who had committed some acts of bribery to enable him to win a bet, there was absolutely no corruption on the part of those who returned my hon. Friend to this House. Therefore I say Wakefield is a case in point. If the right hon. Gentleman had brought in this Bill in 1860 he would have no doubt have put Wakefield in the clause; but is it not a great matter that Wakefield should be a reformed, independent, and regenerate borough as it is now, instead of being put into a disfranchising clause, and coming to knock at the door of this House seeking again to be admitted to the representation? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire referred to the boroughs that had been disfranchised by the Reform Act under Schedule A; but surely those boroughs were disfranchised on the ground 1320 of general policy. They were not in any sense a representation of the people; therefore you shut them out, and gave their Members to really large boroughs, to towns and cities representing an important amount of public opinion. I say that the course proposed by the Government is unconstitutional to the last degree in respect to any borough not so small as to be disentitled on grounds of general policy to be represented in this House, and that the true course is that which has been suggested by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that the writ should be suspended as in former cases, by which only the existing generation is punished—by which you will not be giving away their Members, and be afterwards called upon to increase the number of the Members of this House by the re-admission of those whom you now exclude; whilst you will as effectually punish those who are guilty, and I believe as effectually deter all other boroughs on whose feelings and practices you wish to make an impression as by disfranchisement itself. I have stated, as briefly as I could, my view of the case. There is no Member in the House to whom corruption is more odious than it appears to me, and I am only sorry that the House is not more willing to take another method which in my opinion would be preventing this great offence; but I will never consent, whatever my dislike to that special crime, that many hundreds of perfectly innocent men shall be permanently disfranchised, and that great populations, like those of Lancaster and Yarmouth, shall be perpetually excluded from representation in this House because a small proportion of the electors in our generation have been guilty of this offence. I cannot hope, of course, to affect the votes of the House—though I may trust I have influenced some opinions—against the decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, assisted as he is curiously to-night by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire; but whatever the House may decide upon, I shall feel that I have maintained the true and just course in this matter, and that I have done all I could to counsel the House not to create a precedent which, I believe, would be very unfortunate, and which our predecessors would wish we had not made for them.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I think, Sir, that the House is in danger of being misled by the somewhat equivocal use of the word "disfranchisement." If it were 1321 now proposed to take the borough of Great Yarmouth, and say to the people, "You shall be in a position different to all other Englishmen; you shall enjoy no share in Parliamentary representation, either you or your children after you," I admit that there would be great force in the complaint that you are punishing the innocent with the guilty, and inflicting a punishment incommensurate with the offence. But what are you going to do? You are going really to put the inhabitants of these boroughs in the same position as the large majority of their fellow-countrymen—to make them part of a great county constituency. The very existence of boroughs is not in conformity with the doctrine of numbers, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) says we are rapidly approximating. The boroughs are selected from out the great mass of the country, and upon them is conferred a special franchise, and a power greater than is given to the majority of their countrymen, because it is supposed that in consequence of their close aggregation and the special interests which they represent they are fitted to return men to this House who are likely to legislate wisely for the country. But if the boroughs in any individual case prove that that antecedent judgment is incorrect—if they show by their conduct, maintained consistently during a long series of years, that they are not fitted to send representatives to this House—if they show that, instead of representing special interests, all they do is to supply the wants of their own venality, they then deprive themselves of their claim to the special privileges committed to them for the good of the country, and a case is established for relegating them back, not to disfranchisement, as has been said, but to the position which is occupied by a large majority of the people of this country. Therefore there appears to be no injustice in the course now proposed. What we have to consider is not whether these people are to be subject to penal enactment, but whether they are fit to exercise the special privilege which has been conferred on them in virtue of their being boroughs. The hon. Member for Birmingham proposes to punish these individuals by selecting the people who have been induced by your proclamation of indemnity to come forward and charge themselves with this offence of bribery. I say if your indemnity is worth anything it must save each man who took advantage of it from 1322 what I will denominate the special and individual consequences of the disclosures he made, otherwise it is not worth the paper upon which it is written; but it does not exempt him from any measure of general policy which Parliament may think fit to adopt. It will never do to select the men who came forward to punish them, and in spite of the indemnity to print their names in an Act of Parliament, and brand them to all posterity, thus inflicting upon them a special punishment which you do not inflict upon their fellow-citizens. Such a procedure would impeach the good faith of Parliament, which has a moral and actual value. Suppose you adopt the proposal of the hon. Member for Birmingham, in what position would you be when next you had a borough to deal with? If you should send down Commissions to corrupt districts armed with indemnities the people would know what certificates of indemnity were worth—they would put no trust in them whatever. I venture to say, if you were to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Birmingham you will never discover bribery in any other borough in the kingdom. I think you make a great mistake in dealing with this as a penal question. The truth is, it is not to punish these people that the House is about to legislate, it is to cut out a gangrene from the representative system. There is this peculiarity in bribery, as has been found by long experience — it is endemic. It fastens itself on particular places, and they do not know how it got there nor what it is. It exists, like a general disease, in one place rather than another, but nobody knows why—but there it is. No punishing of candidates—no issuing of Commissions can restore to health the place wherein it has fastened itself. Therefore it is not to punish the borough nor to make an example of it, but to cut out a gangrene which it is hopeless for us to attempt to cure, that we are invited to adopt the remedy contained in the clause under discussion. I do hope that the House will prove its sincerity and its detestation of this sad stain on our electoral system by adopting the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
, who rose amid loud cries for a division, said, that he himself had presented a petition to the House signed by a large portion of the most respectable people of Yarmouth praying for a Royal Commission to inquire into 1323 the charges brought against them; which showed that they were thoroughly sensible of the injurious influence which bribery exercised on their borough. He believed, moreover, that a large proportion of the respectable inhabitants of that borough were anxious that it should be disfranchised. While, however, the punishment now proposed to be inflicted was just, it could not be denied that there were other places equally deserving of such punishment. He should cordially support the proposal of the Government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Remembering the hour (half past seven) I will not detain the Committee long. I wish to state very briefly before we go to a vote that Her Majesty's Government did not arrive at the conclusion which is expressed in this clause but after the most mature and anxious consideration, and they unanimously arrived at that decision believing that it was justified by sound policy and sanctioned by constitutional precedent. The hon. Member for Birmingham has intimated that we are persisting in this course because it suits the convenience of the arrangements we have made with regard to the enfranchisement of other boroughs. Now, Sir, that accusation, I assure him, has no foundation in justice. On the contrary, we were most anxious that this clause if carried should be carried by the general feeling of the House. We were of opinion that if it could be carried only by the discipline of party and the influence of the Ministry the effect would not by any means be satisfactory; and I fairly admit that when it was represented to me that very considerable opposition would be offered to it from various quarters—when the Motion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Howes) was given notice of, and when other circumstances were mentioned, which showed that our proposition might not be sanctioned by that demonstration of feeling which we thought was necessary under the circumstances, far from endeavouring to stickle for the arrangement which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham seems to think is so convenient for us, I said that the Government were anxious that this clause, if passed, should be passed, if not unanimously, at least by a general expression of opinion in its favour, so that the moral effect of passing such a clause should not be lost; and that if that were not to be the case, and if it were to be made a mere party struggle, I should be 1324 perfectly willing, if it were fairly discussed, to listen to any proposition which, by modifying some of the conditions, might lead to general concurrence. Because it seemed to me that if ever circumstances of this character should be placed before the House of Commons there never was a case in which they should be considered so perfectly free from all party feeling. I believe the influence of the two places taken together is pretty well balanced; but at a moment when we are dealing with matters of so much gravity such trivial considerations should not be taken into account. I can assure the hon. Member for Birmingham that he is labouring under a complete delusion if he supposes that Her Majesty's Government are endeavouring to force this policy on the House because it is convenient to any arrangements they have made. Unless it is cordially and completely adopted we feel it will not possess the moral effect we would like it to have. Allow me to say a word before I sit down, upon the question of bribery. The more I see of these things—and, like many others in this House, I have witnessed the results of many General Elections—the more I am convinced that bribery and corruption, although they may be very convenient for gratifying the ambition or the vanity of individuals, have very little effect on the fortunes or the power of parties; and it is a great mistake to suppose that bribery and corruption are the means by which power can either be obtained or retained. In all periods which have been characterized by very great corruption it will always be found to have been caused by some new class forcing itself into a position in society, and that it was not due to the efforts of rival parties. Of this I am convinced myself—that bribery and corruption affects very little the course of public affairs. With regard to the Amendment immediately before the House, it is one that under no circumstances could I support, even had the House been desirous of attempting a compromise as to some portion of the clause; because, so far as I understand it, it is the entire omission of Great Yarmouth from this clause. That I could not for a moment agree to, and I trust the Committee will not sanction it.
said, that before the Committee divided he was anxious to explain that when he referred to the course which had been taken by the Government, he merely meant that they could not assent 1325 to the proposition contained in the Amendment without disturbing their previous arrangements. After the observation that had been made by the right hon. Gentleman, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman himself was of opinion that disfranchisement for a generation would be a sufficient punishment.
§ Question, "That the words 'Great Yarmouth' stand part of the said proposed Amendment," put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 325; Noes 49: Majority 276.
§ Preamble to Clause 8 agreed to.1327
|Acland, T. D.||Clement, W. J.|
|Adam, W. P.||Clinton, Lord E. P.|
|Adderley, rt. hon. C. B.||Cobbold, J. C.|
|Agnew, Sir A.||Cochrane, A. D. R. W. B.|
|Amberley, Viscount||Cole, hon. H.|
|Anson, hon. Major||Colebrooke, Sir T. E.|
|Arkwright, R.||Coleridge, J. D.|
|Armstrong, R.||Collier, Sir R. P.|
|Ayrton, A. S.||Colthurst, Sir G. C.|
|Aytoun, R. S.||Colvile, C. R.|
|Bagnall, C.||Corry, rt. hon. H. L.|
|Bailey, Sir J. R.||Cowen, J.|
|Barclay, A. C.||Cowper, hon. H. F.|
|Barrington, Viscount||Cowper, rt. hon. W. F.|
|Barrow, W. H.||Cox, W. T.|
|Bass, A.||Cranborne, Viscout|
|Bateson, Sir T.||Craufurd, E. H. J.|
|Baxter, W. E.||Crawford, R. W.|
|Beach, Sir M. H.||Cubitt, G.|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Beaumont, W. B.||Denman, hon. G.|
|Bective, Earl of||Dering, Sir E. C.|
|Beecroft, G. S.||Dick, F.|
|Blennerhasset, Sir R.||Disraeli, rt. hon. B.|
|Bonham-Carter, J.||Doulton, F.|
|Booth, Sir R. G.||Dowdeswell, W. E.|
|Bourne, Colonel||Du Cane, C.|
|Brand, rt. hon. H.||Duff, M. E. G.|
|Bridges, Sir B. W.||Duncombe, hon. Adm.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Duncombe, hn. Colonel|
|Bromley, W. D.||Dyke, W. H.|
|Brooks, R.||Dyott, Colonel R.|
|Brown, J.||Eaton, H. W.|
|Browne, Lord J, T.||Eckersley, N.|
|Bruce, C.||Edwards, Sir H.|
|Buller, Sir E. M.||Egerton, E. C.|
|Burrell, Sir P.||Egerton, hon. W.|
|Butler, C. S.||Elcho, Lord|
|Calcraft, J. H. M.||Enfield, Viscount|
|Calthorpe, hn. F. H. W. G.||Evans, T. W.|
|Campbell, A. H.||Ewart, W.|
|Candlish, J.||Ewing, H. E. Crum-|
|Cardwell, rt. hon. E.||Fane, Colonel J. W.|
|Cartwright, Colonel||Fawcett, H.|
|Cave, rt. hon. S.||Feilden, J.|
|Cave, T.||Fergusson, Sir J.|
|Cavendish, Lord G.||Finlay, A. S.|
|Chambers, M.||FitzGerald, rt. hn. Lord O. A.|
|Clay, J.||FitzPatrick, rt. hn. J. W.|
|Forester, rt. hon. Gen.||James, E.|
|Forster, C.||Jardine, R.|
|Fortescue, rt. hon. C. S.||Jervoise, Sir J. C.|
|Fortescue, hon. D. F.||Johnstone, Sir J.|
|Foster, W. O.||Jolliffe, hon. H. H.|
|French, rt. hon. Colonel||Jones, D.|
|Freshfield, C. K.||Karslake, Sir J. B.|
|Gallwey, Sir W. P.||Karslake, E. K.|
|Galway, Viscount||Kavanagh, A.|
|Garth, R.||Kekewich, S. T.|
|Gavin, Major||Kendall, N.|
|Getty, S. G.||Kennard, R. W.|
|Gilpin, Colonel||King, J. K.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Kinglake, A. W.|
|Gladstone, W. H.||Kinglake, J. A.|
|Glyn, G. G.||Kingscote, Colonel|
|Goddard, A. L.||Kinnaird, hon. A. F.|
|Goldney, G.||Knight, F. W.|
|Gore, J. R. O.||Knightley, Sir R.|
|Gore, W. R. O.||Knox, hon. Col. S.|
|Gorst, J. E.||Laing, S.|
|Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.||Laird, J.|
|Graves, S. R.||Lawrence, W.|
|Gray, Lieut.-Colonel||Leader, N. P.|
|Greenall, G.||Lee, W.|
|Greene, E.||Lefevre, G. J. S.|
|Greville-Nugent, A. W. F.||Legh, Major C.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Lennox, Lord H. G.|
|Gridley, Capt. H. G.||Leslie, C. P.|
|Griffith, C. D.||Lindsay, hon. Col. C.|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||Lindsay, Colonel R. L.|
|Grosvenor, Capt. R. W.||Lloyd, Sir T. D.|
|Grove, T. F.||Locke, J.|
|Guinness, Sir B. L.||Long, R. P.|
|Gurney, rt. hon. R.||Lowe, rt. hon. R.|
|Gwyn, H.||Lowther, J.|
|Hadfield, G.||Lusk, A.|
|Hamilton, rt. hn. Lord C.||MacEvoy, E.|
|Hamilton, Lord C. J.||Mackie, J.|
|Hamilton, I. T.||Mackinnon, Capt. L. B.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||M'Lagan, P.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||M'Laren, D.|
|Hardy, rt. hon. G.||Malcolm, J. W.|
|Hardy, J.||Manners, rt. hn. Lord J.|
|Harris, J. D.||Martin, P. W.|
|Hartley, J.||Matheson, A.|
|Hartopp, E. B.||Mill, J. S.|
|Harvey, R. B.||Miller, W.|
|Hervey, Lord A. H. C.||Mills, J. R.|
|Hay, Sir J. C. D.||Mitchell, A.|
|Hayter, A. D.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Headlam, rt. hon. T. E.||Mitford, W. T.|
|Heathcote, hn. G. H.||Moffatt, G.|
|Henley, Lord||Monk, C. J.|
|Herbert, hon. Col. P.||Montagu, rt. hn. Lord R.|
|Heygate, Sir F. W.||Montgomery, Sir G.|
|Hibbert, J. T.||More, R. J.|
|Hildyard, T. B. T.||Morgan, O.|
|Hodgkinson, G.||Morrison, W.|
|Hodgson, K. D.||Mowbray, rt. hn. J. R.|
|Hodgson, W. N.||Naas, Lord|
|Hogg, Lieut.-Col. J. M.||Neate, C.|
|Holford, R. S.||Neeld, Sir J.|
|Holland, E.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Holmesdale, Viscount||Newport, Viscount|
|Hood, Sir A. A.||Nicholson, W.|
|Hope, A. J. B. B.||North, Colonel|
|Hotham, Lord||Northcote, rt. hn. Sir S. H.|
|Howard, hon. C. W. G.||Norwood, C. M.|
|Hunt, G. W.||O'Conor Don, The|
|Hurst, R. H.||Ogilvy, Sir J.|
|Hutt, rt. hon. Sir W.||Oliphant, L.|
|Ingham, R.||O'Neill, E.|
|Packe, C. W.||Stanhope, J. B.|
|Packe, Colonel||Stanley, Lord|
|Padmore, R.||Stansfeld, J.|
|Paget, R. H.||Stone, W. H.|
|Pakington, rt. hn. Sir J.||Stuart, Lieut.-Col. W.|
|Palk, Sir L.||Stucley, Sir G. S.|
|Palmer, Sir R.||Surtees, C. F.|
|Parker, Major W.||Synan, E. J.|
|Parry, T.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Peel, J.||Thorold, Sir J. H.|
|Pennant, hon. G. D.||Torrens, R.|
|Philips, R. N.||Tottenham, Lt.-Col. C. G.|
|Platt, J.||Tracy, hon. C. R. D. Hanbury-|
|Powell, F. S.||Treeby, J. W.|
|Price, W. P.||Turner, C.|
|Pryse, E. L.||Vandeleur, Colonel|
|Pritchard, J.||Verner, Sir W.|
|Pugh, D.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Rebow, J. G.||Vivian, H. H.|
|Repton, G. W. J.||Walcott, Admiral|
|Robartes, T. J. A.||Walker, Major G. G.|
|Robertson, P. F.||Walrond, J. W.|
|Rolt, Sir J.||Walsh, A.|
|Royston, Viscount||Walsh, Sir J.|
|Russell, A.||Warner, E.|
|Russell, H.||Waterhouse, S.|
|Russell, Sir C.||Western, Sir T. B.|
|Russell, Sir W.||Whatman, J.|
|Samuda, J. D'A.||Whitbread, S.|
|Samuelson, B.||Whitmore, H.|
|Schreiber, C.||Wickham, H. W.|
|Sclater-Booth, G.||Williams, F. M.|
|Scott, Sir W.||Williamson, Sir H.|
|Scourfield, J. H.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Selwyn, G. J.||Wise, H. C.|
|Seymour, G. H.||Wyld, J.|
|Sherriff, A. C.||Wynn, Sir W. W.|
|Simonds, W. B.||Wyvill, M.|
|Smith, J.||Taylor, Colonel T. E.|
|Smith, J. A.||Noel, hon. G. J.|
|Adair, H. E.||Harvey, R. J. H.|
|Allen, W. S.||Hay, Lord J.|
|Bagge, Sir W.||Henniker-Major. hn. J. M.|
|Baillie, rt. hon. H. J.||Howes, E.|
|Baines, E.||Lacon, Sir E.|
|Baring, hon. A. H.||Layard, A. H.|
|Barnes, T.||Liddell, hon. H. G.|
|Barry, A. H. S.||Morris, G.|
|Bright, J.||O'Brien, Sir P.|
|Conolly, T.||O'Donoghue, The|
|Crossley, Sir F.||Patten, Colonel W.|
|Dalglish, R.||Pease, J. W.|
|Dillwyn, L. L.||Pim, J.|
|Dimsdale, R.||Read, C. S.|
|Edwards, C.||Scholefield, W.|
|Eliot, Lord||Seymour, H. D.|
|Eykyn, R.||Shafto, R. D.|
|Fildes, J.||Taylor, P. A.|
|Forster, W. E.||Torrens, W. T. M'C.|
|Fort, R.||White, J.|
|Gilpin, C.||Whitworth, B.|
|Goodson, J.||Woods, H.|
|Gray, Sir J.|
|Grey, hon. T. de||TELLERS.|
|Hamilton, E. W. T.||Dunkellin, Lord|
|Hartington, Marquess||Bowyer, Sir G.|
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that upon a former occasion he had advanced all he could say in order to prove the hardship which would be indicted upon the borough of Lancaster were it wholly disfranchised; but he was not then in full possession of all the facts relating to the case. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire, in the course of the debate that evening, had said that one very great objection to totally disfranchising boroughs convicted of bribery was that disfranchisement would become recognised as the usual punishment of the crime, and the truth would become more difficult to get at in consequence. He ventured to assert that a truer observation had never been made, nor one more supported by all the circumstances, so far as Lancaster was concerned. He would remind the Committee that the Chief Commissioner at Lancaster, in opening the inquiry, addressed all concerned, and mentioned Gloucester and Wakefield as resembling the case of Lancaster in population and other respects, and he urged upon all the inhabitants there to come forward and tell the whole truth in regard to the bribery and corruption that had taken place; he told them that a Royal Commission had visited these places, and had reported "very gross corruption was disclosed, but a tolerably candid confession" having been made by those implicated, "the Legislature suspended the representation for three or four years" only. He went on—No one would suppose that he was holding out any promise or making any bargain; he only thought it fair to mention these precedents with a view of showing that in cases where disclosures had been tolerably fair and candid the Legislature had dealt with them in a lenient manner.Had the Commissioners been in the House they would have been ready to assert that no difficulty was found in getting evidence from the people of Lancaster, for they came freely forward and gave all the information they could on the subject; a large number of uncorrupted electors gave evidence, and he was sure they did so in the belief that they would not be disfranchised. He therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he thought the disfranchisement of Lancaster would encourage people of other boroughs to come forward and tell the truth in case there should be any inquiry into suspected bribery? He thought the Committee was acting in an extreme manner. He believed, however, that it was necessary to discourage bribery as much as 1329 possible, and had intended to move the disfranchisement of Lancaster to the extent of one Member—after the recent division he supposed it would be hopeless to obtain more. What had occurred in the boroughs of Gloucester and Wakefield was quite equal to what had taken place in Lancaster. In those cases the House had contented itself with suspending the writ for a long period, and he thought a similar punishment would meet the justice of the cases before them. He should therefore move, when the time came, to omit the words "Great Yarmouth and Lancaster," with a view of adding words at the end of the clause, the effect of which would be to suspend the writs in those two boroughs for a period of ten years. As regarded the number of years, the time was perfectly immaterial to him, and he was willing to adopt the view of the majority of the House on that point. But to disfranchise the boroughs totally, after what had taken place, would be to set a very bad example.
§ MR. ACLAND
said, that in the district he represented if a labourer misbehaved himself, in local phraseology, "he got a holyday;" but the term should always be sufficiently long to lender the punishment real, and not merely conducive to further excesses; and he did not think a period of ten years would be sufficient to meet the case. He would rather suggest twenty-five or thirty years as the proper period during which the writ should be suspended, so as to make the lesson endure for the lifetime of the present generation.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that if the Committee agreed to his proposition, he was willing to assent to any number of years which might be agreed lipon—quarter of a century, if necessary—as long as the penalty of total disfranchisement was not enforced.
§ After some discussion,
§ MR. BAXTER
moved the insertion of these words:—"No writ for the boroughs of Great Yarmouth and Lancaster shall be issued until the year 1882," being a period of fifteen years.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
thought it would be better for the moment to avoid fixing a date, and therefore to stop at the word "until."
said, he should like to stop at the words "Great Yarmouth." Much had been said about Lancaster and Great Yarmouth, but very little interest had been made on behalf of the borough of 1330 Reigate; but it was a rapidly extending borough, the constituency was one of great intelligence, the bribery established was not of the most flagrant character; and therefore, if mercy were to be shown at all, it should be extended to Reigate as well. He concurred in the suggestion that time should be allowed for an entire change in the personnel of the constituencies before the writs were issued. Less than twenty years would not suffice for this purpose; if therefore the year 1887 were inserted, he was quite willing to retire from the arena.
§ Amendment proposed in line 23, to insert the words "no Writ shall be issued for the Boroughs of Great Yarmouth or Lancaster until."—(Mr. Baxter.)
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, the House had already committed an act of great injustice, and he could not understand why they were to follow that up by perpetrating another only second in point of magnitude. Four boroughs were dealt with by the Bill; it was proposed to punish these with a view of deterring other. How could they even satisfy the two smaller boroughs that justice was done, if the two larger boroughs were suffered to escape? But while he felt bound to protest against the injustice of the course they were asked to take, he did not desire that these places should escape punishment altogether, and he was quite willing that the writs should be postponed for as long a period as the Committee thought right.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
agreed with his hon. Friend that an act of great injustice was in contemplation; for the effect of suspending the writs would not be to turn over the borough voters to the county constituencies, but only to wipe them out, and make, as it were, burnt places in the middle of the counties. Was the House really determined to proceed to such Draconic measures? So far as he knew such extreme punishment had never been dealt out before. If the House were determined on such a decisive course, he could not oppose it; but he could not assent to the principle that by postponing the writs of these boroughs for a great number of years, they would of necessity be preparing the way for the formation of an incorrupt constituency in time to come. If merciful counsels were suffered to prevail, then he could see no reason why Totnes should be dealt with on principles different from the other boroughs.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, the appeal made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire was a very strong one, but in proportion to its strength was the necessity that it should be based on a just appreciation of the facts. There were one or two circumstances which he had forgotten. Under the existing law the indemnity granted to witnesses before Royal Commissions only extended to criminal prosecutions. The law expressly declared that a community might be disfranchised for notorious bribery and corruption. But the plea for preserving constituencies because they were large, even though corruption might to some degree have prevailed, was not thrown away upon the House of Commons. Take the instance of the borough of Galway, the facts of which had been examined by a Select Committee — he thought in the year 1860—of which he was a Member. In considering that case, the Committee were struck with the perplexities occasioned by the Act of 1852, and they recommended that the Act should be repealed. The borough of Great Yarmouth was one of the most flagrant that the House had been called upon to deal with since the passing of the Reform Act. It had been again and again inquired into, and attempts had been made to suppress these practices by mild measures, but in vain, and he trusted that having affixed the Preamble the Committee would not flinch from adopting the remedy proposed by the Government. If it were to be said that gross injustice was going to be done to the borough by its disfranchisement, he replied that the inhabitants would enjoy an amount of electoral power similar to that conferred on 13,000,000 of the population of the kingdom. The punishment of disfranchisement was the only effectual mode of putting an end to notorious bribery.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, there was greater hardship in depriving large and increasing communities of the franchise than in disfranchising small and decaying boroughs. In a large community like Lancaster and Yarmouth there were special interests which had a right to be represented; but he did not suppose that there wa3 anything of the kind in Totnes. If small constituencies, like that of Totnes, were disfranchised, many of the borough voters would still come into the Parliamentary constituency as voters for the county, but the suspension of borough writs for a long term of years would 1332 have the effect of practical disfranchisement. He thought that a signal punishment ought to be inflicted for bribery and corruption; but, with his hon. and gallant Colleague, he was of opinion that a disfranchisement for ten years would be sufficient. A suspension of electoral rights for such a period would be a lesson to that class in whose power it was to prevent corrupt practices.
§ MR. HOWES
supported most cordially the recommendation of the noble Marquess opposite, and wished to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had stated on a former occasion that individuals who had committed bribery in boroughs would not be allowed to vote for the counties after the boroughs had been disfranchised. If that were so, he should like to be informed whether that object would be carried out by the present Bill or by separate legislation. He hoped that the same provision would be also made applicable to cases where the punishment was suspension of the writs for a term of years instead of total disfranchisement.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had used a very curious argument when he maintained that no grievance would be inflicted upon the towns which it was proposed to disfranchise totally, because the electors of those towns would have votes for the county. Now, that seemed to him a very absurd result. He did not see why, when a borough had been disfranchised for gross bribery and corruption, the inhabitants should have votes for the counties. It appeared to him that the true remedy to be applied to corrupt places was that the guilty individuals should be disfranchised and not the place itself. Large communities ought not to be disfranchised even for a term. The right hon. Member for South Lancashire had contended that the disfranchising of these places was not in the nature of a Bill of pains and penalties, because it was prompted by motives of public policy; but surely the recital, which set forth that gross bribery had been proved against these places, rendered such a line of argument wholly untenable. If, however, a distinct Bill of pains and penalties were introduced into the House, the persons who were affected by it would have an opportunity of being defended by counsel. He entertained a strong conviction that a great injustice would be perpetrated if a penalty were imposed upon innocent men 1333 because others had been guilty of bribery. The House were about to punish communities for the offences of individuals, but if such a course were adopted those communities would be sure to put forward claims, which could not be easily resisted, to a share in the representation of the people. The better plan would be to give up the disfranchisement of towns, and to disfranchise all individuals found guilty of bribery, and to render them incapable of voting at any election. In conclusion, he remarked that the certificates which had been given to persons guilty of bribery merely secured them from legal proceedings, but did not in any way fetter the action of Parliament in this matter.
§ MR. CUBITT
had thought, from the course of the discussion in the early part of the evening, that it was understood that whatever was done with Yarmouth and Lancaster, Reigate and Totnes should, at all events, be left to their fate. He had served on the Totnes Committee, and was of opinion that a stronger case of bribery and corruption could not possibly be made out. He wished, however, to make a few remarks respecting Reigate, for this borough had found an important defender in the person of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. It might be said that Reigate was wholly unrepresented at the present moment. The Member for that borough had lost his seat, and he regretted to learn that one of the Members for East Surrey was unable to attend in his place in consequence of severe illness; while the other member for East Surrey had left the House without saying one word in favour of Reigate. Now, if the hon. Member for East Surrey was unable to say a word in favour of Reigate, he was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire should have done so. He (Mr. Cubitt) was one of the Members for West Surrey, but as he resided only a few miles from Reigate, he had an opportunity of seeing many gentlemen connected with the borough, and he thought he should not be guilty of exaggeration if he said that for many years past the elections in Reigate had been a scandal and a disgrace to the county. Formerly it was a close borough, and returned a Member in the interest of Lord Somers. The town had rapidly increased since then, and hon. Gentlemen who merely passed it by railway would probably think that there could not be a more respectable constituency. On a 1334 nearer inspection, however, such ideas would vanish. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite were in the habit of saying that bribery and corruption were special perquisites of his side of the House. But, however that might be, it was a fact that there had never been a Conservative candidate for the representation of Reigate. Now that circumstance increased the disgrace attaching to Reigate, because it prevented the excuse of strong party feeling from being pleaded in its favour. There was a gentleman at Reigate last year who took a prominent part in exposing the bribery and corruption. He was held in high esteem by all the respectable inhabitants; but when the municipal election occurred that gentleman ceased to be mayor of the borough. Well, he was succeeded by a gentleman named Mr. Charles Joseph Smith, who had been acting since then as chief magistrate, and had opened a correspondence with very distinguished personages, and among them the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, respecting the disfranchisement of Reigate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had remarked, on a previous occasion, that identity was a difficult subject; but if hon. Gentlemen would turn to the Report of the Reigate Commission they would find that a Mr. Charles Joseph Smith was reported, in 1863 and 1865, as a bribery agent in both those elections. Now, if the two gentlemen were identical, he must say that the labours of the Commission had not tended to produce a more wholesome or purer feeling in the borough of Reigate than formerly prevailed.
§ MR. READ
said, that if the corruption of Great Yarmouth were, as described by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne), a gangrene spot, to be cut out, he did not think they would be justified in innoculating with it the constituency of East Norfolk. The great bulk of the corrupt electors were likely to die out in ten or fifteen years; and he did not see what his own constituency had done that the voters of Great Yarmouth should be added to it. It had been said that these voters would be as wishful to 1335 receive bribes in the county as they were in the borough. There would be this difference—they would not get them. The expenses of his election were only £640; and that for contesting a constituency of 8,000 voters; and his personal expenses were under a sovereign. If the constituency of Great Yarmouth were not fit to return Members of their own, they ought not to be turned into the constituency of East Norfolk, to pollute voters who hitherto had been perfectly pure.
had, like the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell), voted in the minority, and with him felt a sense of the injustice inflicted by the Committee in its refusal to discriminate between the innocent and guilty. He should not, however, dwell further on the matter, because there was the consolation that our laws were not like those of the Modes and Persians, and that this decision of the Committee would, in all probability, be re-considered in a future Parliament. The question being now whether these boroughs should be disfranchised temporarily or permanently, he would vote for temporary disfranchisement, because that was the less punishment for the majority of the electors who deserved no punishment at all, and because a suspension of the writs would have the effect of excluding from the county franchise the boroughs deemed to have forfeited their right to the borough franchise. He could not help expressing his deep regret that the Reigate Commission had felt it necessary to reflect upon the character of his honoured friend the late Mr. William Arthur Wilkinson, who sat in this House for years, and was highly esteemed by all who knew him. Mr. Wilkinson had died before the Commission was issued, and no evidence on his behalf could consequently be adduced. It was true there were other instances in which Commissions had felt it necessary to advert to deceased Members; but this case was made exceptional by the fact that Mr. Wilkinson's agent, Mr. James, was also dead.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he did not consider it reasonable, when enacting a measure intended to enlarge the constituencies of the country, that they should propose to disfranchise for all time the constituencies of these four boroughs. If they were to punish them for bribery let them do so in a distinct and definite manner. For his own part, he did not believe the House was in earnest in their wish to punish people 1336 for bribery. If they were really honest they would not select particular cases for punishment, but would pass stringent measures rendering bribery penal, and secure protection to the voter by means of the ballot. He should support the proposal for limited instead of perpetual disfranchisement.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, that his experience in the House was short; but from all he had seen and heard since he had entered Parliament he believed that the imputation cast upon its honesty by the hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn) was unjust, and that on both sides of the House there was an earnest desire to put an end to bribery and corruption. With that feeling he should certainly support the proposal of the Government for the total disfranchisement of these corrupt boroughs. At the same time, he sympathized with the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Read), who was anxious that a stream of corruption should not be poured into his county from the sewer of Great Yarmouth. This, however, he did not consider a necessary consequence of the present measure. The Committee would recollect that at an early period of the discussion he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it was proposed to give votes for counties to those persons who were proved to have been guilty of either giving or receiving bribes; and he gathered from the reply of the right hon. Gentleman that it was the wish of the Government that that privilege should not be given. He could not conceive upon what principle they could give votes for counties to men on account of whose corruption they were ready to disfranchise whole boroughs. He hoped, therefore, that provisions would be introduced by which those who had given or received bribes would be deprived of the privilege of voting for the counties in which those boroughs were situated. In reference to the argument that it was unjust to disfranchise the whole borough in consequence of the proved corruption of individuals, he (Mr. Russell Gurney) did not rest his support of disfranchisement in these cases merely upon the ground that a certain number of men were proved to have received or given bribes, but because he found that a general system of corruption prevailed throughout the whole of these boroughs, which must have been perfectly well known to the whole of the constituencies. There were, no doubt, 1337 in all such boroughs many persons who were above either bribing or being bribed, and if those persons had really discountenanced bribery, it would not have existed. They must have known that the system prevailed; they did not discountenance it or take any steps to prevent it, and that being so it was perfectly right that the boroughs should be disfranchised, but it would not be right that the guilty persons should be entitled to vote for counties.
§ MR. WYLD
suggested that the Government should go a step further and carry out the principle of the ballot in these boroughs. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer declined to allow the ballot, let him at all events try the experiment of voting papers, and thus secure secrecy in the exercise of the franchise in these places.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wyld) express his approval of the principle of voting papers in boroughs. The simple proposition, however, before the Committee was this, whether—having already passed the Preamble of this clause — they should affirm the principle contained therein, that there should be a punishment inflicted on these boroughs which have been found guilty of the grossest corruption. He confessed he could not see upon what grounds a distinction was to be made between the larger and the smaller boroughs in regard to corruption. If they were to punish at all, they should punish all alike; and to say that some should be disfranchised for a term of years, and others utterly, was proceeding upon a principle he could not understand. Now, taking Lancaster for example, it appeared that the greater portion of the constituency had been corrupted to such an extent that out of 1,408 voters 843 were bribed, and 89 were bribers—making altogether more then 900 bribed and bribers. There must have been a great deal of connivance on the part of those not actually found guilty of corrupt practices, which could not have gone on as they did if they had not been assented to by some of the more respectable inhabitants. ["Oh, oh!"] What did the Commissioners say? Why, that the corruption was so gross that, to borrow an expression of one of the witnesses, "the terms used were those of the cattle market, only that the beasts sold themselves." That was the case of Lancaster; but how was it with respect to Great Yarmouth? How could 1338 any one doubt that the inhabitants generally knew well the system of corruption that pervaded the borough? When one of the hon. Members for the borough was proved to have had no less than forty publichouses under his control, could there be a doubt how things went on there? Such was the case of the great boroughs which hon. Gentlemen would not disfranchise entirely, but only for a term of years; while as for the small boroughs they might go to the wall. But if they looked at the Report of the Commissioners, they would see that nothing but going to the root of the evil would be of any avail. What had been done upon former occasions? The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), who was now against disfranchising Lancaster and Great Yarmouth, said that the House had disfranchised St. Albans because it was a small borough. He did not know whether the hon. Member was then in the House; but he (the Solicitor General) found the reason stated in the Act was that there had been corrupt and illegal practices, and that after the passing of the Act the borough of St. Albans should cease to exist. But then it was said that by disfranchising Lancaster and Great Yarmouth, although there were only certain of the electors proved guilty of corruption, they would be punishing those also who were not guilty. To that he would say — adopting an argument which had been made use of the other night—that there was no proof that those persons had not been guilty, only they had not been found out. ["Oh!"] When the Commissioners reported that corruption prevailed to such an extent, could it be doubted that many of the guilty remained undiscovered? What had been done in Great Yarmouth before? The hon. Member for Birmingham was party to the Act of 1848, whereby the freemen of Great Yarmouth were disfranchised. Did they make inquiry then whether particular freemen were guilty or not? Not at all; but because it was ascertained that great corruption prevailed among the freemen it was determined to disfranchise the whole body: and from that time to this day, not only the freemen of that day, but all future freemen in Great Yarmouth, were disfranchised. But that had not had any effect whatever on Great Yarmouth, for it appeared by the Commissioners' Report that the corruption at present was as great as before. Well, then, was not the proper course to mete out the same measure of justice to the large and 1339 small boroughs alike? He would venture to say that what the Committee ought to do was to decide that all those boroughs should cease to have the privilege of sending Members to Parliament.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, he had listened with the greatest pleasure to the speech they had just heard. He had come down to the House under some apprehension that the proposal of the Bill was about to be modified so as to leave those boroughs with one Member instead of two. He was extremely glad to have been relieved of that apprehension. As an inhabitant of the county of Lancaster and a near neighbour of the town he should have been exceedingly happy if, consistently with his public duty, he could have made an exception in favour of Lancaster: but he felt that this was an important public question, and ought to be dealt with on public grounds. A suspicion had been whispered about that they were not in earnest in dealing with bribery, and if suspension of the privilege of representation were all the punishment inflicted, the country would have some right to think that the House was not sincere. He could not understand how men could rise from the perusal of the blue books which had been laid before them, and have the least hesitation as to the course they were bound to pursue. If the Government had proposed to make a concession so that, after a new generation, the boroughs of Lancaster and Great Yarmouth might, on account of their size, be restored to the representative system, he would have been willing to listen to the proposal, and to take it into consideration; but that which was most important was that the House of Commons should show in an unmistakable manner that the intention of Parliament was to deal effectively with bribery and corruption, and he would therefore give his support to the proposal of Her Majesty's Government.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that of all the arguments which had been brought forward in this case those of the Gentlemen of the legal profession seemed the most extraordinary and unintelligible. He could not have believed it if he had not heard what had fallen from those hon. and learned Gentlemen, The Solicitor General said that because bribery had taken place in a borough the guilt was to be ascribed not only to the culprits themselves, but to those who were not culprits. But that was an argu- 1340 ment to which the House would not, he hoped, listen for a moment. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) had on a former occasion made use of the same argument, and said that those who claimed to be innocent were at liberty to go before the Commissioners and prove it. He happened to meet one of the Commissioners next day, and he said that if any one came before them to do anything of the sort in order to save the borough from disfranchisement they would have turned him out of the court. What he proposed to do now was, to take a division on the Question that the writ be suspended, and if he succeeded in that he promised that he would consult the general opinion of the Committee as to the length of time for which the suspension should take place.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he hoped the Committee would feel that the division about to be taken was really a very critical one, and that a great deal depended on it. He was entirely unfavourable to the suggestion of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wilson Patten), and he thought that the policy embodied in the clause as it stood was the right policy. But he was free to admit that unless a policy of this kind was approved by a very general consent on the part of the House, it would lose a great deal of the weight which it was desirable it should possess. If the House had a doubt as to the degree of the evil, if there was a very strong feeling that it might not be expedient to deprive a large population such as that of Yarmouth and Lancaster entirely of their representation, and a proposition embodying that view were made, it would be a proposition deserving careful consideration and ought to be fairly discussed, and then it could be met with a decisive resolution and decisive action. But the present proposal, that they should do nothing but suspend the writ, would be looked upon by the country as mere trifling, and could but have a very bad effect. It was idle to mix up this great case with the case of Sudbury and St. Albans. The country knew that Sudbury and St. Albans were mere impostures, and if a few people there were convicted of bribery, the only feeling was to get rid of some obvious reproaches to the representative system. But if they came to the resolution that important places which had been offenders for a long time should no longer meet with impunity—whether they 1341 utterly disfranchised entirely them or deprived them of one Member — a great effect would be produced upon the mind of the country. And if they accompanied action of that kind by passing a Bribery Bill, which it might be convenient for some hon. Members to treat as a very slight affair, but which, if his information was to be trusted, would come forth from the Select Committee before which it was now a very effective measure, they would do good service to the country. He did not believe that it was impossible for the House to deal with bribery—on the contrary, he thought that it was in their power to strike a great blow against it. Allusion had been made to the circumstances under which the present Parliament had been elected and to certain flagrant instances of corruption that had taken place. It was undoubtedly true that in a wealthy country like this there would always be individuals ready to lavish their money to gain a social distinction. Parliament could not fight against that, particularly in a great commercial country like England. At the same time, he thought the tendency of public opinion and the tendency of the sincere legislation of the House—although that legislation was sometimes spoken of with a levity which was scarcely warranted—were very much against bribery, and he was quite convinced that public opinion would be affected in the direction which they desired if they showed a determination to punish corrupt boroughs, whether large or small. If the Committee had chosen to entertain the proposal of an hon. Gentleman opposite to deprive the two large boroughs of only a moiety of their representatives, he should have been ready frankly to consider the question; but the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend was so nugatory in its nature that he could not advise the Committee to adopt it.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, he wished to correct a misconception on the part of the hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire as to what he said on a former occasion. He had no thought of suggesting that individuals could appear before the Commissioners to show reasons why Lancaster should not be disfranchised; but he suggested that when an inquiry was going on of which every inhabitant was cognizant, all who were interested in adducing facts tending to exonerate the general population of the borough from the charge of corruption might have gone 1342 before the Commissioners, whose duty it would certainly have been to hear them. If such facts could have been adduced there was then, he argued, ample opportunity of bringing them forward.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he had no wish to misrepresent the hon. and learned Gentleman, for whom he entertained great respect; but the reports of his speech gave a complexion to his argument different from what he had just stated.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, he could not have imagined that it was for the Commissioners to decide whether the borough should be disfranchised or not, that being entirely a question for the House; but the inhabitants must have known that Parliament might be called on to take measures in consequence of the Commissioners' Report, and that those measures would depend on the facts ascertained by the Commissioners.
asked the hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire whether, after what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he ought not to withdraw his Amendment, with a view to their coming to an agreement as to the alternative proposition to which he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer was inclined to give the preference?
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he should be quite willing to withdraw his Amendment, but he had not understood the right hon. Gentleman to make any alternative proposition.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
thought the notion of repressing bribery by taking one Member from these boroughs was perfectly absurd.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
remarked, that there appeared to be some misconception. He had made no alternative proposition; but one had been given notice of by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Baxter), and what he had said was that had the Committee entertained it he should have been ready to consider it. The Committee, however, had refused to listen to it, and he was not aware whether any hon. Members were in favour of it.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 159: Majority 72.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.1343
§ Clause 9 (Certain Boroughs to return one Member only).
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
, who had given Notice of an Amendment in line 27, to leave out all after "From and after the" and insert—Passing of the present Bill, every local constituency shall, subject to the provisions hereinafter contained, return one Member for every quota of its registered electors actually voting at that election, such quota being a number equal to the quotient obtained by dividing by six hundred and fifty-eight the total number of votes polled throughout the kingdom at the same Election, and if such quotient be fractional, the integral number next less: Provided always, That where the number of votes given by the constituency shall not be equal to such quota, the quota may be completed by means of votes given by persons duly qualified as electors in any other part of the United Kingdom; and the candidate who shall have obtained such quota may notwithstanding be returned as Member for the said constituency if he shall have obtained a majority of the votes given therein as hereinafter mentioned.(Elector to vote orally or by voting paper.—Voting paper may state a succession of names in case those named in priority have obtained the quota.)2. Every elector shall vote at his appointed polling place, either orally as heretofore or by a voting paper, and may on such voting paper state in numerical order the names of any of the candidates at such general Election at one of whom, taken in regular succession, the vote shall be given in case those named first or in priority on such voting paper shall, before it comes to be appropriated, have obtained the quota; but no vote given orally shall be taken for more than one candidate, and no vote given on a voting paper shall be counted for more than one candidate: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall prevent the transmission of voting papers under the Act of the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth years of Victoria, chapter fifty-three.(What candidates are to be returned as Members.)3. The candidates returned as Members shall be all those respectively for whom a quota of votes shall have been polled, whether in one or more than one constituency; and if less than six hundred and fifty-eight candidates have such quota, then those for whom the next greater number of votes have been polled, until the number of six hundred and fifty-eight shall be completed; and such of the six hundred and fifty-eight candidates chosen as aforesaid as have the majority or greater number of votes in any local constituency shall be returned as Members for such constituency.(Vacated seats to be filled up by the voters who returned the last Member.)4. Any seat vacated by the acceptance of office, promotion to the peerage, or death of a Member, shall be filled by election by the body or majority of the body of voters by whose actual votes he was returned.(Speaker to lay before Parliament rules for ascertaining the number of votes polled of the quota, and for regulating form of voting 1344 papers and declaring the names of the Members.)5. The Speaker of the House of Commons shall cause to be framed and shall lay before Parliament such rules as may be necessary for ascertaining and for certifying to the returning officers the total number of votes polled, and the number of the quota, for regulating the form of the voting papers, and the record, collection, and disposition thereof, and the appropriation of the same in the order of the names on each paper, the method to be observed in determining and declaring the six hundred and fifty-eight members who have respectively obtained the quota or number of votes nearest to the quota; and for carrying the provisions of this Act into effect in any matter not otherwise provided for; and such rules shall, if the House shall so resolve, be entered on the Journals, and the same, when so entered, with any amendment or amendments thereof, at any time adopted by the Resolution of the House, shall be observed and performed at all future Elections by all officers and persons to whose duties respectively the same relate.said: Sir, the proposal to which I am about to call the attention of the House, and which I move as an Amendment to the redistribution clauses, because if it were adopted it would itself constitute a complete system of re-distribution, has been framed for the purpose of embodying a principle which has not yet been introduced into out-discussions—a principle which is overlooked in the practical machinery of our constitution, and disregarded in most of the projects of constitutional reformers, but which I hold, nevertheless, to be most important to the beneficial working of representative government; and if while we are making great changes in our system of representation we omit to engraft this principle upon it, the advantages we obtain by our changes will be very much lessened, and whatever dangers they may be thought to threaten us with, will be far greater and more real than they otherwise would be. And this I think I can establish by reasons so clear and conclusive, that, though I cannot expect to obtain at once the assent of the House, I do confidently hope to induce many Members of it to take the subject into serious consideration. I cannot, indeed, hold out as an inducement that the principle I contend for is fitted to be a weapon of attack or defence for any political party. It is neither democratic nor aristocratic—neither Tory, Whig, nor Radical; or, let me rather say, it is all these at once; it is a principle of fair play to all parties and opinions without distinction; it helps no one party or section to bear down others, but is for the benefit of whoever is in danger of being borne down. It is therefore a principle in which all parties may concur, if 1345 they prefer permanent justice to a temporary victory; and I believe that what chiefly hinders them is that, as the principle has not yet found its way into the commonplaces of political controversy, many have never heard of it, and many others have heard just enough about it to misunderstand it. In bringing this subject before the House, I am bound to prove two things—first, that there is a serious practical evil requiring remedy; and then, that the remedy I propose is practicable, and would be efficacious. I will first speak of the evil. It is a great evil; it is one which exists not only in our own, but in every other representative constitution; we are all aware of it; we all feel and acknowledge it in particular cases; it enters into all our calculations, and bears with a heavy weight upon us all. But as we have always been used to think of it as incurable, we think of it as little as we can; and are hardly aware how greatly it affects the whole course of our affairs, and how prodigious would be the gain to our policy, to our morality, to our civilization itself, if the evil were susceptible of a remedy. This House and the country are now anxiously engaged, and certainly not a day too soon, in considering what can be done for the unrepresented. We are all discussing how many non-electors deserve to be represented, and in what mode to give them representation. But my complaint is that the electors are not represented. The representation which they seem to have, and which we have been quarrelling about the extension of, is a most imperfect and insufficient representation, and this imperfect and insufficient representation is what we are offering to the new classes of voters whom we are creating. Just consider. In every Parliament there is an enormous fraction of the whole body of electors who are without any direct representation; consisting of the aggregate of the minorities in all the contested elections, together with we know not what minorities in those which, from the hopelessness of success, have not even been contested. All these electors are as completely blotted out from the constituency, for the duration of that Parliament, as if they were legally disqualified; most of them, indeed, are blotted out indefinitely, for in the majority of cases those who are defeated once are likely to be defeated again. Here therefore is a large portion of those whom the Constitution intends to be represented, a portion which cannot average less than a third, 1346 and may approximate to a half, who are virtually in the position of non-electors. But the local majorities, are they truly represented? In a certain rough way they are. They have a Member or Members who are on the same side with themselves in party politics; if they are Conservatives, they have a professed Conservative; if Liberals, a professed Liberal. This is something; it is a great deal, even; but is it everything? Is it of no consequence to an elector who it is that sits in Parliament as his representative, if only he does not sit on the wrong side of the House? Sir, we need more than this. We all desire not only that there should be a sufficient number of Conservatives or of Liberals in the House, but that these should, as far as possible, be the best men of their respective parties; and the elector, for himself, desires to be represented by the man who has most of his confidence in all things, and not merely on the single point of fidelity to a party. Now, this is so entirely unattainable under the present system, that it seems like a dream even to think of it. As a rule, the only choice offered to the elector is between the two great parties. There are only as many candidates of each party as there are seats to be filled; to start any others would divide the party, and in most cases ensure its defeat. And what determines who these candidates are to be? Sometimes the mere accident of being first in the field. Sometimes the fact of having stood and been defeated on some previous occasion, when the sensible men of the party did not engage in the contest, because they knew it to be hopeless. In general, half-a-dozen local leaders, who may be honest politicians, but who may be jobbing intriguers, select the candidate; and whether they are of the one kind or the other, their conduct is much the same—they select the gentleman who will spend most money; or, when this indispensable qualification is equally balanced, it answers best to propose somebody who has no opinions but the party ones; for every opinion which he has of his own, and is not willing to abnegate, will probably lose him some votes, and give the opposite party a chance. How many electors are there, I wonder, in the United Kingdom who are represented by the person, whom, if they had a free choice, they would have themselves selected to represent them? In many constituencies, probably not one. I am inclined to think that almost the only electors who are re- 1347 presented exactly as they would wish to be are those who were bribed, for they really have got for their Member the gentleman who bribed highest. Sometimes, perhaps, the successful candidate's own tenants would have voted for him in preference to anyone else, however wide a choice had been open to them. But in most cases the selection is the result of a compromise; even the leaders not proposing the man they would have liked best, but being obliged to concede something to the prejudices of other members of the party. Having thus, as I think, made out a sufficient case of evil requiring remedy, let me at once state the remedy I propose. My proposal, then, is this:—That votes should be received in every locality, for others than the local candidates. An elector who declines to vote for any of the three or four persons who offer themselves for his own locality, should be allowed to bestow his vote on any one who is a candidate anywhere, whether put up by himself or by others. If the elector avails himself of this privilege, he will naturally vote for the person he most prefers—the one person among all that are willing to serve, who would represent him best: and if there are found in the whole kingdom other electors, in the proper number, who fix their choice on the same person, that person should be declared duly elected. Some number of electors there must be who may be considered entitled to one representative. What that number is, depends on the numbers of the House, compared with the total number of electors in the country. Suppose that there is one Member for every 5,000 registered electors, or one for every 3,000 actual voters: then every candidate who receives 3,000 votes would be returned to this House, in whatever parts of the country his voters might happen to live. This is the whole of my proposal, as far as its substance is concerned. To give it effect, some subsidiary arrangements are necessary, which I shall immediately state. But I must first notice an objection which presents itself on the thresh-hold, and has so formidable an appearance that it prevents many persons from giving any further consideration to the subject. It is objected that the plan destroys the local character of the representation. Every constituency, it is said, is a group having certain interests and feelings in common, and if you disperse these groups by allowing the electors to group themselves in other combinations, those interests and 1348 feelings will be deprived of their representation. Now I fully admit that the interests and feelings of localities ought to be represented: and I add that they always will be represented; because those interests and feelings exist in the minds of the electors; and as the plan I propose has no effect but to give the freest and fullest play to the individual elector's own preferences, his local preferences are certain to exercise their proper amount of influence. I do not know what better guardian of a feeling can be wanted than the man who feels it, or how it is possible for a man to have a vote, and not carry his interests and feelings, local as well as general, with him to the polling-booth. Indeed, it may be set down as certain that the majority of voters in every locality will generally prefer to be represented by one of themselves, or one connected with the place by some special tie. It is chiefly those who know themselves to be locally in a minority, and unable to elect a local representative of their opinions, who would avail themselves of the liberty of voting on the new principle. As far as the majority were concerned, the only effect would be that their local leaders would have a greatly increased motive to find out and bring forward the best local candidate that could be had; because the electors, having the power of transferring their votes elsewhere, would demand a candidate whom they would feel it a credit to vote for. The average quality of the local representation would consequently be improved; but local interests and feelings would still be represented, as they cannot possibly fail to be, as long as every elector resides in a locality. If, however, the House attaches any weight to this chimerical danger, I would most gladly accept by way of experiment a limited application of the new principle. Let every elector have the option of registering himself either as a local or as a general voter. Let the elections for every county or borough take place on the local registry, as they do at present. But let those who choose to register themselves as members of a national constituency have representatives allowed to them in proportion to their number; and let these representatives and no others be voted for on the new principle. I will now state the additional but very simple arrangements required to enable the plan to work. Supposing 3,000 voters to be the number fixed upon as giving a claim to a representative, it is necessary that no more than 1349 this minimum number should be counted for any candidate; for otherwise a few very eminent or very popular names might engross nearly all the votes, and no other person might obtain the required number, or any number that would justify his return. No more votes, then, being counted for any candidate than the number necessary for his election, the remainder of those who voted for him would lose their vote, unless they were allowed to put on their voting paper a second name, for whom the vote could be used if it was not wanted by the candidate who stood first. In case this second candidate also should not need the vote, the voter might add a third, or any greater number, in the order of his preference. This is absolutely all that the elector would have to do, more than he does at present; and I think it must be admitted that this is not a difficult idea to master, and not beyond the comprehension of the simplest elector. The only persons on whom anything more troublesome would devolve are the scrutineers, who would have to sort the voting papers, and see for which of the names written in it each of them ought to be counted. A few simple rules would be necessary to guide the scrutineers in this process. My Amendment intrusts the duty of drawing up those rules to the judgment and experience of, the right hon. Gentleman who presides over our deliberations, subject to the approbation of the House. Let me now ask hon. Members—Is there anything in all this, either incomprehensible, or insuperably difficult of execution? I can assure the House that I have not concealed any difficulty. I have given a complete, though a brief, account of what most hon. Members must have heard of, but few, I am afraid, know much about — the system of personal representation proposed by my eminent friend, Mr. Hare — a man distinguished by that union of large and enlightened general principles with an organizing intellect and a rare fertility of practical contrivance, which together constitute a genius for legislation. People who have merely heard of Mr. Hare's plan have taken it into their heads that it is particularly hard to understand and difficult to execute. But the difficulty is altogether imaginary. To the elector there is no difficulty at all; to the scrutineers, only that of performing correctly an almost mechanical operation. Mr. Hare, anxious to leave nothing vague or uncertain, has taken the trouble to discuss in his book the whole detail of the 1350 mode of sorting the voting papers. People glance at this, and because they cannot take it all in at a glance, it seems to them very mysterious. But when was there any Act of Parliament that could be understood at a glance? and how can gentlemen expect to understand the details of a plan, unless they first possess themselves of its principle? If we were to read a description, for example, of the mode in which letters are sorted at the Post Office, would it not seem to us very complicated? Yet, among so vast a number of letters, how seldom is any mistake made. Is it beyond the compass of human ability to ascertain that the first and second names on a voting paper have been already voted for by the necessary quota, and that the vote must be counted for the third? And does it transcend the capacity of the agents of the candidates, the chief registrar, or a Committee of this House, to find out whether this simple operation has been honestly and correctly performed? If these are not insuperable difficulties, I can assure the House that they will find there are no others. Many will think that I greatly over-estimate the importance of securing to every elector a direct representation; because those who are not represented directly are represented indirectly. If Conservatives are not represented in the Tower Hamlets, or Liberals in West Kent, there are plenty of Conservatives and Liberals returned elsewhere; and those who are defeated may console themselves by the knowledge that their party is victorious in many other places. Their party, yes; but is that all we have to look to? Is representation of parties all we have a right to demand from our representative system? If that were so, we might as well put up three flags inscribed with the words, Tory, Whig, and Radical, and let the electors make their choice among the flags: and when they have voted, let the leaders of the winning party select the particular persons who are to represent it. In this way we should have, I venture to say, an admirable representation of the three parties; all the seats which fell to the lot of each party would be filled by its steadiest and ablest adherents, by those who would not only serve the patty best in the House, but do it most credit with the country. All political parties, merely as such, would be far better represented than they are now, when accidents of personal position have so great a share in determining who shall 1351 be the Liberal or who the Conservative Member for each place. Why is it, then, that such a system of representation would be intolerable to us? Sir, it is because we look beyond parties; because we care for something besides parties; because we know that the constitution does not exist for the benefit of parties, but of citizens; and we do not choose that all the opinions, feelings, and interests of all the members of the community should be merged in the single consideration of which party shall predominate. We require a House of Commons which shall be a fitting representative of all the feelings of the people, and not merely of their party feelings. We want all the sincere opinions and public purposes which are shared by a reasonable number of electors to be fairly represented here; and not only their opinions, but that they should be able to give effect by their vote to their confidence in particular men. Then why, because it is a novelty, refuse to entertain the only mode in which it is possible to obtain this complete reflection in the House of the convictions and preferences existing in the constituent body? By the plan I propose every elector would have the option of voting for the one British subject who best represented his opinions, and to whom he was most willing to intrust the power of judging for him on subjects on which his opinions were not yet formed. Sir, I have already made the remark, that this proposal is not specially Liberal, nor specially Conservative, but is, in the highest degree, both Liberal and Conservative; and I will substantiate this by showing that it is a legitimate corollary from the distinctive doctrines of both parties. Let me first address myself to Conservatives. What is it that persons of Conservative feelings specially deprecate in a plan of Parliamentary reform? It is the danger that some classes in the nation may be swamped by other classes. What is it that we are warned against as the chief among the dangers of democracy? not untruly as democracy is vulgarly conceived and practised. It is that the single class of manual labourers would, by dint of numbers, outvote all other classes, and monopolise the whole of the Legislature. But by the plan I propose no such thing could happen; no considerable minority could possibly be swamped; no interest, no feeling, no opinion, which numbered in the whole country a few thousand adherents, need be without a representation in due proportion 1352 to its numbers. It is true that by this plan a minority would not be equivalent to a majority; a third of the electors could not outvote two-thirds, and obtain a majority of seats; but a third of the electors could always obtain a third of the seats; and these would probably be filled by men above the average in the influence which depends on personal qualities: for the voters who were outnumbered locally, would range the whole country for the best candidate, and would elect him without reference to anything but their personal confidence in him. The representatives of the minorities would, therefore, include many men whose opinion would carry weight even with the opposite party. Then, again, it is always urged by Conservatives, and is one of the best parts of their creed, that the legislators of a nation should not all be men of the same stamp. A variety of feelings, interests, and prepossessions, should be found in this House; and it should contain persons capable of giving information and guidance on every topic of importance that is likely to arise. This advantage, we are often assured, has really been enjoyed under our present institutions, by which almost every separate class or interest which exists in the country is somehow represented, with one great exception, which we are now occupied in removing—that of manual labour. And this advantage many Conservatives think that we are now in danger of losing. But the plan I propose ensures this variegated character of the representation in a degree never yet obtained, and guarantees its preservation under any possible extension of the franchise. Even universal suffrage, even the handing over of political predominance to the numerical majority of the whole people, would not then extinguish minorities. Every dissentient opinion would have the opportunity of making itself heard, and heard through the very best and most effective organs it was able to procure. We should not find the rich or the cultivated classes retiring from politics, as we are so often told they do in America, because they cannot present themselves to any body of electors with a chance of being returned. Such of them as were known and respected out of their immediate neighbourhood would be elected in considerable numbers, if not by a local majority, yet by a union of local minorities; and instead of being deterred from offering themselves, it would be the pride and glory of such men to serve in Parliament; for what more 1353 inspiring position can there be for any man, than to be selected to fight the up-hill battle of unpopular opinions, in a public arena, against superior numbers? All, therefore, which the best Conservatives chiefly dread in the complete ascendancy of democracy, would be, if not wholly removed, at least diminished in a very great degree. These are the recommendations of the plan when looked at on its Conservative side. Let us now look at it in its democratic aspect. I claim for it the support of all democrats as being the only true realization of their political principles. What is the principle of democracy? Is it not that everybody should be represented, and that everybody should be represented equally? Am I represented by a Member against whom I have voted, and am ready to vote again? Have all the voters an equal voice, when nearly half of them have had their representative chosen for them by the larger half? In the present mode of taking the suffrages nobody is represented but the majority. But that is not the meaning of democracy. Honest democracy does not mean the displacement of one privileged class, and the instalment of another in a similar privilege because it is a more numerous or a poorer class. That would be a mere pretence of democratic equality. That is not what the working classes want. The working classes demand to be represented, not because they are poor, but because they are human. No working man whom I have conversed with desires that the richer classes should be unrepresented, but only that their representation should not exceed what is due to their numbers—that all classes should have, man for man, an equal amount of representation. He does not desire that the majority should be alone represented. He desires that the majority should be represented by a majority, and the minority by a minority: and they only need to have it shown to them how this can be done. But I will go further. It is not only justice to the minorities that is here concerned. Unless minorities are counted, the majority which prevails may be but a sham majority. Suppose that on taking a division in this House, you compelled a large minority to step aside, and counted no votes but those of the majority; whatever vote you then took would be decided by the majority of that majority. Does not every one see that this would often be deciding it by a minority? The mere majority of a majority may be a minority 1354 of the whole. Now, what I have been hypothetically supposing to be done in this House, the present system actually does in the nation. It first excludes the minorities at all the elections. Not a man of them has any voice at all in determining the proceedings of Parliament. Well, now: if the Members whom the majorities returned were always unanimous, we should be certain that the majority in the nation had its way. But if the majorities, and the Members representing them, are ever divided, the power that decides is but the majority of a majority. Two-fifths of the electors, let us suppose, have failed to obtain any representation. The representatives of the other three-fifths are returned to Parliament, and decide an important question by two to one. Supposing the representatives to express the mind of their constituents, the question has been decided by a bare two-fifths of the nation, instead of a majority of it. Thus the present system is no more just to majorities than to minorities. It gives no guarantee that it is really the majority that preponderates. A minority of the nation, if it is a majority in the prevailing party, may outnumber and prevail over a real majority in the nation. Majorities are never sure of outnumbering minorities unless every elector is counted — unless every man's vote is as effective as any other man's in returning a representative. No system but that which I am submitting to the House effects this, because it is the only system under which every vote tells, and every constituency is unanimous. This system, therefore, is equally required by the Conservative and by the Radical creeds. In practice, its chief operation would be in favour of the weakest—of those who were most liable to be outnumbered and oppressed. Under the present suffrage it would operate in favour of the working classes. Those classes form the majority in very few of the constituencies, but they are a large minority in many, and if they amount, say to a third of the whole electoral body, this system would enable them to obtain a third of the representation. Under any suffrage approaching to universal, it would operate in favour of the propertied and of the most educated classes; and though it would not enable them to outvote the others, it would secure to them, and to the interests they represent, a hearing, and a just share in the representation. I am firmly persuaded, Sir, that all parties in this House and in 1355 the country, if they could but be induced to give their minds to the consideration of this proposal, would end by being convinced, not only that it is entirely consistent with their distinctive principles, but that it affords the only means by which all that is best in those principles can be practically carried out. It would be a healing, a reconciling measure: softening all political transitions, securing that every opinion, instead of conquering or being conquered by starts and shocks, and passing suddenly from having no power at all in Parliament to having too much, or the contrary, should wax or wane in political power in exact proportion to its growth or decline in the general mind of the country. So perfectly does this system realize the idea of what a representative Government ought to be, that its perfection stands in its way, and is the great obstacle to its success. There is a natural prejudice against everything which professes much. Men are unwilling to think that any plan which promises a great improvement in human affairs, has not something quackish about it. I cannot much wonder at this prejudice, when I remember that no single number of a daily paper is published whose advertising columns do not contain a score of panaceas for all human ills; when, in addition to all the pamphlets which load our tables, every Member of this House, I suppose, daily receives private communications of plans by which the whole of mankind may at one stroke be made rich and prosperous, generally, I believe, by means of paper money. But if this age is fertile in new nonsense, and in new forms of old nonsense, it is an age in which many great improvements in human affairs have really been made. It is also an age in which, whether we will or not, we are entering on new paths; we are surrounded by circumstances wholly without example in history; and the wonder would be if exigencies so new could be dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the old means. We should therefore ill-discharge our duty if we obstinately refused to look into new proposals. This, Sir, is not the mere crotchet of an individual. It has been very few years before the world, but already, by the mere force of reason, it has made important converts among the foremost public writers and public men in Germany, in France, in Switzerland, in Italy, in our Australian colonies, and in the United States. In one illustrious though small commonwealth, that of Geneva, a power- 1356 ful association has been organized and is at work, under the presidency of one of the most eminent men in the Swiss federation, agitating for the reform of the constitution on this basis. And what in our own country? Why, Sir, almost every thinking person I know who has studied this plan, or to whom it has been sufficiently explained, is for giving it at least a trial. Various modes have been suggested of trying it on a limited scale. With regard to the practical machinery proposed, neither I nor the distinguished author of the plan are wedded to its details, if any better can be devised. If the principle of the plan were admitted, a Committee or a Royal Commission could be appointed to consider and report on the best means of providing for the direct representation of every qualified voter; and we should have a chance of knowing if the end we have in view could be attained by any better means than those which we suggest. But without some plan of the kind it is impossible to have a representative system really adequate to the exigencies of modern society. In all states of civilization, and in all representative systems, personal representation would be a great improvement; but at present, political power is passing, or is supposed to be in danger of passing, to the side of the most numerous and poorest class. Against this class predominance, as against all other class predominance, the personal representation of every voter, and therefore the full representation of every minority, is the most valuable of all protections. Those who are anxious for safeguards against the evils they expect from democracy should not neglect the safeguard which is to be found in the principles of democracy itself. It is not only the best safeguard, but the surest and most lasting: because it combats the evils and dangers of false democracy by means of the true, and because every democrat who understands his own principles must see and feel its strict and impartial justice.
Amendment proposed, at page 4, line 27, after the word "the," to insert the words—
Passing of the present Bill, every local constituency shall, subject to the provisions hereinafter contained, return one Member for every quota of its registered electors, actually voting at that election."—(Mr. J. Stuart Mill.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."1357
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, that although he should not be accused of any sympathy with the opinions of the hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat, he ventured to enter his most earnest protest against the mode in which several Members of that House were inclined to treat anything that ran out of the common ruck—and introduced them to schemes and ideas which former debates had not reached. The scheme of the hon. Gentleman was not new—he should not have thought that it was new to many Members of that House; the literature of the country had been full of it for three or four years. They all instinctively felt that it was a scheme that had no chance of success. It was not of our atmosphere—it was not in accordance with our habits; it did not belong to us. They all knew that it could not pass. Whether that was creditable to the House or not was a question into which he would not inquire; but every Member of the House the moment he saw the scheme upon the Paper saw that it belonged to the class of impracticable things. But he did not in the least agree in the conclusion which hon. Gentlemen appeared to have drawn—that because it could not now go to the vote and pass into law, it was not a fit thing for the representatives of the people to discuss. He would venture to say that any scheme with reference to representation that had been largely discussed by cultivated minds out of doors—nay, he would go a step farther and say that any scheme which had been deeply thought over and earnestly advocated by one who occupied so high a position in the world of letters as the hon. Member for Westminster—was worthy of respectful treatment by the House of Commons. It seemed to him that the evil which the hon. Gentleman had pointed out was real, but that the remedy which he had proposed, even if it were practicable, would only be partial. It was impracticable. But there was a real evil. We were in danger of drifting into a system of nomination caucuses such as were to be seen in operation in America, and such as would arise wherever there were large multitudes in each constituency. Wherever the multitude was so large that it swamped all local influence, that it destroyed every special local interest, what happened was the introduction of the hard machinery of local party organization conducted by party managers, men who gave up their lives to the task, not usually men of the purest motives 1358 or highest character; and the danger, now that we were following so closely in the footsteps of America, was that it was into the hands of those men, and not into the hands of those who had hitherto been recognised as the leaders of the people, that the practical government of this country would fall. The hon. Member for Westminster had courageously suggested a remedy for these evils, and his remedy practically amounted to this—that all those who had obtained any considerable celebrity throughout the country would find their way into the House of Commons. That was the pith of the scheme of the hon. Gentleman. He (Viscount Cranborne) was bound to say that he thought the evil and the remedy were in some degree equally chargeable to the hon. Gentleman himself and to the school to which he belonged. They had been led to a certain point by the philosophers. If they had got to household suffrage it was not from a sense of practical need, but owing to the pressure of philosophical arguments. If, indeed, they were to be altogether handed over to the philosophers, he for one should have no great fear as to the result. Their great ability would be likely to lead to a consummation which would not be undesirable; but if they were handed over to the unphilosophical mind of England he should like it better. They had been in charge of that element for centuries past, and they had no reason to complain of the result. What he dreaded and deprecated, and what he feared was coming on, was that the unphilosophical mind of England would be drawn by the philosophers to a certain point—and that when that point was reached they would recoil I from the remedies which the philosophers would recommend for the evils incident to the advanced political conditions of society. It was the mixing of the two—the putting of the new wine into the old bottles—that would produce the evils which he apprehended. Household suffrage had been conceded upon principles purely theoretical, but directly a remedy purely theoretical for the evils of an extended suffrage was offered they recoiled from it as something too unpractical to be adopted. That he felt to be a considerable danger, but he still entertained a hope that although no vote or agreement would be arrived at on that occasion, hon. Members would study the eloquent speech which the hon. Member for Westminster had delivered. He hoped soon this ground—that though he did not believe the House of Commons would over be elected on the 1359 principle of the plan now laid before them, yet he feared, on the other hand, the result would be that persons who were unwilling to shape their every idea and feeling by the test of party—to put their consciences wholly into the keeping of local party leaders—would be entirely excluded from the House of Commons. If this was, as he believed, the result to which they were tending, it might be of great advantage that there should be a system by which a certain number of the Members of the House—say fifty or 100—should be able to appeal to the whole of England as their constituency, and be returned independently of local and party considerations. He did not profess to be a disciple of the hon. Member for Westminster; but he felt that the House of Commons was scarcely doing itself justice in not giving some attention to proposals which had evidently been deeply thought of, earnestly supported out of doors, and advocated that evening in a speech of no common eloquence and ability.
§ MR. MORRISON
said, he was sure he spoke the sense of many Gentlemen on both sides of the House when he thanked the noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne) for the observations he had just addressed to the Committee—observations which were all more welcome coming as they did from so keen a political opponent of the hon. Member for Westminster as the noble Lord was known to be. He might also be allowed to thank the hon. Member for Westminster on behalf of a still larger number out of doors for the courage he had shown in introducing to their notice a subject so wide, so difficult, and at the same time, he feared, very unpopular, because so thoroughly misunderstood. Assuming the scheme embodied in the present proposal to be that of Mr. Hare, which was familiar to Members of the House, he might be allowed to say a few words balancing its advantages and disadvantages. The hon. Member for Westminster said if the scheme was adopted it would do away with the evils of party government; but it was worthy of consideration whether it would not also do away with the advantages of party government? All who were familiar with the working of that system would admit that, without party organization, it would be impossible to deal with the mass of legislation that came before them every year; and if the present plan were adopted, it would be necessary that the House should confine itself to general matters, or should leave 1360 all details to be adopted by other bodies independent of itself. The hon. Member for Westminster bad not very clearly explained in detail bow the votes would be collected and kept. There might be considerable practical evil in putting so much into the hands of the Executive Government; a crisis might arise in which the power of mutilating the returns would be a most serious evil—in any case, there was danger of parties having charge of these voting papers adding fictitious votes to the aggregate of the different candidates. He also feared the plan would render bribery even more easy than it was at present. A certain number of Members would be returned without any pecuniary expenditure; but great facility would be given to electioneering agents to purchase votes all over the country, and sell them to the highest bidder. On the other hand, the system would carry out democracy, or popular government, to its logical consequences. Every minority would be represented in proportion to its numbers, weight, talent, and influence. The result, he thought, would be to increase the interest felt in public affairs throughout the community—to raise the character of the House of Commons, of legislation, and the country. He was aware that the proposition could not be adopted on that occasion, and be was bound to say that it could hardly be desirable that a scheme of such magnitude and importance should receive the sanction of the House without much further consideration than it could receive on that occasion.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
repeated the thanks of his noble Friend to the hon. Member for Westminster for having broken into these distempered debates by the production of this scheme; at the same time, while fully admitting the good intentions of the hon. Gentleman and the great ability with which the scheme was propounded, he must be allowed to think it was impracticable. There were many practical difficulties in the proposal as to which the hon. Member ought to have given fuller Information. It would inevitably give rise to a wide system of corruption, and he did not see how it would be possible to prevent the establishment of a large electoral agency throughout the country for the arrangement and manipulation of the votes. He thought the hon. Member ought to have stated more fully the machinery by which he proposed that the votes should be taken.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, that if he wanted any argument to show that the 1361 House could come to no practical conclusion by discussing these philosophical eccentricities he should be able to find it in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne.) He (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) had himself an important Amendment upon the Paper, and being, perhaps, more anxious than the noble Lord that this Bill should pass, he was unwilling that the time of the House should be taken up by discussing subjects like the one then before it, or that the House should be turned into a debating society. This plan was the production of Mr. Hare and was an emanation from Gooseberry Hall. He asked the House to turn from the amusement they had had that night to more serious business. The proposition was not introduced for the purpose of enabling gentlemen who presented themselves as candidates to be elected, but to enable gentlemen, and perhaps even ladies, to be elected in whatever part of the world they might be. He wanted to know who was to collect the votes from every part of the world, and who was to pay the expenses of collecting them. Under this proposal persons might be elected without canvassing and without their knowledge. They were told that this system would introduce great celebrities into the House. Now he (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) did not see much advantage in having "celebrities" in the House of Commons. Practical men should be chosen in localities where they were known and respected. The noble Lord appeared to him to deprecate at one time philosophers, and at another practical sense. Would he wish to see the House of Commons formed entirely of philosophers? If so, God help them, for it would be totally impossible for them to arrive at a practical decision on any point. He had no hesitation in saying that the proposition, however good in theory, would prove in practice utterly absurd.
MR. GRANT DUFF
I earnestly beg my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster not to go to a division upon this question. If he does so, he will do great injustice to his own views, for the House is evidently impatient to pass to other matters, and unwilling even to discuss the proposal now before us. That proposal, which has been so much talked of out of doors, appears for the first time to-night in this arena, but there can be no doubt that it will recur again and again, and it is more than probable, when we have pro- 1362 ceeded further on the road to democracy, on which we have just taken, and, as I think, wisely taken, so considerable a step, we shall have to pass, if not this measure, something not very dissimilar to it. I earnestly beg my hon. Friend, under present circumstances, not to divide, and I wish, Sir, before I sit down, to tender my warmest thanks to the noble Lord opposite, the Member for Stamford. By his noble and generous speech he has saved the House from a great dishonour, and he may rely upon it that his influence here will not be diminished by having won, for once, the sympathy and admiration of some of the keenest of his opponents.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he was very glad that the hon. Member for Westminster had had this opportunity of bringing forward the subject. He had not offered any obstacle to his doing so, but, as he thought the hon. Member would admit, assisted him as far as he could. As this and kindred subjects would no doubt hereafter form the subject of discussion in Parliament, it was well that this question had fallen into such competent hands. If the hon. Gentleman did not divide on his Amendment — and he supposed he would not — he thought they ought to report Progress after the long discussion which had taken place.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
said, he would obey what appeared to be the general wish of the House, and would not press his Amendment to a division; but there were many things which he might have said in reply if the temper of the House had permitted. He must, however, follow his hon. Friend behind him in thanking the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne) for his able speech, and for the conviction he had expressed that statesmen must make up their minds to think upon this subject as the only way of getting over a difficulty that must be got over. He must also express his warm acknowledgments to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the manner in which he had dealt with the question.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1363
§ An hon. MEMBER suggested that the Bill should be re-printed.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the House had no power to make an Order for that purpose. It might, perhaps, be within the Speaker's prerogative to do so; but if so unusual a course were taken it must be at a time when the re-printing would not interfere with the progress of the Bill. The Committee were to proceed with the Bill to-morrow.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, on the point of re-printing the Bill, he would communicate with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and see what could be done to meet the wish of the House.