§ [SECOND NIGHT.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [24th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "considering no corruption has been proved to exist in the larger town constituencies, or in any county constituency, it is inexpedient to adopt such uniform restrictions and punishments as will render the fair conduct of an election in a great constituency perilous and penal,"—(Mr. Robert Fowler,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not wish to introduce a discordant note into the general chorus of approval with which the measure had been met; but he could not forget how very many Bills had been introduced in the course of the last 50 years for improving the methods by which Members were returned; and yet it was questionable whether the House now compared favourably with the House of 50 years ago; tested by results, it might be questioned whether they had gained or lost, whether the Assembly was more competent to do Business, and whether it was more disposed to do it in a patriotic spirit. They must all sympathize with the desire of making elections cheaper, with the object of placing Parliamentary honours within the reach of classes who now could not hope to compete for them, for it was a melancholy reflection how many persons there were in the country anxious to spend their time for the benefit of the public, and able to distin- 1422 guish themselves in that House, who were prevented from doing so solely by the want of means. The reason why so much money was spent on elections was that so many persons desired to be elected, and rich men desired and were ready to pay for the privilege of a seat in the House. Although the occupation was neither pleasurable nor easy, the position was so keenly sought after that men were prepared to give thousands for it. However deplorable this might be when we considered who were excluded, it showed that there was some healthy political feeling in the country, and that we had not descended to the level of some countries, where a man could not be a politician without some sacrifice of respect. They must all sympathize with the further object of the Bill, which was to make elections pure; he confessed, however, he looked at it with much less enthusiasm than he did at the first object, not because it was less important, but because he thought it was far less capable of attainment. Corruption by hard cash was not the corruption which, at this moment, we had most to fear from. There were other forms of corrupting constituencies besides giving electors money, or treating them in public-houses. And these methods were likely to increase rather than diminish with every successive extension of the suffrage and increase of the constituencies. Old forms of corruption would fall into disuse without stringent measures to put them down. The bribery, not of individuals, but of classes, was likely to increase rather than diminish. The bribes he spoke of could be clothed in the most eloquent language, put in the form and outward semblance of the loftiest morality, and those who used them would very likely be rewarded by the highest honours of the State. Such appeals to the ignorant classes in the constituencies were becoming more frequent, and they were responded to as salmon were drawn by flies. The bribery to be dealt with by the Bill touched a small fraction of the class which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster called the "residuum" when he differed from them and the "people" when he agreed with them. It was a very small fraction of that class who were corrupt in the manner contemplated; but the corruption of which he spoke reached every class. It must 1423 be admitted that organizations like the Caucus produced the same benumbing and deadening effect that bribery did. The evil of money bribery was that it taught the elector to regard his vote, not as a trust which he used for the highest political purposes, but as a something to be sold; and the organizations of which he spoke had a not less deadening effect upon the individuals who composed them, upon the electoral body, and upon Members of Parliament. If organizations of that kind were to become common over the country, the result would be that, in spite of all they might do against bribery, they would find they were not a higher Legislative Assembly, but a lower one. Passing from these vaticinations to the Bill, he would ask the Attorney General to consider whether the penal provisions were not much too severe? There was no use in showing zeal against corruption by heaping up one penalty upon another. Judges might be trusted to administer the law, although a Judge might have reached his position through a seat in that House attained by corrupt practices; but we could not expect juries to do the same. It was of no use making our laws in advance of the morality of the country; and if we made penalties too severe, juries would insist upon returning verdicts of "Not guilty." The only result of the undue severity of the Bill would be, not to promote purity, but to shelter corruption. His hon. and learned Friend would, he had no doubt, consider from this point of view the suggestions that would be made in Committee. In making these observations, his object had been, not to chill the ardour of the Government in the cause of purity, but to remind the House how small a proportion of the present corrupt practices took the form of actual money bribery, and to point out that Parliament seldom showed to advantage when it congratulated itself on its virtues.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he thought they must all recognize the courageous endeavour made by the Bill to suppress a great and crying evil—an evil from which every Member of the House had more or less suffered, from which every candidate had suffered, and which was a scandal to the country. When an appeal was made to the people for their decision on the course of policy which was desirable for the country, they 1424 expected an honest and faithful answer; but if that answer were procured by corrupt practices, the appeal had been in vain, and the answer was not a true and faithful one. The attempt of his hon. and learned Friend to put an end to such a scandal they must hail with satisfaction. At the same time, while he recognized great merits in the Bill he thought it susceptible of considerable improvement. He agreed with the principle of a fixed maximum amount of expenditure, and he held that this provision constituted one of the best and most important parts of the Bill; but the maximum, he thought, should be more elastic, and that it should be fixed with reference to the will, character, and circumstances of constituencies. Like the hon. Member opposite, he was anxious for the return to the House of men of moderate means. The endeavour to make the House one not for rich men only was a proper endeavour, and which, if it succeeded, would add to the dignity of the House and be a benefit to the country. There were men of great ability and high character, but who could not face the extravagant expense of elections as now conducted; whereas men who had passed their lives in amassing wealth, and had not given, perhaps, a continuous half-hour's consideration to a single question of public concern, could, by lavish expenditure, find an entrance into the House. It was time to put an end to such a state of things, and encourage men of ability and character, but of moderate means, to enter public life and devote themselves to the service of the country. The same remark also applied to the working-men candidates. It was conceded on both sides of the House that it would be desirable to have labour represented in that House to a greater extent than it was now represented. He hoped to seethe time when, instead of one or two, there would be, at least, a dozen working men sitting on those Benches. Some years ago, to the honour of the Party opposite, the property qualification was abolished; but it still existed, for all practical purposes, in the form of fees to the Returning Officers. Some parts of the Bill were not altogether satisfactory, and required explanation. The 4th clause, for example, would operate very severely in making a candidate liable for all the acts of his agent. Nothing, of course, could be 1425 more criminal than the conduct of the corrupt candidate; but it was not just that a candidate should be punished for all that his agents might do. The doctrine of agency was not the same in election matters as in Common Law, as, in the former case, the employer was held liable for acts done by his agent, not only without orders, but even in direct contravention of his orders. He put it to the House to say whether it was fair to punish a candidate for illegalities committed in such a manner, in the way and to the extent proposed by the Bill? He thought that there should be some limit fixed to the time during which an election might be said to continue. At present it was not easy to say when an election began. Candidates were often announced years beforehand; and perhaps the penal clauses of the Bill might treat as a corrupt practice a dinner given to his neighbours by a candidate who was announced years before to come forward at the next vacancy. As for the proposal to revert to the practice of trying Election Petitions by one Judge, he was entirely opposed to it. In 1874 he moved for a Select Committee on the subject, and the Committee came to the almost unanimous conclusion that Petitions should be tried by more than one Judge; and the law was altered accordingly. He, therefore, could not support the proposal to return to the trial by one Judge. Either two Judges must try election cases, or there should be an appeal from the decision of a single Judge, which would considerably increase expense. He regarded the Bill, on the whole, as an honest endeavour to remedy a great evil; but its details would require careful examination. He hoped, therefore, the Attorney General would have regard to the views of Members expressed in this discussion and in Committee; and the result, he believed, would be an efficient measure.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that some hon. Members appeared to think that it would be advisable not to pass observations on the details of the measure before the stage of Committee. He, however, was of opinion that such a course must, in the end, be productive of considerable delay; and, therefore, he should not take the advice of those who counselled reticence at the present time. The first point to which he wished to 1426 draw attention was that that portion of the Bill which dealt with "illegal practices" would apply to every constituency in the Kingdom. Any candidate for the representation of a constituency who should be guilty of such practices would be disqualified for life from representing that constituency. Now, that would be a tremendous punishment. When seeking in the Bill for a definition of the offences which were to entail so severe a penalty, some friends and himself had at first thought that they must be the victims of an optical delusion. Their difficulty was explained by the fact that the Schedules purporting to explain the nature of these illegal practices were inverted. As it had been proved that corruption existed to a certain extent in the smaller constituencies, but that there was none in the large ones, it would be supposed that in the case of the smaller constituencies the expenditure would be limited, and that a higher scale of expenditure would be tolerated in the large constituencies. But, according to the Schedules, the smaller the constituency the larger might be the expenditure per head, and the larger the constituency the smaller the expenditure per head. The Attorney General, for example, in the borough of Taunton, might spend about 7s. per head in an election contest; but if in contesting Middlesex, which was a much larger constituency, he (Lord George Hamilton) were to spend 2s. per head, he would be prevented for life from representing that county. Surely, so ridiculous a disproportion could not be justified. The Attorney General had pointed out that certain candidates had reduced their expenses at the last Election below the amount permitted by the Bill, and had cited the case of the Members for Birmingham. Their expenses amounted to a little less than£6,000, and that sum would have been admissible according to the provisions of this Bill had it been law, because three candidates stood together; but a proportionate expenditure would not have been allowed to one candidate standing by himself, whom an expenditure of £2,200 would have disqualified for life. What he objected to was that severe and inequitable restrictions were placed upon large constituencies because a certain number of small constituencies had been proved to be corrupt. The Bill practically put all the constituencies of England in 1427 swaddling clothes because a certain number of small boroughs had shown themselves unable to walk uprightly without assistance. Now, the smaller constituencies were the remains of the old system of representation, and it was tolerably certain that the next Reform Bill would efface them. The Government, therefore, were now legislating for a moribund system; and, in order to protect constituencies which sooner or later must cease to exist, were imposing such restrictions upon candidates in large constituencies as would make the fair conduct of elections almost impossible. He held that the Schedules could not be allowed to stand. Something must be substituted for them which would work fairly. He suggested that a distinction should be drawn between counties and boroughs. Had hon. Gentlemen who were likely to stand for large constituencies realized what would be their position under this Bill? They would not be able to communicate with their constituents by post, because that course would be too expensive. The only way in which the candidate could make his views known was by public meetings. But then he was not allowed to advertise the public meeting. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James) dissented.] At any rate, one of the clauses was capable of that contention. Anyone contesting a county constituency would find himself in a position of great embarrassment. Another difficulty which would confront him under the Bill would be that he could not employ a sufficient number of clerks for carrying on the necessary business. He would suggest that a section ought to be taken out of the Ballot Act Continuance Amendment Bill. He would further suggest that, in regard to these Schedules as to expenditure, the Attorney General should reverse his system. He should calculate for the largest constituencies first and estimate what expenses were necessary. He then could reduce the scale of expenditure in proportion to the size of the constituencies, and in that way he would arrive at a uniform system. It was quite clear that it was not necessary to have so large an expenditure for a small borough as for a large constituency. Or, if the Attorney General objected to that, let him estimate what sum might fairly be spent per head of the electorate, and then say that, in no circumstances, was 1428 the expenditure to exceed so many shillings per head. In that way candidates would know what to do, and a far better check than the one proposed would be placed on the evil complained of. Then, as regarded the employment of individuals, he did not believe that large constituencies were affected—though in small constituencies it was different—by the number of persons employed by the candidates. It might be necessary to employ 50 clerks for a day to get through necessary clerical work, and they would not be employed again. But, under this Bill, the most absurd restriction was imposed; and he did not see how, under it, it would be possible to get through the legitimate business of the central committee. Therefore, he thought it would be well to strike out the first Schedule, so far as large constituencies were concerned. If they put all these tremendous penalties on Parliamentary candidates to stop bribery and corruption, the ingenuity of man would, in some way or other, carry out those practices without rendering the guilty parties responsible, and a ready method was at once suggested in the municipal elections. Now, he did not suppose that, in the small boroughs in which corruption prevailed, they would do any good unless they applied the corrupt practices penalties to municipal as well as Parliamentary elections. Moreover, there was another danger which was perfectly certain to occur under this Bill if candidates were to be subject to great penalties. In a very short time, he believed, almost every political association would enter into an arrangement to the effect that those employed would have their salaries raised in ordinary years if they gave their services gratuitously whenever an election occurred. Some such system as that would be adopted, and he failed to see how that Bill would check it. He might illustrate this by referring to what was called the Home Counties Liberal Union. The operations of this Society extended to a good many constituencies; and if an election occurred in any one of these constituencies within the area covered, it would always be possible for this Association or any other to turn on to help the candidate the whole of the officers employed by the Association. If they incurred a penalty it could not be a severe one, and, of course, the penalty would be paid by the Association. If the 1429 Schedules remained as they were when they came into Committee, they would not make as satisfactory and rapid progress as they otherwise might do.
§ MR. H. SAMUELSON
said, it was a matter for congratulation that at last the House found itself engaged in practical legislation. He congratulated his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General on the favourable reception, upon the whole, which his Bill had met with on both sides of the House, and thanked him for his promise to consider suggestions, from whatever quarter of the House they might proceed. The Bill was said to be too stringent; but the disease of corruption was undoubtedly spread very widely, and virulent diseases required drastic remedies. They had been told that this Bill was an attempt to legislate in advance of public opinion. It was certainly not in advance of the opinion of persons who had considered the subject, and he did not believe the Bill was much in advance of public opinion generally. The constituencies were deeply interested in the matters dealt with by the Bill; and there existed a healthy state of opinion, which only required the stimulus of sincere and vigorous action on the part of the Government, showing a real recognition of the magnitude of the evil and a positive determination to eradicate it, to come prominently to the surface. Such a stimulus was afforded by that Bill. He would advert to one or two evils which the Bill did not touch; and if no other Member proposed any Amendment with reference to them, he himself would do so. Nothing was more foreign to the spirit, though not to the practice, of our elections than intimidation. The Ballot, to a great extent, diminished the evil of intimidation; at any rate, so far as employers and customers were concerned. But there were certain other forms of intimidation against which there was no provision in the Bill. There was the requisition dodge. Requisitions in favour of candidates were sent out by the friends of the candidates to electors, who were requested to return the requisitions with their signatures to a candidate's committee or some influential person. The person to whom the requisitions were to be returned could do great injury, if they would, to electors who refused to sign the requisitions; therefore, weak and 1430 timid voters were thus intimidated into signing a promise which they often had every intention of breaking. There was also the custom of sending to every voter a polling card, to be personally returned to the committee room after the poll. A man might as well vote openly as take his voting card to the committee room. These practices ought to be declared to be illegal. There was the custom of inserting in newspapers a long list of voters as members of a candidate's committee. Every person who was named in such a list as a supporter of a candidate ought to be regarded, for the purposes of the Corrupt Practices Act, as an agent of that candidate, who ought, to a certain extent, to be made responsible for the acts of that agent.
§ MR. DIXON-HARTLAND
said, that, having lately contested two constituencies, and having had the misfortune of fighting two Election Petitions and one scrutiny, he thought he had some experience of the question now before the House. That experience was all the greater because the constituency which he last fought, and which he now represented, was described by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) as the rottenest of rotten boroughs. He thought it was a great mistake for any hon. Gentleman so to stigmatize a constituency of which he had no knowledge, and where he was perfectly unknown. It was a charge very easy to make, and very difficult to refute, as very few boroughs had the good fortune to be able to prove, by the decision of Her Majesty's Judges, as Evesham had done, that such a statement was not only unfounded, but unjust. In his own case, after a trial which lasted from the 2nd to the 17th of the month inclusive, the Judges not only unseated his opponent and gave him the seat, but also awarded him all the costs, yet the law was such that taxing-masters were able to put the Judges' decision at defiance and mulct him in several thousand pounds. He was told that that was always the case; but if that was a question of such national importance that two of Her Majesty's Judges were kept for over a fortnight in a country town, should the cost be so heavy in case of success, and nearly ruinous in case of failure? Was not the knowledge that such must be the result sufficient to deter men from presenting Petitions? He thought a measure ought 1431 to be passed to put a stop to the evils disclosed by the recent Commissions; but the present Bill was, in his judgment, at the same time too weak and too strong—too weak because it held out no inducement to keep a party straight, too strong because it was nothing more or less than a Coercion Bill against candidates, and, if it passed, it would put an end to any Member being able to do good in his own borough at any time when he was sitting for it. And though he would be one of the last to encourage bribery under the name of charity, yet he thought that true charity was one of the greatest privileges of Members, and to take away from Members the power of doing good would be a great misfortune. He hoped a clause would be introduced to make the system of Petitions very much cheaper, for it was useless to give a luxury which was too dear to be enjoyed. He also thought it desirable that the present provision of the law relating to a scrutiny should be abolished.
said, he represented a constituency (Stroud), which, in 13 months, had had five contested elections and four Petitions; and the House would believe that he spoke feelingly on the subject, considering the very dreadful experiences he had had. He believed there was a general feeling in favour of the second reading of the Bill; but, before it passed, he should like to see some provision introduced with regard to out-voters, who were frequently labouring men. Now that the expense of elections was to be curtailed, that class, being unable to bear the cost of a journey to the polling-booth themselves, would, unless some system were devised, be practically disfranchised. He would therefore suggest that the out-voters should have the power to apply to the Returning Officer for a voting paper, to be signed in the presence of a magistrate, and to be returned to the Returning Officer through the Post Office. It might be said that that was interfering with the secrecy of voting; but he would trust to the magistrates not to exercise undue influence nor to divulge their knowledge. The events at Stroud, he might observe, occurred because, at the trial of Petitions, the parties who petitioned were wise enough not to claim the seat. Consequently, the acts of the Petitioners could not be inquired into. 1432 Might not the state of things he had described be dealt with in this measure? If the tribunal, whatever it might be, were allowed to inquire into the conduct of both sides, they would get rid of the abuse of Petitions, for Petitioners ought to come before the Court with clean hands, which was hardly ever the case at present.
§ MR. SCHREIBER
I could not help thinking, Sir, last night, that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General took a somewhat disparaging view of his own Bill, when he wished that it should be read a second time after three hours' discussion in a languid House. Now, in my view, no Bills are so important as those which deal with the franchises of the people and the return of Members to this House; and if, in the course of the present Session, we succeed in passing a measure founded on this Bill, and an analogous measure for the municipal elections, we shall do much, I think, to redeem the Session from the barrenness which otherwise seems likely to distinguish it. Now, Sir, no doubt this is an example of what Lord Palmerston once called a "spanking Bill." But, in my opinion, the occasion demands a "spanking Bill;" either that, or that the electors who are so minded should be free to dispose of their votes without those risks to the buyer and seller which are sometimes thought such an excellent joke, and sometimes are no joke at all—witness, the election agents who have been sent to prison, and the two Cabinet Ministers who have been sent—in search of other seats. One thing there is which cannot be tolerated—I mean that the law should remain as it is. Either it must be made more stringent, or it must be entirely repealed. Now, Sir, although I have listened most attentively to all that has been said in the course of this debate, I have not heard a single word about the causes of the flagrant corruption which marked the late General Election; and I do not know how we are to cure a malady, unless we are first clear as to its cause. Of the two causes which seem to me to be at work in the constituencies, the first connects itself so closely with the "struggle for existence," that I hardly like to speak of it as corruption. The poorest class of voters in our towns are so poor, that with them the great question of the day is always 1433 how they shall get through to-morrow. Those men, Sir, see two gentlemen, whose wealth is always grossly exaggerated by report, contending for the prize as if their lives depended on the result, and seeing also large sums of money spent on printing, agents, and committee rooms, they, too, put in their claim for a modest share of "what is going" with a force which the local agent finds himself unable to resist; and so, by colourable employment or otherwise, the candidate's return is vitiated. Now, there is only one way in which this pressure can be done away with. We must forbid by law the expenditure which causes it; and that I take to be the real defence of what the hon. and learned Attorney General calls his "Maximum Schedule," and on which, with the permission of the House, I shall wish to say a few words presently. The second cause of corruption I find in the annual recurrence of the municipal elections. Now, Sir, in speaking of that subject, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I know nothing but what is good of my own constituents, and that in anything I may say I refer to what I have read in Blue Books or in newspapers about the constituencies of other hon. Members Well, what is happening now was distinctly foretold by me in 1868. Here is what I said—But, when all this had been done, he (Mr. Schreiber) would not have the House deceive itself—it would have done nothing until it had grappled with the evils of bribery at municipal elections. The Bill of last Session established an identity of Parliamentary and municipal franchise; and he said that while corruption was constant, annual, flagrant at the municipal elections, it was a mockery and a farce to send down Parliamentary candidates and tell them to hold pure elections; "—[3 Hansard, cxcii. 669.]and, further on—Whether there would or would not he bribery depended on whether there was or was not a balance of party which made it worth while to contest the municipal elections. So surely as these were contested corruption would come in; and with a reduction of the franchise they would only extend the area of corruption."—[Ibid. 670.]Encouraged, Sir, by the success which has attended on that prophecy, I now venture to make another, and it is this—that if "Financial Boards" are established in the counties, with a rating franchise, and with annual elections of their members, your county elections will also become corrupt. The fact is, Sir, that the working man is, as a rule, 1434 supremely indifferent whether the local grocer or the local ironmonger sits in the local Parliament; but to the local wire-puller the municipal elections are of supreme importance—first, as tests of the strength of Parties; and next, on account of the patronage which the local majority enjoys. In this way, certain currupt conventions are set up in the municipal elections, which, when the Parliamentary election comes round, make themselves felt with fatal force; and we may spare all our labour on this Bill unless we are determined to deal with the same severity and, at the same time, with the question of the municipal elections. I now wish, Sir, to make a few remarks on one or two clauses of the Bill. The penalty imposed by Clause 4 would be excellent, if the present rate of expenditure is to be maintained. It is a matter within my own experience that a candidate may come down to a constituency; by a profuse expenditure may procure his return; may be unseated on Petition; may then transfer to a friend the interest which his corrupt expenditure has created; and may then, at the end of five or six years, return to the place himself, and make it a subject of the loudest complaint that he was ever unseated on Petition. For such a proceeding the penalties of Clause 4 furnish an effectual remedy; but, under the new scale of expenditure, I must say I do not see how they can be necessary; for the Schedule will go so near to starving an election that it will be quite impossible for a candidate in the future to make himself "agreeable" to a constituency by his expenditure. Passing to the question of "illegal," as distinguished from "corrupt" practices, I am not able to agree with the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), for I think it simply monstrous to make laws only to break them. Either let us not make the sin by making the law, or, if we make the law, let us enforce it; either let us abolish the offence of "illegal" practices altogether, or let us visit the breach of the law with the heaviest penalties. I come next, Sir, to the "Maximum Schedule," and taking Poole as a model constituency, with some 2,000 electors, I find I should be permitted to spend £100 in printing and in placarding the walls of the borough. Well, Sir, I really could not undertake 1435 adequately to set forth the shortcomings of the present Government for the sum of £100; and I should greatly prefer some latitude in that respect, thinking that I might with advantage spend a larger sum. I therefore do hope, Sir, that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be willing to stretch what he calls his "Maximum Schedule." I ought, perhaps, to mention here that, in 1880, I found it necessary to spend as much as £450 on printing, my placards being torn down by an organized band of 20 men as fast as they were put up. Then, with regard to agency, I see that I shall be allowed the sum of £270 for all the other expenses of the election. How am I to secure out of that sum the services of a competent agent? I can only say, Sir, that I owe my election and my present opportunity of inflicting this speech upon the House to the fact that I was willing to pay for the services of the best agent that money could procure. And, speaking generally, it is my understanding that if I want a good thing I must expect to pay for it; and if I want the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General I should expect to have to pay for it. I have no wish, Sir, to see this House composed of poor men, for there is nothing of which I am more profoundly convinced than of this—that the liberties of this House and of the people have been won by men of independent fortune. Every Member of the House ought, I think, Sir, to satisfy these three conditions. First, it ought to be a matter of supreme indifference to him on which side of your Chair he and his Party sit; next, he ought to be able to snap his fingers at any Minister who threatens him with a Dissolution; and, lastly, his circumstances should be such as to place his motives beyond the reach of suspicion. It is, I believe, Sir, because its Members have, in the main, long satisfied these three conditions that this House has been able to establish its hold on the respect and the affections of the English people. I have to thank the House, Sir, for the indulgence with which it has listened to these observations; and I have now only to regret the absence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whose long connection and intimate acquaintance with the politics of the City of Oxford give him 1436 a varied and a valuable experience which ought to have been placed at the disposal of the House; and along with that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman I have also to regret the absence of another Member of the Government, whose presence on this occasion was almost equally desirable—I mean, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Dodson).
§ MR. O'DONNELL
agreed in general terms with the observations of the hon. Member who had just sat down as to the necessity of the House being composed of independent Members who would be able to snap their fingers at any Ministry which threatened them with a Dissolution. But the mere extent of a rent-roll would not bring about that happy consummation. He did not agree with the hon. Member that men of wealth had been exclusively the leading defenders of the liberties of this country. An Irishman (Edmund Burke) rose on many occasions in the House on behalf of liberty; and he was not aware that Mr. Burke was a man of independent fortune, though, indeed, from his wealth of brains he could have endowed the Members of several average Ministries. William Pitt (afterwards Lord Chatham) was for many a day anything but a man of independent fortune. This whole question of independence was a question of relative terms and relative work. The man who barely earned his weekly income might be a man of independence, while the man who counted his annual rent-roll by tens of thousands might be the most abject slave that ever crawled in the wake of a Ministerial Whip. This Bill might be accurately described as a Bill for the prevention of lucrative rewards for services rendered at Parliamentary elections. He was not sure that the House would succeed in convincing the electors at large of the reality of the abhorrence in which it held the system of lucrative rewards for political services until the House first commenced to abolish lucrative rewards for political services in its midst. The Bill was aimed at bribery. Was it anything short of bribery for the Government to invite the votes of Lancashire cotton spinners by proposing the abolition of the Cotton Duty? Was the granting of titles as a reward for political subservience far short of bribery? He thought it would be well that Go- 1437 vernments should have clean hands before they ascended the pedestal of virtue to lecture half-starving electors with a view to prevent them accepting bribes. A very large dose of corruption seemed to be the necessary basis of Party Government. The hon. Member who last addressed the House considered £100 a small sum to expend in proclaiming throughout his constituency the shortcomings of the Liberal Government; but the printing bill which he (Mr. O'Donnell) had to pay for the little borough of Dungarvan—and he believed the sentiments he expressed were sufficiently vigorous—did not reach £25; and he thought that, with a judicious selection of sentences, and a careful attention to the most telling phrases of opprobium, the hon. Member with his £100 would get exceedingly good value for his money. As for the Bill itself, it was very good as far as it affected the grosser forms of bribery; but they, he feared, were going out of fashion to make way for finer methods of corruption, which were growing up under the influence of civilization and culture. Under a changed order of things, the Bill would open the door to abuses of the most dangerous kind. He should be delighted to see a diminution in those scandalous bills of costs which disgraced many constituencies; but even after the legal expenses had been reduced to the maximum scale contained in the Bill, he was afraid there would still be the possibility of an enormous amount of corruption. The Bill would not prevent that most dangerous form of corruption—the "nursing" of constituencies, which might be done in various ways. It was carried on by candidates who were wealthy, and by others who were supposed to be wealthy. He knew a candidate who before an election filled the voters of an Irish borough with vain hopes of the speedy erection of a great mill in their midst. He knew another candidate who actually paraded through a town, some short time before his election, a procession of machines, conveying the idea that he was about to make that town the centre of a manufacturing industry. He knew another candidate who ostentatiously sent a staff of surveyors from London to survey the coast in the neighbourhood of a maritime borough, and thus created the impression that he 1438 was about to embark in the most lavish expenditure upon piers and harbours. These were illustrations of what "nursing" constituencies meant. A more dangerous form of corruption than that arose through the action of permanent organizations—he cared not whether Liberal or Tory—which manifested their activity with regard to every kind of election, and introduced corruption into every branch of the Representative system. There was nothing in the Bill to deal with such proceedings, and, indeed, he doubted if systematic corruption of that description could be stopped. He believed, however, that the Bill would stop the grosser form of corruption. That, perhaps, was all that the House had a right to expect. But, so far as the attempt to try Election Petitions by a single Judge was concerned, however objectionable in England that might be, it was absolutely intolerable in Ireland. They could not trust themselves to the intense partizans who continually found their way to the Judicial Bench in Ireland. They might have partizans in England, but in Ireland they habitually got partizans. He knew, in his own case, that the question whether he should be unseated or not depended upon who the Election Judge should be. He hoped, if the Government insisted on a single Judge for England, they would consent to allow at least two Judges for Ireland. He should support the second reading of the Bill, although he believed that it would not make any great impression upon the political morals of the country.
§ MR. W. H. JAMES
said, that the expenditure of Conservative candidates, as returned to the House, was invariably greater than the expenditure of Liberal Members. He did not, however, wish to press that point. There was nothing more difficult to define than bribery. There could be no doubt that it was part of the social system, not merely in the matter of election, but in the ordinary affairs of life. It existed there to a deplorable extent. Sir Edmund Beckett, writing to The Times on this subject, pointed out the great extent of the evil. This was at the root of the electoral corruption which they now condemned. When a candidate came before the electors, many persons in humble position were, unhappily, trained in the Belief that the vote they were asked for 1439 was hardly worth the having unless they could get something for it. He would give one illustration of this. In the course of a canvas in the county of Kent, a candidate applied to a butcher for his vote. The butcher replied—"Yes, Sir, I shall be very happy to vote for you if now and then you will give me a vote for a leg of mutton." This was the general view taken in a certain class—there should be a quid pro quo. When this Bill came into Committee, he should endeavour to make certain Amendments upon it with regard to the furnishing of all details of expenditure to some public officer. He believed that if such a principle were carried out a great discouragement would be given to corrupt practices.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, he was prepared to give his general support to the second reading of the Bill, and he was also opposed to the Amendment then before the House. He believed that the evil with which the Bill proposed to cope was not a stationary evil, but one which was growing in our very midst, and was one which required harsh measures to grapple with it. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman might be congratulated on the favourable acceptance with which the Bill had been received at the hands of the House; and he was of opinion that he had done right in assenting to the further debate on the second reading of the Bill. His (Sir William Hart Dyke's) experience with reference to such matters was, that if a Bill was hurried through the second reading, it generally recoiled upon the promoter, who had much greater difficulty in dealing with it at the Committee stage, in consequence of his ignorance of the general feeling of the House. With reference to the remarks of an hon. Member opposite, he was strongly of opinion that if, instead of discussing the merits or the demerits of the Bill, they proceeded to throw stones at each other across the floor of the House, they would be only wasting the time of the House, and cause a sudden and abnormal rise in the price of plate glass. He wished to add his experience to the assistance of the Attorney General, with the object of making the Bill a good one; and with regard to any other matters he was utterly hard-hearted and reckless. Although the Bill was a most excellent endeavour to stop bribery, he 1440 was somewhat alarmed that it was so harsh in some of its provisions. However good their intention might be, the Bill would frustrate it by the harshness of the proposed remedy. He thought they ought to be careful, in order that they might not, by passing the Bill with such severe penalities, cause a swinging back of the pendulum and a re-action against it which might lead to a very serious modification in the future. They had been told that it was a very great hardship that many excellent men should be debarred, by the existing system, from taking part in the proceedings and debates of the House; but it seemed to him that if some of the provisions were not seriously altered, the Bill would have the effect also of preventing a large number of candidates, whose presence would be of great advantage to the House, from ever taking part in an election. He alluded to Clause 4 more particularly, in which it was laid down that if any unfortunate candidate, through his agent, was guilty of any illegal practices, he could not again become a candidate for the constituency. He thought that the clause was a very harsh one as it stood. In the first place, it was obvious that they could not restrict the time occupied in an election, which might last a week or 10 days, or, it was possible, might go on for many weeks, or even months, directly or indirectly. Under the clause, as it then stood, he could not conceive it possible that any two candidates, running a hard race for an election, could carry on the contest for many weeks without being almost distracted by the danger they would run under that harsh clause. Then, with regard to the appointment of only one agent for each constituency, the agent, under the Bill, was made a very important man indeed, and was, practically, the arbiter of the destiny of the candidate during the election. He thought that the severe provisions of the Bill would put a candidate for a large and straggling county in the utmost danger if he were only allowed to have one agent. In such a constituency, with a contest lasting three weeks, it would be utterly impossible for any one agent to prevent, "here and there," some illegal act, which might upset an election. There was not a single county constituency which he would dare fight tomorrow, with anything like security, 1441 with only one agent, as the return might be made invalid, with all the pains and penalties attaching to it. He had a great objection to the clause dealing with the maximum of expenditure, because there was too wide a margin. The maximum was not truly fixed, because if it were a correct scale for the expenditure of an election which might last a fortnight, he would say that it was not a true and correct scale for an election which lasted two months. It was certainly wrong in one case or the other. He could see a good and solid reason why there should be a maximum; but, at the same time, he did not see how any election could be conducted in a very large county constituency for a considerable time under the maximum scale. He did not think it would be fair to press the Attorney General to abandon the principle of a certain maximum; but perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would consider whether it would be possible to make some alteration in his maximum scale, more especially as they could not restrict the time of commencement or the duration of a contest. In Section 4, Clause 32, of the Bill, it was provided that where a person was prosecuted before an Election Court for any corrupt or illegal practice, the Court should immediately proceed to adjudicate. Supposing that some corrupt machinery outside the scope of the Bill should be introduced by irresponsible persons totally unknown to the candidate, he wanted to know why the section should not be applied to a tribunal sitting in a borough for the summary decision of any charges which might arise? His suggestion was that they should have two Justices sitting in a borough during an election, who could at once decide upon any case which should be brought before them. He thought by those means that they would deal a more deadly blow to corrupt practices than could be found in a great many clauses of the Bill before the House. It was necessary to deal with a difficulty when it arose, and he would venture to say that were such a system as that applied it would be found best calculated to afford immediate relief to any candidate placed in a difficult position. He trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would carefully consider the many suggestions and amendments which had been proposed with regard to the Bill; 1442 and he could assure him that all on the Opposition side of the House would cordially co-operate with him in putting an end to a great evil which they had all talked about for many years, and all had regretted, but he believed had never seriously made up their minds, one and all, to obliterate from their electoral system.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he found himself in great difference with his Friends on the Opposition side of the House with regard to this Bill. He was unable to support the second reading on any ground. It was obvious to the House that it would not be right for him to withhold the expression of his opinion on the subject. He objected to the Bill strongly, because he considered that all the chief alterations which it made were alterations which were highly inexpedient, if not absolutely unjust. It appeared to him that the Bill was remarkable for the alterations it would make upon three leading points, one of them involving several other points of no little importance. In the first place, the character of treating for which the candidate was made responsible, was entirely altered by the Bill. In the second place, a totally new class of offences, with penal consequences, was created by the Bill. And, thirdly, they were asked to give the go-by to the benefit of legislation as to the strength of the Election tribunal, which was based upon the Report of the Select Committee of the House, to which he would refer presently. With reference to the constitution of tribunals to try Election Petitions, he had the strongest possible objection to the clause embodying that alteration. He looked upon it as a most reckless and vital invasion upon the safety of Members' candidates, that their liberties, their character, their political history, their hopes for the future, and all the objects which political men held most dear, should be placed in the power of one Judge, without appeal, under circumstances which did not preclude the possibility even of bias. From their past experience, he was entitled to say there were some sad cases as to which they had heard the remark that a political bias had existed. He had no hesitation in saying that there had been, in the decisions of one Judge especially, most painful evidence of political bias; and in saying, further, with reference 1443 to one decision, which was perfectly notorious throughout the Kingdom under the name of the "rabbit case," that it had excited grave dissatisfaction against the tribunal of a single Judge. Nothing would induce him to abstain from opposing this unjust Bill in every way which the Rules of the House would enable him to do so. The House, in a fit of self-denying generosity, thought it right to cease trying Election Petitions, and with a kind of idolatry for judicial personages which was, unfortunately, too rife in England, and for which there was no just foundation, said, "We will place the trial in the hands of one man." He was bound to say that in one or two cases in Ireland, in which Members not connected with the political Party to which he belonged were concerned, there were judgments by which one or two Members of the Home Rule Party were turned out, which he read almost with disgust. The House appointed a Committee in 1875, of which his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General was a Member. The Committee, by a majority of 11 to 5, decided that no decision turning a Member out of his seat should be allowed without the concurrence of two Judges. In the majority, he remembered, was his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and he was in a position to say there was no more determined supporter of that Resolution than the Solicitor General, whose name was on the back of this Bill. The Report of that Committee remained unnoticed for a considerable period. The late Government brought in more than one Bill in which they overlooked that recommendation of that Report; but the late Attorney General was so satisfied with its just requirements, that in the last Bill which they proposed before they left Office they decided to introduce trial by two Judges. In an Election Petition the Judge tried both the law and the facts. Had they any analogy in the whole of their judicial system to that? Yes, they had. All the members of the Judicial Bench in the Chancery Division were exactly in the same position; and what was the case with regard to appeal? Why, that there was an appeal in every case, which might ultimately reach the highest Court of Appeal in the House of Lords. From the decision of a single Judge in the Chancery Division there was an ap- 1444 peal even on interlocutory matters. But had the House the least idea how that appeal worked? Were the Judges always right? Those Judges were of great experience. Many of them had been in a leading position at the Bar, and others upon the Bench, for years. Did we find that even in the large majority of appealed cases their decisions were upheld? By no means. He had been able to obtain a Return for the year 1878 of the appeals from the decisions of the Chancery Judges. There were 253 appeals from the Master of the Rolls and the Vice Chancellors, and in no less than 106 cases their decisions were either reversed or materially altered. He believed that the fact of there being two Judges trying Election Petitions would frequently save a large amount of time. As regarded the new offence of illegal expenditure, the provisions of the Bill would probably be, he believed, evaded. If he were a single candidate for a double-barrelled constituency, he should only be allowed to spend some £500; but if he got three "bogus" candidates to stand with him during the whole time of the election, and if they gave him the advantage of their agents and expenses, he should be enabled to spend a considerable amount more than the Bill intended he should; while if a candidate contested a county with 30,000 electors, he would only be entitled to have one agent, and to pay him a wholly inadequate sum. The result must be that the candidate, unable to secure the services of a respectable man, would be obliged to employ some shady customer. At the last Election a certain gentleman stood for Middlesex alone, and his expenses amounted to £7,000. That candidate was the pure son of a pure father; he represented a pure interest, and it was impossible to suppose that he did any impure thing. Well, the benevolent author of this Bill would only allow him to spend £930. It was ridiculous to suggest that a Middlesex Election could be conducted, even in the most niggardly and miserly fashion, upon such an amount. How could the expenditure be controlled? At the Election for West Kent in 1865, it became known at half-past 3 on the day before the polling day that a forged circular had been sent to all the out-voters, stating that each Party had agreed to withdraw a candidate; and it at once became neces- 1445 sary to spend £200 in despatching messengers and telegrams throughout the county, in order to counteract the influence of this wicked and impudent forgery. Yet, under the Bill, payments made in such emergencies would be illegal payments, and would render a candidate liable to be for ever prevented from representing the constituency. If he might invent a title for the Bill, it would be—"A Bill for the purpose of frightening Persons from becoming Candidates for a seat in Parliament, and for imprisoning and disqualifying all those who do." If it were conceivable that it could be passed without modification, a pretty equal division on both sides of the House would find themselves in gaol. He intreated the House not to assent to the second reading, because it was impossible to mend a Bill like this when it got into Committee. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, they would ring the bell for a Division, and Gentlemen like the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Milbank), who so ejaculated, who was now reaping the advantage of sitting so long on that side of the House, would come trooping in to vote down every Amendment that was proposed. The whole legal and moral character of treating, he might remark, was changed by the omission of the word "corrupt." In conclusion, he asked the House not to agree to the second reading of a Bill which was a reckless, an inexpedient, and an unjust attack on the liberties of constituencies.
§ Sir R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he did not rise for the purpose of taking any part in the discussion, but merely to ask his hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he was quite willing to comply with the request of the right hon. Gentleman, but hoped to raise the question in Committee.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that, not being amenable to the blandishments of the Treasury Bench or the Front Opposition Bench, he had no intention of yielding, even at this late hour, to the request of the right hon. Gentleman, made probably by arrangement. He had observed the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs taking notes throughout the discussion. He supposed the hon. Gentleman declined to speak now, lest it should be said the Government contributed to prevent a division. No such 1446 consideration weighed with him (Mr. Callan) and therefore he proposed to speak his opinion regarding the Bill. ["Divide!"] Last night, when he asked the Attorney-General to grant an adjournment of the House, he would not consent to do so. No doubt, he wished that there should not be a discussion which might disclose some unpleasant facts about the borough of Taunton and other Liberal constituencies. The Attorney General did not desire to fish in troubled waters, and to expose the corruption of the Liberal Party. He regretted it was not proposed that the Bill should operate retrospectively, because he thought, with Baron Dowse, that if they were to view with a judicial mind all the proceedings that occurred in reference to Members of that House, they would scarcely have a House of Commons at all. Why had the word "corruptly," found in previous Acts, been omitted from this Bill? It must have been left out designedly. He was not surprised that a right hon. Gentleman representing Taunton should designedly leave out the word "corruptly." No explanation of this had been offered, and in the short time that remained it was not possible for the Attorney General to give an explanation.
§ And it being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this day.
§ The House suspended its Sitting at Seven of the clock.
§ The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.