§ (Mr. Attorney General, Sir William Harcourt, Mr. Chamberlain, Sir Charles Dilke, Air. Solicitor General.)
§ COMMITTEE. [Progress 19th Tune.]
§ [SEVENTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Corrupt Practices.
§ Clause 3 (Punishment of candidate found, on election petition, guilty personally of corrupt practices).
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 12, to leave out from the word "of," to the word "being," in line 14.—(Mr. Raikes.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word ever' stand part of the Clause."1151
said, that, having regard to au answer which had been made by the Attorney General within the last few minutes, to the effect that the Government were willing to favourably consider Amendments which did not touch crucial or essential points of the Bill, he would venture to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he would not reconsider the course he proposed to take when the Amendment was proposed; and whether the Government would not even now see their way to accept the Amendment? Ho put this question, because he felt certain that there were very few points in the Bill more likely to cause difference of opinion in the House than that which was involved in the Amendment he had proposed; and he ventured to think that those differences were likely to arise among Members who usually supported the Government of which the hon. and learned Member was one. He, therefore, hoped that the Attorney General would accept his advice in good part. The feeling was strong that the penalty of 10 years' exclusion from Parliament was sufficient for the graver offences covered by the clause; and he was quite sure that with regard to the more venial offences, such as treating, there would be a very general repugnance to see a man so severely punished whenever it could be shown that he had committed the offence himself. He hoped, therefore, that the Attorney General would be able to accept this Amendment, because he felt certain that his so doing would considerably tend to the passing of the Bill.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the Committee would recollect that the question of penalties under the 3rd clause came before them as a whole, and that at the time he stated very distinctly the course which he would be willing to take, the view of the Government being that the penalty of disqualification ought to be retained, because the effect of the action of a candidate upon a constituency would remain for a long time after the Parliamentary contested election in which he had been guilty of corrupt practices. The question of degree was, of course, an important one to consider; and ho hoped the Committee would not think that he had omitted to consider that as well as every other branch of the question.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, ho did not desire to interpose for any length of time between the Committee and a division; but he wished very shortly to say that, in his view, it would be wise to adopt the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge and mitigate the penalty in the way which he proposed. They must consider what the general bearing of a very severe measure must be, and in so considering it they must remember that one of two things would probably happen. If the penalties were made too severe the result would probably be that men of sensitive honour and high character, afraid. of the consequences of some inadvertence on their own part, or of the steps taken by their agents, would refrain from seeking seats in the House, or the constituencies would be appealed to by candidates of a class less to be depended upon, and less sensitive in the matter of honour. One or other of those things would happen, or the Bill might become inoperative by reason of the fact that there would be an indisposition to put in force a measure which would produce such serious consequences; and therefore the measure might prove inoperative by virtue of its own severity. He was reluctant to appear indifferent to the taking of any steps for the repression of corrupt practices; but his own opinion, after having considered the matter very carefully, was that it would be advisable to adopt a milder course than that which was proposed in the Bill; and therefore he hoped that. the Committee would adopt the Amendment which had been proposed by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, ho did not wish to delay the Committee in coming to a decision on this question; and his hope was to give some assistance—he certainly should give all the assistance in his power—towards the passing of the Bill. He had endeavoured to gather the opinions of Members on both sides of the House in regard to the measure; and he believed there was a general consensus of opinion that if the Attorney General showed a disposition to meet the views of a majority in the House, he would find that there was a desire to pass the Bill in a modified form at the earliest possible moment. He had, therefore, been glad to hear his hon. 1153 and learned Friend the Attorney General state that ho was not unwilling to listen patiently to suggestions which might be made in order to improve the Bill. His own view was that in any case no sufficient reason had been shown to justify so extreme a penalty as was included in the Bill. He would suggest that it might be possible to limit the term of years during which a candidate should not be allowed to contest any constituency. He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend that if a candidate had been guilty of very wide and general corruption in a borough, no penalty could be too severe; but there were cases in which some elasticity should be be given.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had on every occasion shown a desire to meet every reasonable demand that could be made from every quarter in reference to the provisions of this Bill. As far as this particular question was concerned, he quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition in thinking that it was not desirable for the Bill to be so stringent as to defeat its own object; but, on the other hand, he thought it necessary to point out that if Parliament was really in earnest in this matter, they must not fritter away and water down the measure until the last stage of the question would be worse than the first. His hon. Friend bad spoken of a Gentleman not being able to sit for what he called "his own constituency," and upon this point he was particularly hard. He should very much like to know what constituted a right for any Member of the House to call any constituency his own. A man could only, in any circumstances, make a constituency "his own" in the sense in which the phrase had been used by buying and corrupting it, with the view of sooner or later being returned for it, as the result of the corruption which he had practised.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he had been surprised by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Pesident of the Board of Trade, who seemed to think that any man who could come under this particular clause must necessarily be a man whose sole business in life had been the debauching of constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman practically asked that there should be 1154 placed in the same category men who had literally and deliberately debauched whole constituencies, and other men who, by accident or mistake, had committed a trifling error, and so brought themselves within the clauses of the Bill under discussion. It would be a very hard case for a young man who had just come of age, and who wished to sit for a particular constituency with which he was connected by birth, if by the act of an agent he was prevented from representing the constituency, even though he might live to 80 or 90 years of age. A man sent into penal servitude might, after he had served his time, go hack to the place from whence he came and perform all the duties of citizenship therein; but a man who had, by the act of an agent or by his own inadvertence, committed an offence under this Bill, no matter how good and high his character might be, could never sit for the constituency.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, this had been described as a Bill of degrees, and he was particularly anxious to know whether there were not degrees as well of guilt as of punishment? It certainly seemed to him hard that the smallest slip or accident occurring to a candidate or his agent should disqualify a candidate from sitting for the constituency which might choose him, and which certainly would be his own choice, for the remainder of his life. He certainly could not accept the principle of life-long punishment; and when the opportunity arose he should move an Amendment which would have the effect of reducing the penalty. He had no objection to retaining the maximum period of 10 years as that during which a candidate should not be allowed to contest a constituency which he had corrupted; but he thought that the Judges should be allowed a discretion in reference to inflicting the maximum penalty.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
agreed with the hon. Member who had spoken last in thinking that the Bill ought not to be made too severe in its provisions; because be was of opinion that it might thereby defeat its own object, which was, on the whole, a wise and reasonable one. The Bill bristled with difficulties; and he feared that if it was passed into law in its present form it would permit the entrance of men to the House whose presence therein would only result in a 1155 deterioration of the character of the House.
said, that with reference to this particular subject, he hoped that the clause would be so worded as that a line would be drawn which a candidate who had been personally guilty of corrupt practices could not cross. He had no objection to the diminution of the period of 10 years' disqualification to sit in the House for some other constituency. But he hoped that the principle would be maintained of drawing a line which could never be crossed between a candidate guilty of bribery or corrupt practices and the constituency he had endeavoured to corrupt.
said, he hoped the Attorney General would yield on this particular point. The question of these penalties had al ways been whether the punishment inflicted by the law was sufficient and effective? Hitherto, the penalty for candidates personally guilty of corrupt practices had been exclusion from Parliament for seven years; and the question was, whether that punishment had been sufficient and effective? His own opinion was that it had been so. There was no case, with the exception of Launceston, in which, since the present law was enacted, it had been shown that a candidate had been personally guilty of corrupt practices. The effect, therefore, had been pratically to obliterate the offence from the roll of offences under the electoral laws. This which he had said was based not only upon his knowledge of Parliament as a Member of it, but upon what had become part of his professional experience before he became a Member of the House of Commons.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he had recently examined the question as far as voting was concerned, and he found that the difficulty was not so much personal as platform corruption. On this point he had evidence which could not be denied.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, it was somewhat curious that his hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), and the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote), although they had spoken with something of warmth against the proposal of the Go- 1156 vernment, were unanimous on a previous occasion in supporting a similar proposal—which he might remark was carried not only without a division, but without discussion. This was, ho must say, a curious position to he taken up.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, the Attorney General had given every proof that ho would make a reasonable concession, and he believed it was the desire of the Committee to assist him. He entirely sympathized with the object which the Attorney General had in view in this particular portion of the clause; but he was rather afraid that it would defeat its purpose by its severity, and would bring about a re-action in the country by making the candidate appear to be in a persecuted position. The case brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) clearly indicated that aspect of the question. If a young man went before a constituency without any knowledge of Parliamentary affairs, he might do something quite innocently which might turn out to be an offence, and then he would be condemned to a life-long exclusion from Parliamentary life, and that would be an extremely harsh thing. For his own part, he (Mr. Cowen) was strongly opposed to perpetual punishments, whether in this world or in the next; and he would not impose such a punishment on a man for an offence which might be serious, or which might not. The clause would deal very hardly with a man who was resident in the constituency; and it should be remembered that the theory of the British Constitution was that boroughs should be represented by burgesses, cities by citizens, and counties by knights of the shire. The effect of the clause would be to deter those very men from coming to Parliament who were supposed, by the theory of the Constitution, to be the fittest to represent the people.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the hon. Gentleman had stated that the effect of the clause would be to impose upon the candidate who committed an offence a life-long exclusion from Parliament.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he quite understood that it was only to be a lifelong exclusion in regard to the particular constituency. Of course, any other constituency would be open to the man.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he wished that to be clearly understood, because it was an important point, and the hon. Gentleman did not mention, when he made his speech, that the disqualification was to be for the one constituency only. Before the Committee divided he wished them to bear in mind that this Bill was pressing pretty heavily upon the constituencies—hon. Members were going to do all they could to prevent corrupt practices and to stop expenditure, and they must not be too sparing of themselves. As the penalties were to be so severe upon the constituencies, it was only just that they should be equally severe upon the candidate. If a man was to be permitted to go to the same constituency again, after he had attempted to corrupt it, he might in the end obtain the advantage of his corruption, and it was necessary to prevent that. No doubt, the provision was inelastic; but all the exclusions which existed now were also inelastic—as, for instance, under the 43rd section of the Act of 1868. One hon. Member had suggested that the matter should be left to the discretion of the Judge; but he (the Attorney General) thought the Judge's discretion should not be carried too far. Where the Judge inflicted the maximum of punishment, having a discretion in the matter, that punishment would fall upon the offender with tenfold greater severity than would he the case if there was no discretion at all. If the candidate once stood before the Judge upon his trial, and the Judge said—"I have heard all that you have to say, and all that your counsel and witnesses have said, and I have come to the conclusion that your conduct has been such that you should receive the maximum of punishment that I can inflict." What chance would that candidate have if ever he went before another constituency? [An hon. MEMBER: Serve him right!] It was all very well to say "Serve him right!" but the result of giving the Judge a discretion would be to put it into the Judge's power to sentence a man to a real life-long exclusion from Parliament, affecting not one constituency merely but all.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he thought the provision as it stood was too severe, and such severity was not wanted. It must be remembered that 1158 it applied not to cases of bribery alone, but the same penalty could be inflicted in doubtful cases of fact in regard to treating.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
The matter which would be doubtful would not be the act of treating, but whether it was done by another person with the knowledge of himself.
§ SIR ASSHETON CROSS
said, he could not withdraw one word he had said, and he repeated the phrase—doubtful questions of fact in regard to treating. The question was admittedly one of considerable doubt, and in many cases the offence against the Bill might be done quite innocently. That being so, the penalty proposed was far too severe.
MR. A. F. EGERTON
wished to mention a case within his own experience. He once went to a borough under very peculiar circumstances. That borough was very much upon its trial, and he and his friends did all that lay in their power to preserve purity of election. But what happened to himself? On one occasion he arrived—he thought it was on the day before the election—and he sent his bag on a certain distance in order to proceed with his canvass. He gave the man who took the bag 1s., and that payment under this Bill would have been a corrupt or illegal practice, and, if brought home to him, the Judge would have had no option but to disqualify him from representing that borough for ever. They ought not to be too severe in these cases. The corruption of a borough stood upon an entirely different footing, and the penalties against that might well be made as severe as possible. But they ought to take care not to inflict those severe penalties upon gentlemen who might be guilty, without even knowing it, of some inadvertence—some action—which fell within the category of illegal practices.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, it appeared to him that the great object of all punishments of offences was to make the punishment commensurate with the nature of the offence. If they went beyond that, and provided unduly severe penalties, they were pretty sure to defeat the object they had in view. It appeared to him that where a man had been wilfully and systematically corrupting a constituency the penalty proposed 1159 was not one bit too severe. The man who did such a thing ought to be excluded for life. But that was a very different matter from treating; and where a young man, exercising a little harmless hospitality, might be judged to have been guilty of a corrupt practice, such a case ought to be distinguished from the extremely grave one of corruption. He therefore earnestly hoped that the Attorney General would see his way to making the provision a little more elastic than it was at present.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, the Attorney General seemed to think it was a powerful argument in favour of the clause that the other collateral penalties were, like it, inelastic. But that really afforded all the more reason why they should be very careful in what they wore about. The very fact that they were inelastic made it necessary, inasmuch as they were dealing with crime which might be great or small, that there should not be too high a standard of punishment. There was obviously an undercurrent of feeling in the House that this clause, as it stood, was far too severe. That current of feeling was to be found in every part of the House among Members of different and extreme views on both sides. There were ono or two points, which appeared to him to be important, that he would like to refer to. The Attorney General had dealt with the case of corruption as though it were serious and general; but it was a remarkable fact that there had been no case since Election Petitions were tried by the Judges in which there had been great personal corruption. The Attorney General seemed by a gesture to imply that he (Mr. Lewis) was wrong in making that statement; but he would like to know what case there was on record? Was there more than a single case of personal bribery? They knew perfectly well that the more usual case was for a candidate to be unseated through some stupid act—some temporary lapse under the influence of bad advisers—which placed a man within the power of the law. The Attorney General said that unless they had these severe penalties the law would not be regarded; but he (Mr. Lewis) declared that it would not be regarded if they did have them, for it would not have a chance of taking effect. The Attorney General had said, on former occasions, that it was neces- 1160 sary to disqualify for life, so far as the particular constituency was concerned, or else the candidate might return in 10 or 15 years and reap the fruits of his former bribery and corruption. But did the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his knowledge of human nature, believe that a man spending £5, £10, £15, £100, or £500 in 1883 would be returned by the constituency in 1893 because of that expenditure? They knew that the definition of gratitude which had been given by some cynic was a sanguine expectation of favours to come, and had nothing to do with those which had already been conferred. Did anyone suppose that any bribery, however much it might have corrupted the electors, would be successful in influencing votes years afterwards under such circumstances? Was it reasonable to suppose that because a man spent £1,000 over an election, and was, afterwards, sent into the wilderness for 10 years, that man could then go back to the electors and get his £1,000 back in votes? That was surely too great a strain to put upon one's belief in human nature. It defied all experience; there was not a single word to be said in favour of it. He must say that he had not believed that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had used this argument could have been so utterly devoid of all knowledge of the world and experience of life. Another argument which had greatly astounded him was that this was wanted for the protection of the candidate. It was as though he (Mr. Lewis) should call in a couple of burglars for the protection of his front door. The clause was most severe and inelastic, and it would render public life impossible to a man. The protection of the candidate argument was really one of the most debasing character. If a man went up to him and asked him for a bribe, instead of saying "respect the law," the Attorney General offered the candidate this shield composed of a fear of life-long banishment. If a man were an honourable man he would at once say, "It is against the law and against morals," and, therefore, no such shield as this was necessary. No doubt, the Attorney General was very anxious that the clause should pass, for it was one of the crucial clauses of the Bill; but it involved one of the most serious and important of all the questions with which 1161 the Committee might have to deal; and, when Members were getting up in all parts of the House to declare that the clauses were too severe, he thought they should pause before they passed it in its present shape.
§ MR. CARBUTT
said, he was quite willing to draw a hard-and-fast line in the matter of personal corruption. But this was not a matter of personal corruption. If a man said, "I will give you £5 for your vote," that would be personal bribery, and, no doubt, no penalty would be too severe for it. But he (Mr. Carbutt) knew the case of one of the largest boroughs in the United Kingdom, where the present Member throughout his life had devoted half his income to charitable purposes connected with the borough. If he continued to do that, he might be called before an Election Judge and be convicted of personal bribery, and he would be branded with odium all his life, being unable ever to represent the borough in Parliament again. It was a question how far the penalty should extend. There were some cases in which it was impossible to get juries to convict. They would not convict, for instance, in the case of child-murder, because it was always thought very hard that the mother should be hanged. If the Committee decided in this case that a man should be subjected to a life-long exclusion, he was sure there would be a great difficulty in getting a conviction, and therefore he should vote against the Attorney General's proposal.
§ MR. FRANCIS BUXTON
congratulated the Attorney General on putting his foot down and determining to carry the clause as it stood. He should certainly vote with the hon. and learned Gentleman in the matter.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, he was anxious to help the Government when he could; but he could not compliment the Attorney General on the attitude he had taken upon this question. They were legislating for cases that occurred very seldom; there were only a few individual cases; and the clause would have a sufficiently deterrent effect without the extreme severity of its provisions as they stood at present.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that anyone who had heard the speech of the President of the Board of Trade would think that the sole question now before the Committee was that of punishing by a lifelong exclusion from the constituency any person who systematically debauched and corrupted that constituency. If that was the case, no one would more heartily support the clause than ho (Mr. Callan). But that was not the fact. The clause penalized a person who was guilty of any corrupt practice, treating, or undue influence, either personally or with his knowledge and consent. A man guilty of personal treating would be punished just as if it were a case of bribery. Two cases had come within his own knowledge—one was a case of undue influence, and the other of treating. In one case a most popular Member of that House who sat on the Government side—he referred to the hon. Member for Drogheda (Mr. Benjamin Whitworth)—was examined before Mr. Justice Keogh on the trial of his Election Petition. The following were the questions and answers:—Did you directly or indirectly, as the Petition charges, organize any violence or attack against any human being?—Certainly not.—Directly or indirectly did you authorize any human being to intimidate any voter or any non.elector?—I did not.—Had you anything directly or indirectly to say as to any intimidation being practised on any voter, or any knowledge of it?—Certainly not.Such was his evidence; and not only that, but he went into the battalions of the opposing party and offered his protection to take them to the poll. He said—If you have any voters who wish to poll, if you will let me know who they are I would be very glad to escort them to the poll.Further, he asked the voter for whom he voted, and the voter said, "I will vote for you," and then he took the voter up to the poll. Under these circumstances the hon. Member (Mr. Whitworth) was unseated, and if this Act had been in force he would never be able to sit for Drogheda again. In regard to treating, he (Mr. Callan) had also had to undergo the ordeal of an Election Petition. The charge made against him was that he 1163 went into a hotel and was present when certain persons were supplied with refreshment. One of the witnesses was asked who paid for the drink. He re-repliedI do not know; but Mr. Callan said, in my presence, that ho had settled for it all.He (Mr. Callan) was subsequently examined, and Mr. Justice Keogh, instead of dealing with him as the hon. Member (Mr. Whitworth) was dealt with, and unseating him for undue influence, although he gave an express contradiction to the story told about him, seated him. ["Divide!"] When he had done the Committee might divide, but not until then; and as he must be heard, if the interruption was continued the discussion would only be prolonged.
I must remind the hon. Member of the New Rules. He seems to me to be trying the patience of the Committee.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he was satisfied that at any time he should try the patience of a certain portion of the Committee. ["Order!"] He was only alluding to a point which would affect the Irish Members in no small degree—namely, the question whether they should be perpetually excluded from representing any constituency in that country; and he had thought that he was quite at liberty to read the opinion of a learned Judge who tried an Election Petition during the present Parliament. What he desired to point out was that if a candidate went into a public-house and stood at the bar, and that some other person, without being asked, partook of some refreshment and then were that the candidate paid for it, and that then if the Judge said to the candidate—"You had a knowledge of that treating, although it was done most inadvertently, and therefore you must be for ever disqualified from sitting for the borough or county in which the circumstance occurred, just as much as if you had systematically debauched the electors"—what he wished to show was that what might be a proper punishment for the man who wilfully corrupted or debauched a constituency was an excess of severity towards a man who, on the spur of the moment, might give a glass of wine, or some trifling refreshment, to a voter. The two cases were net parallel. What was proper severity 1164 in the one case was undue severity in the other. And in regard to the two cases he had mentioned—in that of Drogheda they had one Judge, in the face of the sworn testimony of the candidate, Mr. B. Whitworth, deliberately unseating him—holding, indeed, that he had sworn falsely, for that was the decision of the Judge, and unseating him for personally using undue influence; whereas, in his (Mr. Callan's) case, they had a Judge stating that he believed his testimony, because he was certain if a learned Judge had not done so ho would have convicted him of personal corruption, and he would have been disqualified, under the existing law, for seven years from representing the constituency. The hon. and learned Attorney General now wished to extend that penalty from seven years to perpetual exclusion, and to that proposition he should offer a strenuous resistance. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would confine that extreme penalty to one who systematically bribed the constituency, he would have the House with him; and it would only be a fair and a just concession not to impose an extreme punishment upon a person who was guilty of a very small offence.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 180; Noes 131: Majority 49.—(Div. List, No. 146.)
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) has been disposed of by the division which has just taken place.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he had also an Amendment in line 13, which was disposed of by the same division. He wished now to move, in page 2, line 14, after "or," to insert—If found guilty by a jury of bribery, or personation, or procuring the commission of the offence of personation.The object of the Amendment was to prevent a man from being disqualified for ever from representing a constituency in regard to which a single Judge might have found him guilty of corrupt practices. It was also proposed that the 1165 Judge should prevent a man for 10 years from being a Member of the House of Commons at all. That he considered even a much more serious penalty than that a man should be excluded for ever from sitting for a particular constituency, because if a man was wrongfully convicted, as he might easily be, he might still be elected for some other constituency. He therefore thought that was a matter of still greater importance than that which they had just disposed of. This Amendment proposed, in the first place, that this severe punishment should be restricted to cases of bribery and personation; and, in the second place, it would give to the person accused the protection of a jury. In point of fact, what he proposed was that no Judge, by simply presenting a Report to the House, should have the power of shutting out an eminent politician from the House. The Amendment proposed that if a man was to be shut out from the House, it should be by the act of a jury as well as a Judge. First, there would be the Report of the Judge, and then the man would be tried before a jury, and if found guilty of either of the classes of offence specified in the Amendment—namely, bribery or personation, then he might be kept out of the House altogether; but otherwise he did not think he ought to be. The Attorney General urged that as they were punishing the electors severely, there was no reason why they should not be prepared to punish themselves. That was the main argument of the Attorney General for the severity of these provisions of the Bill. He would, however, remind the Committee that the Attorney General had only, comparatively speaking, a limited interest in the House of Commons, because in the course of a few years he would be naturally called upon to fill the post of Lord Chancellor, or some other high position. The argument ought not to be allowed to apply to Members in a different position; and in the case of an eminent politician who was not a lawyer, the loss would be inflicted upon his Party probably more than upon the individual himself. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 14, after the first word "or," to insert the words "if found guilty by a jury of bribery, or personation, or procuring 1166 the commission of the offence of personation."—(Colonel Nolan.)Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was unable to accept the Amendment, which virtually struck out all punishment for personal treating or undue influence.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he must repeat that the Amendment, as drawn, struck out all punishment for treating and undue influence, and it went on to say that the punishment should only apply to persons found guilty by a jury of bribery or personation, or procuring the commission of the offence of personation. He understood his hon. and gallant Friend to desire that no person should be punished unless he had been convicted by a jury, and then he confined the cases thus dealt with by a jury to cases of bribery and personation, so that if a person was reported by the Judge to have been personally guilty of undue influence or treating, he would receive no disqualification at all. He (the Attorney General) thought the Committee were all agreed that there should be some disqualification in all these cases in regard to the constituency in which the undue influence had been exercised; but his hon. and gallant Friend contended that there should be no disqualification, and that there should be a verdict of the Jury before any person could be disqualified for bribery or personation. The adoption of such an Amendment would make a very great alteration in the present law; because under the Act of 1868 if a candidate were reported for personal bribery 1w was disqualified for seven years. The hon. and gallant Gentleman wished to provide that the Report of the Judge should have no effect, and that there should be virtually no punishment unless the accused person was convicted by a jury. He (the Attorney General) thought that, in the great majority of cases, the verdict of the jury would be so lenient that the offender would probably escape without punishment. He therefore could not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. WARTON
agreed with the Attorney General that the Amendment 1167 would have the effect of excluding two out of four of the offences specified from punishment. He would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colenel Nolan) to substitute the words "corrupt practices" for" bribery, or personation, or procuring the commission of the offence of personation." In that case the objection of the Attorney General would fall to the ground, because it would include in the punishment both undue influence and treating. He took it that the object of the Amendment was really to provide that before a man was punished he should have been found guilty, and then the hon. and gallant Member wished to establish the important principle that that should be done by a jury. He did not gather that the hon. and gallant Gentleman desired to restrict the punishment for corrupt practices to two only of the offences mentioned in the clause. He should certainly support the principle of the Amendment; but he thought it would be better to say that the offender should be found guilty by a jury of "corrupt practices." That would bring the point fully before the Committee, and disarm the opposition of the Attorney General of all its force.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he would be quite willing to accept the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), if he found that the Members of the Committee were in favour of it. But as his proposition appeared to receive very little support he did not feel inclined to press it, and he would therefore withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
moved, in page 2, lines 14 and 15, to leave out the words "during the," and insert "a period not exceeding ten years." The Committee had just decided by a vote that a candidate found guilty of corrupt practices or of a corrupt practice, done with his knowledge and consent, should be excluded for ever from representing the constituency in which the corrupt practice took place. But, as had been pointed out, although the candidate might be excluded for ever, it might be for a very small offence. The Attorney General had adduced two arguments in favour of the proposition—first, that ho could not trust to the discretion of the Judges; and, 1168 secondly, that the public would not know the difference between a very had candidate and a moderately bad one. He (Mr. Macfarlane) thought the Amendment he proposed would meet the difficulty and improve the clause.
Amendment proposed, in page 2, lines 14 and 15, to leave out the words "During the," and insert the words "a period not exceeding ten years."—(Mr. Macfarlane.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. MACFARLANE
wished to add that his object, notwithstanding the adverse vote which had just been given, was to provide that the candidate, because one injustice had been done to him, should not have another injustice inflicted upon him for a trivial offence. What he wanted was that the Judge, when ho was compelled by law to exclude a candidate for life from the representation of a particular constituency, should be able to say—"The law compels me to exclude you for life from this constituency; but your offence has been so small, although it has been a breach of the law, that I will not exclude you from representing any other constituency for more than one or two years." The Attorney General would, no doubt, apply the same arguments to this as he had applied to the other cases—namely, that the people would not be able to discriminate between a bad candidate and a good one. The hon. and learned Gentleman began the proceedings that evening by stating that ho was willing to accept all Amendments that were of a reasonable character. He (Mr. Macfarlane) contended that this Amendment was not only reasonable, but that it was absolutely just. He thought the Judge, in being compelled to evict a candidate from one constituency, should have a discretionary power to mitigate the punishment by reducing it from 10 years, in the case of other constituencies, to any period he might deem sufficient for the offence. He therefore begged to propose the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the Committee had already decided, whether rightly or wrongly, upon excluding a man who was convicted of corrupt practices from 1169 representing for life the constituency in regard to which he had been convicted. He thought the present case was a similar one. The hon. Gentleman said that it ought to be in the power of the Judge to say whether the maximum of exclusion should be always inflicted, or whether it should be modified. If that were the case, he did not think the adoption of the Amendment would have the effect which the hon. Gentleman seemed to desire, and he hoped it would not be pressed.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
also declined to accept the Amendment. He thought it would be much better to accept an Amendment which came later on, to diminish the period of exclusion from ten years to seven years.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he was of opinion that it would be quite right for the Judge to discriminate between a grave offence and a minor offence. If the offence was only a small one, the Judge ought to have the power of inflicting a small punishment; whereas if the offence was of a heinous character, the law ought to be allowed to take its full course.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that as the Amendment did not appear to meet with general support he would withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. WARTON
moved, in page 2, line 15, to leave out the word "ten," and insert the word "seven."
Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. WARTON
moved, in page 2, line 16, to leave out after the word "void," to the end of the clause. He thought they had already punished the unhappy man who committed an offence under the clause quite enough, and he did not think it was desirable to add any further incapacities. He presumed that according to the state of the law the man would have a fair trial. It was bad enough for a man when convicted to be punished; but to punish him when be had not been convicted seemed to be the height of injustice. Why should they assume that a man was guilty when he had not been tried and convicted? It was just possible that a man might fall into some offence under the Act entirely through inadvertence; and when they bore that fact in mind, he thought they would 1170 feel inclined to hold that the clause already provided sufficient punishment for the case of a man who committed an offence under it. He therefore begged to move the Amendment, and he hoped the Attorney General would again kindly assist him in passing it.
Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 16, to leave out all the words after the word "void."—(Mr. Warton.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he would explain to the Committee why these words had been inserted. This 3rd clause was framed upon a clause contained in the Act of 1868, and was simply an extension of that Act. Under that clause any person who, by the Report of the Judge, was guilty of an act of bribery was subject to seven years' disqualification, and was incapable of being registered as a voter to vote at any election. He was further disqualified from holding any office under the Municipal Corporations Act; and, thirdly, he was disqualified from holding any judicial office. If the hon. and learned Member would refer to the 3rd sub-section of Clause 5 of the Act of 1868, he would see that these disqualifications were exactly the same in the present Bill as they were in the Act of 1868. He wished the Committee to see what the effect of the Amendment would be. The 3rd sub-section of Clause 5 provided—That a person who is convicted of any corrupt practice should, in addition to the punishment provided, be not capable during a period of seven years from the date of his conviction, (a) of being registered as a voter for voting at any election in the United Kingdom, whether it be a Parliamentary election or an election for any public office within the meaning of this Act; or (b) of holding any public or judicial office within the meaning of this Act, and if he holds any such office he shall be evicted.It would be seen that the clause provided that it was only when a candidate had been found guilty that he would be reported by the Judge. Of course, no candidate would suffer the penalty unless he had been convicted by a jury. Under the Act of 1868 the candidate would be disqualified from being registered as a voter, or holding any office, upon the Report of one Judge. The present Bill, however, provided that 1171 there should be a Report from two Judges. The result was they were extending the law by requiring the concurrence of two minds instead of one, and he thought that was most desirable, as it was the object of this legislation to make the offence a degrading one, and to accompany it by punishment. The words proposed to be struck out were necessary, and he contended that no reason had been given for striking them out.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
expressed a hope that when the Committee came to deal with the question of the tribunal the Attorney General would not use the argument he had just employed against the Committee. It might hereafter be necessary to discuss the question whether the candidate should have the protection of two Judges or only one.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he believed there would be various opinions expressed when they came to deal with the composition of the tribunal. His own opinion was that the tribunal had never been properly tested, and he thought that one Judge with an appeal would be better than two without an appeal. However, the time had not yet arrived for dealing with that question. He should have thought the Attorney General might have been perfectly satisfied with an instrument which he had made double-edged and sharp to the last degree, and that he would not have deemed it necessary to intensify the severity of the clause any further. He was afraid that the Committee could not accept the clause as it stood. The Attorney General appeared to think that because he was rendering it uniform, and making it apply to all corrupt practices, it was properly recommended to the Committee; but it was just because it was made uniform, and was to apply to all cases, large or small, that it was not a recommendation to the Committee. He thought they would be following a very bad example if they did away with a verdict of a jury before inflicting upon any person a grave and heavy disqualification. As regarded the voters, they were aware that the disqualification would not follow except upon a conviction by a jury. The Attorney General said they proposed to do away with these disqualifications dependent upon the verdict of a jury. By the Act of 1868, 1172 in the case of bribery disqualification followed the Report of the Election Judge, and the Attorney General said he would follow that principle out, not only as regarded bribery, but treating, undue influence, and so on. The Attorney General seemed to think, as the former Act provided that these circumstances should follow the Report of the Election Judge upon bribery, that therefore they ought to follow the Report of the Election Judge in regard to all other corrupt practices. Now that, in his (Mr. Lewis's) opinion, was severity run mad. If Parliament, in 1868, made an exception in a grave case like bribery, and did away with the verdict of a jury, that was no reason why they should make matters worse now. The effect would be to destroy not only the political life of the candidate, but also, to a great extent, to destroy the social life of any candidate who came under the provisions of the Bill. It was provided that he should not be registered as a voter, and that ho should hold no public or judicial office, which meant that he could not be engaged in the administration of local or judicial affairs connected with his own town. In point of fact, it amounted to personal disqualification in regard to local public life as well as in regard to political life. It appeared to him that there was no reason whatsoever that this undue and extraordinary severity should be applied to the case of a candidate found guilty of minor offences connected with corrupt practices; and he thought, after the last division, the Attorney General might well give up this part of the clause, and get rid of an undue severity which was not necessary for the purposes of the Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
wished to point out to the Committee that the subject was not now being discussed for the first time. On the contrary, it was discussed at some length on the Bill of last year, when an Amendment similar to the one now moved by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) was moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. IL H. Fowler). A division took place upon that Amendment, and the words of the clause were retained by a considerable majority, and he would remind the Committee that last year the earlier part of the Bill was much more stringent than it was now. Therefore, the 1173 necessity for retaining it was not so great as it was now.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the Attorney General had stated that the proposals contained in the Bill would be to the advantage of the candidate, who would, in future, have the concurrence of two minds in dealing with his case instead of one, because there would be two Election Judges to try the Petition under the present Bill, whereas there was only one under the Act of 1868. He did not think that the Committee should be bound by what was done last year, when it was certainly not expected that the Bill would be passed; and as to there being two minds instead of one, the hon. and learned Attorney General forgot that, instead of having two minds in place of one, it was really two minds instead of 12, because under the old law for everything but actual bribery there must be an indictment. For undue influence, or treating, or corrupt practices generally, it was necessary to have a jury; and the difference made by the present Bill was that, instead of having 12 minds to try the question, it would in future be tried by two. If the consequences were to be so serious, he thought the candidate ought to have a right to be tried by jury, He could not conceive a greater punishment being inflicted upon anyone than the loss of every social position he held, and his virtual removal from any useful sphere of sociality he might have previously enjoyed. The clause virtually provided that any man convicted under it should lose the seat he might have obtained in Parliament; that he should not be registered as an elector; and that he should hold no public or judicial office; and all these consequences were to follow upon the simple fiat of two Judges, who might have tried the candidate for an admittedly doubtful offence of undue influence. If ever a man should be punished with such severe penalties as these he had a right to be tried by a jury. He hoped the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) would go to a division, and, in that case, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) should certainly support the Amendment.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had made an accusation against the Committee of last year which he could hardly have intended, because the effect 1174 of what the right hon. Gentleman had said was that on the last occasion when this Bill was under discussion hon. Members, believing that it would not pass, voted differently from the manner in which they otherwise would have voted. That was an accusation which he, for one, would certainly not wish to bring against the Committee of last year. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was such a tremendous penalty that it ought only to be inflicted after the decision of a jury. He would ask the Committee to consider what they had already done. They had decided that if a man was convicted on the Report of the Judges of being guilty himself of misconduct, lie was to be disqualified from sitting in Parliament for seven years. He admitted that that was a severe punishment; but the Bill provided, in addition, that he should not sit as a member of any Municipal Corporation, or hold any judicial office. Now, ho must say that a person so convicted would be, in his opinion, a most unfit person to sit on a Municipal Corporation, or to hold a judicial office; and he thought that municipal and judicial offices should be protected from such persons. It was the case of a man who had been held by two Judges, after full investigation, to be guilty of corrupting a constituency by the use of undue influence; and it ought to follow, as a matter of course, that if he were unworthy to sit in Parliament, he was unworthy also to hold a municipal or a judicial office. He thought it was just as desirable, in the interests of good local government, that such a man should not hold a municipal office as it was in the Imperial Government that he should not be allowed to sit in Parliament. These consequences ought to follow as a matter of course.
§ MR. A. H. BROWN
said, that under Clause 45 of the Act of 1868 a candidate, before being disqualified, was allowed to be heard in his own defence; but under the present Bill he might not be heard at all. He certainly thought that that was an additional penalty which ought not to be imposed.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the words of Clause 45 of the Act of 1868 were—"Any person other than the candidate found guilty of bribery should be heard." The meaning of that was that a person found guilty of bribery other than the candidate 1175 was found guilty of misdemeanour, and ought to have the opportunity of being heard. Mr. Justice Blackburn had decided that point quite clearly, and also held that a person accused who was likely to be subjected to such a penalty should have notice to appear before the Election Judge and be entitled to be fully heard. That was necessary, because a person who was not a candidate would not be properly before the Judge under the Election Petition; but if he had been a candidate at the election he would probably be either the sitting Member or the Petitioner, and in either capacity he would naturally be represented by counsel. He did not think that any candidate had been reported guilty of an offence unless he was either the sitting Member or the person who was petitioning. So far as he knew, no Report had ever been made against him in any other case. If, however, the hon. Member could show him that there had been such a case, he would take care that words were inserted in the Bill to guard against a repetition of it.
remarked, that under the present Bill it was contemplated that the Election Judge should report not only the conduct of the sitting Member and of the Petitioner claiming the seat, but of every candidate at the election.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that was not so. His hon. and learned Friend was mistaken.
said, he thought it was quite clear that the conduct of any candidate at an election, whether he was the sitting Member or the person claiming the seat or not, might be the subject of the Report by the Election Judge. It was, therefore, quite possible, when the law was altered, that a candidate who was no party to the Petition, and who was not represented in the procedure, and who therefore had had no opportunity of being heard, might, under Section 3, be reported to have been guilty of a corrupt practice, and thus be rendered subject to all the penalties of Section 5, without having had an opportunity of being heard in his own defence.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he thought his hon. and learned Friend had somewhat magnified the effect of the Bill. It was not intended that anyone should be reported 1176 without having had an opportunity of being heard. He would take care that the words of the Bill should be carefully considered; and if there were any doubt as to the wording of the clause, ho would remove it at a later stage.
§ MR. H. B. SAMUELSON
said, ho thought the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) had offered the Attorney General the strongest possible reason which could be adduced in favour of retaining the words which the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) proposed to leave out. The hon. Member said that if the clause passed in its present form it would destroy a candidate socially. Now, the object of the Bill was to put down bribery and its kindred offences; but, at the present moment, no real social stigma attached to the commission of these offences. It was because no real social stigma attached to them that such offences had become so rampant. If the clause would carry a social stigma and disqualification with it, and would cast a lasting slur upon an offender in the opinion of his fellow-men hereafter, he thought they would have done a very good work in passing it as it stood; and he hoped the Attorney General would adhere to the words as they now appeared in the Bill.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
remarked, that any hon. Members who had served on an Election Committee in former days, or anyone who had watched the proceedings of such a Committee, must be aware that the evidence of bribery was generally of the lowest character. It was usually the evidence of people belonging to the lowest class of a borough or county constituency; and it would be open to any man of this class to take away, by hard swearing, the political life of a candidate, and fix upon him every description of offence. He thought the effect of severe legislation of this nature would be, in many instances, to induce the Judges to pause before finding a candidate guilty in such cases. Under the provisions of the Bill, as they now stood, the Judges would have no option whatever. It was proposed that a discretion should be given to them; but the Government objected to that, and compelled them to carry out the provisions of the Bill in every case according to the reading of the Statute. Now, he regarded this tribunal as a very 1177 valuable tribunal; but he thought the case was one which, considering the severe penalties both the candidate and the voter incurred, ought to be included in the Appeal Bill which would shortly come down from the Grand Committee. At all events, he was of opinion that it would require mature consideration into whose hands they were to put this power. He was inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) that such an important decision ought only to rest with a jury, and not with a single Judge. No single Judge ought to have the power of taking away a man's character in the manner proposed by the present Bill.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, ho was disposed to support the Amendment. It was proposed that if a candidate were found guilty of a corrupt practice ho should not be allowed to sit in Parliament for seven years. He quite agreed that if a man were convicted, and if the offence were brought home to him properly, the punishment should be severe. The consequences entailed by the clause had been noticed over and over again. If this clause were retained the Election Judges would strain a point in favour of a candidate; whereas if these severe punishments were modified there would not be much difficulty in inducing the Judges to arrive at a conclusion that there had been an improper election, that the election should be rendered void, and that the candidate should not be allowed to sit for that constituency, or for any other constituency, for a certain period. He was not now dealing, in the slightest degree, with a regular criminal procedure, or a regular criminal trial, but with the exceptional Court called an Election Court, constituted of two Election Judges, who went down to hold a local inquiry. The object of the inquiry was not to punish crime, but to report to that House. That was the primary object, and if they went beyond it might not be regarded as satisfactory from a personal point of view. They were willing to admit that it was reasonable that the Election Court should be enabled to say the election could not stand, and that the candidate should not be allowed ever to sit again for the county or borough, or to sit in the House of Commons for 10 years afterwards; but this Amendment said that when once that primary object was 1178 satisfied, it was not fair to say that the candidate should be visited with higher penalties, except in a Criminal Court, on a properly framed indictment, and on the judgment of his peers. He took issue with the Government at this point. If they sought to reach the candidate in an indirect way, as proposed by the clause, they ran an obvious danger—they would either subject men to punishment who did not deserve it, or else guilty men would escape, because the Committee would shrink from adding those enormous penalties.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that in 1868 the Colleagues of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down proposed that the Election Judges should have the power to impose the consequences mentioned in the clause, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman now insisted that those consequences should not follow except on conviction by a jury. It hardly lay with the right hon. and learned Gentleman to oppose that provision in the clause, which was the subject of the Amendment before the Committee. The argument he had advanced amounted to this—that although he was willing that an Election Court should prevent a man sitting in the House of Commons for seven years, he was unwilling that that decision of the Court should disqualify him from sitting as a member of a Municipal Corporation. On the other hand, he would subject him to standing in the dock, and to paying all the expenses connected with a trial in a Criminal Court.
said, ho had been very much impressed by the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). He thought, as he was listening to it, that it was one of a high Constitutional character; but as it appeared from the statement of the Attorney General that it had been given up by the Conservative Party 15 years ago, it was a little out of date, and they might, perhaps, fail if they were to set it up again. The Government were simply keeping to the procedure which had gone on for 15 years, and they were extending it merely to personal undue influence and treating. Everyone spoke as if bribery were a greater offence sui generis than treating; but he dissented from that altogether. All these offences, 1179 to his mind. were equally bad, and he could conceive nothing worse than for a person seeking a seat in Parliament by means of treating. He thought it even a worse offence than bribery, because it was more liable to be practised in cases where people were not so much alive to the danger of exposing themselves to it. That being so, in cases where the principle of the Bill was not extended, but merely applied to the power of the Judge to impose certain disqualifications upon a person who had been guilty of personal bribery, notwithstanding the Constitutional argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he should ho disposed to support the Government.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, the argument used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin appeared to him to be applicable to the whole of the clause. If they were to agree to the proposed Amendment, they might have the spectacle of a corrupt and dishonest man sitting in that House after seven years, during which time he would probably have been presiding as Chief Magistrate and Mayor of the borough. Ho thought that would be a most disagreeable spectacle, and for that reason he could not support the Amendment.
§ MR. HENEAGE
pointed out, that unless this clause were passed in its present form, the person disqualified might act as Returning Officer in the borough.
§ MR. WARTON
said, the defence of the portion of the clause which he moved to strike out suggested the conduct of a Judge who, having sentenced a man to 14 years' penal servitude, should say "I may as well give you another year to make it up to 15." He trusted that in dealing with this Bill they would be able to banish all Party feeling, and proceed solely in the pursuit of justice. He could not assent to the doctrine that because a man had done wrong in the matter of an election, they should set aside the Constitutional principle that no man should be punished until he had been tried by his peers.
Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, the Committee would observe that in the Amendment he was about to move he asked that an appeal should be allowed only in the case of undue influence. He should be glad to see a clause in the 1180 Bill which would provide for appeal in all cases; but it was especially necessary in that of undue influence, which was an offence incapable of proof. He should be content if the Amendment elicited from the Attorney General some statement as to the mode in which he intended to deal with the question of appeal. As he bad no wish to take up the time of the Committee, but had every desire that progress should be made with the Bill, he would say no more than that he was very anxious to hear a statement from the Attorney General on the important subject of appeal.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 18, at the end add,—"Provided always, That in all cases where the finding of the Election Court shall be that a candidate has been guilty of a corrupt practice of the nature of undue influence, such finding shall be subject to appeal to the proper Court of Appeal in England, Ireland, or Scotland, as the case may be."—(Mr. Macfarlane.)Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he felt some difficulty in dealing with the question of appeal upon the very narrow basis of undue influence only. Moreover, the Amendment of the hon. Member did not accord with the machinery of the Bill, which was very complicated and required the most careful handling. The House, too, might feel seine hesitation in deputing its powers to a Court of Appeal. He had consulted with his Colleagues on the subject, and he was unable to accept the Amendment in its present form.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he was desirous of relieving the Attorney General from part of his difficulty by moving to omit from the proposed Amendment the words "of the nature of undue influence," so as to make it apply to all corrupt practices. The necessity of insisting on the right of appeal was intensified by the severity of the clause. If the House decided finally that the clause should remain in its present form, the right of appeal was all the more important to the person coming within the law. It seemed to him that the policy of the House was to extend the right of appeal to all cases of civil or criminal damnification. The Election Court was a quasi-Criminal Court, having power to 1181 inflict severe penalties on persons found guilty of corrupt practices. There was nothing that he was aware of to remove its judgments from the principle which granted appeal in the cases of other Courts. He had always been of opinion that the Court which judged Election Petitions never had been properly constituted; and as they were about to enact an enormously severe clause that would operate on men under difficult circumstances, which were perfectly well known to all Members of the Housemen who, in isolated eases, might lapse from political virtue—he thought they ought to make the decision of the Court open to appeal.
Amendment proposed to amend the proposed Amendment, by leaving out the words "of the nature of undue influence."—(Mr. Lewis.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
said, he hoped the hon. Gentlemen who supported the principle of the Amendments before the Committee would not proceed to discuss the question of appeal at this stage of the Bill, because any decision which might then be arrived at might prejudice the position of the matter hereafter. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had given Notice of raising this question. When they came to a subsequent part of the Bill they would have to discuss the subject of the tribunal which was to try Election Petitions, and a proposal would then be made either that the Court should be more satisfactorily constituted, or that its decisions should be open to appeal. In view of the intention of the noble Lord, he would suggest that the Amendments before the Committee should be withdrawn, and the subject again taken up at a subsequent period.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, this was possibly not the most convenient time to raise the question; but it was, nevertheless, desirable that they should have some assurance from the Attorney General on the subject of appeal. That, he thought, would colour the whole course of the discussion. He had no objection to any reasonable amount of penalties, provided they could be assured that there would be no miscarriage of justice; but unless they had it from the Govern- 1182 meat that a man should not be made penally responsible for acts which he had not morally committed, they would have to discuss the matter at length.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, his view was entirely in favour of a Court of Appeal; but he thought it would be inconvenient and lead to an unsatisfactory result, if they proceeded to discuss the question at the fag end of this clause. He thought that any decision arrived at in those circumstances would be misleading, and that the discussion would, therefore, be simply a waste of time. If the Amendment went to a division, many hon. Gentlemen would probably vote against it who were really in favour of the principle which it contained. Therefore, he added his appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to allow the Committee to discuss the question at a future time. He thought the Attorney General had made as fair a statement as could be made at the present stage.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, his intention, as he had already explained, was to draw information from Her Majesty's Government as to the course they proposed to adopt with regard to the subject of appeal. But he had not understood, as the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) appeared to have done, that the Attorney General had made any announcement of the Government policy. It must have been known to the Government that the question of appeal would be raised that evening; and he had no doubt they had decided whether they would agree to a Court of Appeal or not in principle. If he could get some such assurance as he had indicated, he was willing to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. MARUM
also appealed to the Attorney General to indicate the policy which Her Majesty's Government intended to follow with reference to this subject. The difficulty, or impossibility, of attaching any idea to the words "spiritual injury" made it most necessary that an appeal should lie from the decision of the Election Court. He had a real desire that this Bill should pass into law in a proper form, and he certainly had no wish to make its provisions less stringent; but he did wish to prevent clergymen, who honestly discharged their duty, from being emeshed between the Canon Law and that portion of the clause which dealt with "spiritual injury, harm, or loss."
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
said, that before they came to a decision on so important a question as appeal there should be a clear understanding on the question of expenses. It might so happen that a constituency would be perfectly satisfied with the judgment of the two Judges appointed under the Bill, and would therefore feel no interest in an appeal; but a Member, on the contrary, who might be disqualified by the two Judges, would perhaps find it to his interest to appeal. Under such circumstances, it would be well to say whether the constituency or the candidate was to bear the expenses of the appeal.
§ MR. WARTON
said, it appeared to him that this was not the right place to settle such a question. He hoped they would not lose time at the present moment; and he trusted that the Attorney General would give them some assurance, that when they came to consider the question of appeal in its proper place, he would give the subject his earnest and careful consideration.
§ MR. HENEAGE
agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) that this was a highly inconvenient moment to raise the question. It was a largo question, and one which ought not to be raised by a Proviso in a thin House like the present one. That was one reason why he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn. There was also another reason—namely, that ho did not see that if an appeal was to be given to one class of criminals, as the persons found guilty under this Bill would be considered, appeal should not be given to another great class. In his opinion, the question of appeal ought to be raised by a separate clause as a matter of principle. On those grounds, as well as on others, ho considered it was very inconvenient to discuss the matter now. He hoped the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane) would withdraw his Amendment, and thereby not prejudice the case either one way or the other.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
asked leave to withdraw his Amendment. The object he had in moving it had been completely attained. He wished to facilitate the passing of the Bill by obtaining an assurance that appeal would not be subjected to summary jurisdiction of a severe character.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that before the Amendment was withdrawn he wished to point out that it would be perfectly competent for the Government to agree to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane). Undue influence was of such a very dreamy and uncertain nature, that it was purely a matter of opinion; and, seeing the Government was not prepared to agree to the appeal on the majority, he thought they would be justified in agreeing to an Amendment on that particular clause.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he had an Amendment to propose, and he was sorry the Attorney General was not in his place, because he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman would be disposed to accept it. The Amendment was to render that clause even somewhat more severe, because its effect was to not only disqualify persons from ever being elected again, for what they might call their own constituency, but also to inflict condign punishment upon any persons guilty of corrupt practices. As the clause now stood, it disqualified a candidate from ever sitting for the same constituency again, or from sitting in the House of Commons for seven years, and, moreover, he was to be subjected to the same incapacities as if he were a convict. He (Mr. Callan) wished to provide a further disqualification — namely, that a man found guilty of corrupt practices should not be capable of ever holding any office under the Crown. That would be an addition to the clause, which would strike terror into the aspirants for Ministerial Offices, and it would make Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury Bench very careful at the next Election. In fact, they would be shining examples of political purity, which very few were at the present moment.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, to add at the end of the Clause, "and further, that he shall not be capable of ever holding any office under the Crown."—(Mr. Callan.)Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he had a good deal of sympathy with the Amendment; but he hardly thought the Committee would be likely to entertain it, as it had been brought on so suddenly, and at a time when there were comparatively few of the Members of the Committee present.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman's sympathy with the Amendment would cause him to place an Amendment on the Paper to a similar effect, at a later stage of the Committee, or at least upon Report.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that one of the reasons advanced by the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) why the Amendment should not be accepted was that it had not been put on the Paper. It seemed to him (Mr. Biggar) to be an Amendment which ought to be carried, and carried unanimously, if the Government were really in earnest. If the Government really wished purity of election they would agree to the Amendment when it was put on the Paper, and when it was proposed at a future stage of the Bill. It was notorious that some of the most corrupt elections that had over taken place had been conducted by Gentlemen who were afterwards Ministers of the Crown, and, in point of fact, by some who were at present Ministers of the Crown. The present Chanceller of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson) and the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) would have precious little chance of sitting in that House had this Bill been in operation at the time they contested Chester. The Government should either withdraw this Bill, or else agree to such a proposition as this; because there was no greater inducement for a candidate to corrupt a constituency than the prospect of getting a Government situation. It was notorious that in Londonderry and other Northern counties in Ireland money was spent without stint, by lawyers especially, because they always expected to receive some appointment which would fully recoup them.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he thought that, in the first instance, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) was amusing the Committee; but he found now he was mistaken. He was not at all prepared to assent to the withdrawal of the Amendment. After the burst of 1186 horror at corruption from the Treasury Bench that they had lately witnessed, the Members of that Bench ought at least to be consistent now. What answer had the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board made to this Amendment? None in the world. He had argued that it had not been put down on the Paper; but the right hon. Gentleman was not understood to say that he did not comprehend the meaning of it. Then the right hon. Gentleman alluded to the state of the Committee. Why not adjourn? Were they going to discuss Amendments which were of as great or greater importance than the one alluded to in the present state of the Committee? The very next Amendment on the Paper was a far more serious one than this. Would the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board say they ought to discuss it in the present state of the Committee? The right hon. Gentleman had not a word to say against the Amendment. Surely the Members of the Treasury Bench would not say that a man whom they themselves did not consider fit to sit in a Town Council was fit for a Privy Councillor? Surely, if a man was not fit for Town Magistrate, not fit for Mayor, not fit for Returning Officer, à fortiori he was not fit for the Treasury Bench. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would take the Amendment aux sérieux and take a Division. Let them see the extent to which this pure Government was prepared to go. A man found guilty of bribery personally was to be disqualified for sitting in the House for seven years for any constituency, and for ever for the particular constituency in which the corruption had taken place. He was to be prevented from holding Office, Ministerial or Magisterial—did the Government, therefore, think that he was competent to sit on the Treasury Bench? Could there be any doubt about it? Was there any doubt about it? Let them begin by making the people believe they were in earnest by doing something which would hit cases which were thoroughly well known and understood. He did not think they ought to allow this Amendment to be withdrawn. It was perfectly intelligible; they did not need any further explanation of it; and if there were Liberal Members who did 1187 not see that this was the natural consequence of the severity of the clause, let their names be recorded on the Division List.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
pointed out that the Amendment would disqualify a man for ever from holding a Crown Office; under the Bill, a man guilty of corruption was to be disqualified from sitting in the House for seven years, and from sitting for a particular constituency for ever; whatever period he was disqualified from holding local office, he would be disqualified from holding Crown Office. There was no intention whatever, on the part of the Government, to draw a distinction between Municipal and Crown Offices.
§ MR. CAINE
said, that if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) would look at Clause 5, Sub-section 3, he would see that—A person who is convicted of any corrupt practice shall be not capable during a period of seven years from the date of his conviction: (a) of being registered as an elector or voting at any election in the United Kingdom, whether it be a Parliamentary election or an election for any public office within the meaning of this Act; or (b) of holding any public or judicial office within the meaning of this Act.The clause was perfectly clear upon the point.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he did not mean the Amendment as a joke, and he offered to withdraw it, because he was told by the President of the Local Government Board that the proposed Amendment had his sympathy. He fully appreciated the delicacy of the right hon. Gentleman's position, and to relieve him from the necessity of voting against the Amendment he was inclined to withdraw it. It was in consequence of the electoral corruption practised by Members of the Liberal Party that he drew up this Amendment. The Amendment was solely aimed at them; and because he had received the sympathy of the President of the Local Government Board, which would strengthen his case when he brought the matter up again, he asked leave to withdraw his Amendment, and he now wished it withdrawn from the consideration of the Committee.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, the proposition, as he understood it, was simply to extend the penalties of the Bill to persons holding Office under the Crown from seven years to life. They had often been told, during the dis- 1188 cussions of the Bill, that they should commence by punishing themselves. That was certainly a point on which they ought to apply great stringency; and if the Amendment were pressed to a division he should certainly support it.
§ MR. WARTON
desired to intimate, in the most direct and the most positive manner, his feeling that the Amendment ought not to be withdrawn.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, it was quite evident that if a man had a prospect of getting £5,000 a-year, he would be disposed to bribe very liberally. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine) was in favour of the Bill or not; but if he had no stronger argument to use than the one he had just employed, it would be worth his while to read the Bill more carefully.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he did not think the Committee quite understood that the Bill, as at present drawn, did subject any person who bribed to the penalty of not holding any public office for seven years. Now, the Bill also had gone to this extent—he was sorry it had because he considered it was a mistake—of disqualifying a person who had been convicted of corrupt practices for ever sitting during life for the particular constituency where the corruption took place. That was put down, not for the sake of the man himself, because he might go to any other constituency at the lapse of the seven years, but because of the fear that the corruption he had been guilty of would prove of benefit to him if he ever offered to sit for that place again. They could not say that that applied to the case of Cabinet Ministers, or to any case under the Crown at all.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he was perfectly aware, when he introduced the Amendment, that a disqualification from sitting in the House for seven years was provided, for anyone who read the Bill would see that at once. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) referred to a reason why a man was disqualified for sitting for a constituency for ever. He fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that a man ought to be disqualified for ever again sitting for the constituency he corrupted.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
1189 Clause, as amended, agreed
Clause 4 (Punishment of candidate found, on election petition, guilty by agents of corrupt practices).
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, an Amendment was standing in the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). He understood that the Amendment was to be moved, although, unfortunately, the hon. and learned Gentleman was not now in his place. He (Sir R. Assheton Cross) found it necessary that some discussion should take place on the question, because they were now approaching what was one of the most vital points of the Bill; and, therefore, he would move the Amendment which stood in the name of his hon. and learned Friend. It was, on page 2, line 22, to leave out "any of the candidates at such election," and insert—Any person acting for the promotion of the election of any candidate at such election in any capacity to which he has been appointed by such candidate, or in which his assumption to act has been adopted or recognised by such candidate.They might have had some doubt as to the severity of the penalties when bribery or corrupt practices were committed by the candidate; but they had no doubt whatever that they ought to be punished. Now they were coming to a different state of things; and as that was the first time that the question arose, they ought to state very shortly what were the principles which ought to guide them. The great difficulty in all cases of bribery was how far the candidate could be made responsible for the acts of his agents. This was one of the most serious questions with which they had to deal. There could be no doubt that a candidate might go down to any place, with the most pure intentions possible, and might have made up his mind that he would have nothing to do with anybody who would endanger his election, or anyone who would engage in illegal or corrupt practices; he might use the greatest care in selecting his agents; he might be returned by an enormous majority; but then he might find out afterwards that some indiscreet person had done some indiscreet act, that no one ever wanted him to do, that was against the candidate's positive instructions, and which, if it had been 1190 brought before the notice of the candidate, ho would have absolutely repudiated. That a man should be held responsible for that indiscreet act, and subject to all the terrible consequences of the Bill, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) considered unreasonable. He could not help thinking that although there was always very great doubt as to the proceedings of the old Election Committees of the House, the doctrine of agency had been driven very much more home since it had been in the hands of Election Judges. The House of Commons had, rightly or wrongly, acted as a tribunal to try these cases, and by some sort of equitable jurisdiction; but when they handed that over to the Judges the Judges were bound to administer the law strictly, and then came the question of what was the Law of Agency. This had been interpreted by different Judges in different ways; and the result had been that by this time they might have found out what agency was, but the application of the law in each particular case rested on the decision of a particular Judge, and no man against whom a Petition was ledged could know whether he was safe or not. Although he was as willing as anyone to put down corrupt practices, he thought the House should, in some way, protect the candidates. Otherwise, with these terrible penalties, many people would refuse to stand rather than run such risk; and ho also feared that the best class of election agents would refuse to act, because they would be made responsible, under very heavy penalties, for what they had never meant to do, and which, in fact, they had directed should not be done. There were two ways of meeting this evil. He admitted that it was a very difficult question to approach; but one method would be to define was an agent was, in order that the candidate might, somehow or other, make himself safe, provided, at the same time, the clause could be framed in such a way as not to allow the candidate to evade the law in consequence of the definition. A. second method was to leave the Law of Agency as it was, and then give to the Judges a sort of equitable jurisdiction, such as this House used to exercise. This was a point that vitally affected the seat of every Member in that House; and he would undertake to say that, with the exception of those 1191 Members who represented the Universities, not a man could say he knew he was safe. The House ought not to be in such a position, and he urged the House to get out of that position. He wished to punish people who were guilty of corrupt practices; but he wished also to protect the honest candidate, and if that could be effected he should be perfectly contented with the Bill.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 22, to leave out the words "any of the candidates at such an election," in order to insert the words "any person acting for the promotion of the election of any candidate at such election in any capacity to which he has been appointed by such candidate, or in which his assumption to act has been adopted or recognised by such candidate."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he quite agreed with everything the right hon. Gentleman had said with regard to the importance of this clause; but the right hon. Gentleman had said a great deal more of the principle than of the words of the Amendment, and he rather gathered that the principle for which the right hon. Gentleman had contended might have been raised by better words. There were other Amendments later on which raised the same principle, and perhaps some of them would be less objectionable than the words chosen by the hon. and learned Member. One portion of the Amendment, he thought, was rather objectionable, while another portion appeared to be merely a statement of what the existing law was with regard to agency. The words "any capacity to which he has been appointed by such candidate" appeared to involve a point which was raised last year as to the necessity of an actual appointment, probably in writing, or in some other formal manner, by the candidate; and if agency was limited to persons directly appointed in that way by the candidate, that would be adopting a principle which would destroy all the good effects of this Bill, and make the Bill worse than the present law, in the sense of weakness or deficiency, and he should be disposed to recommend the abandonment of the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) then put in words which weakened the efficacy of the Amendment—namely— 1192Or in which his assumption to act has been adopted or recognised by such candidate.That he regarded as being merely a statement of the existing law. His own opinion was that, dangerous as it might be in certain cases, it was a lesser danger, on the whole, to leave the Law of Agency somewhat vague. The moment they attempted to tie down and limit the Judge on the question of agency, they put a difficulty in the way of those who had to administer the law; because they at once encouraged candidates to try to evade the law by keeping themselves just within the provisions of the Act of Parliament. If they required a definite appointment of an agent they would never get it. If the law was strict upon this point, and not left, to a certain extent, to the discretion of the Judge, the candidate would not appoint any agent, but would allow the election to be conducted by persons of whom he know nothing; while in many boroughs he would not be called upon to provide the funds, and he would not have the smallest provable connection with the proceedings. There might be a corrupt constituency in which there was a very active local Party organization with large funds. That state of things would be increased if they had a strict definition of agency; and, therefore, his own opinion was that it was desirable to have a certain vagueness and elasticity in the law, in order to allow the Judges to themselves look into a case of corruption, and see whether there was substantial and real agency on the part of the person committing the corruption, or not. That was his view; and these proposed words, he thought, were open to objection.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he thought this had become one of the crucial points of the Bill. and he was disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman had left the Committee in the dark as to the course the Government intended to take. He had, with great force, raised reasons against defining the Law of Agency, although the definitions of agency under which the Judges had acted were contradictory and unintelligible in the extreme. Under the old tribunal there was, practically, a jury as well as a Judge. The Committee of the House of Commons was, practically, a jury of experienced and competent men, who 1193 could appreciate the administration of the law under the difficult circumstances before them, and could practically define what was or was not, from a common sense point of view, agency; whereas the Judges felt bound by the strict letter of the law as previously stated by some other Judge. This was, perhaps, hardly the time to raise a question which would come up on other Amendments moved from all parts of the House, raising the question of what the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Clarke) called equity cases—the principle which Lord Bramwell strongly urged on the Committee of 1865—namely, of giving Election Judges the power of relaxing the stringency of the Law of Agency. He would not argue that now; but he thought the Committee were entitled to know what was the position of the Government upon this question. If they meant to offer a stern resistance to any relaxation of this law, hon. Members would have to fight the battle now; but if they would intimate that they were prepared to provide in this Bill a mode of preventing eases of gross injustice, such as had occurred in the past, the House would then know what the position was, and that would smooth the progress of the Bill. He should reserve any further remarks until he heard what they intended to do.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
entirely agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. H. H. Fowler). He had listened carefully to everything the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had said; but he could find no guidance from it at all. Here were five or six Amendments, giving a wide area of selection, and if the Government would say which they would choose there might be a practical discussion; but if they stood to the Law of Agency as it was in the Bill, he was afraid that would lead to a very prolonged debate, because if the Bill passed with the clause as it now was, no man having any respect for himself would commit himself to a candidature. In certain constituencies in this country it was absolutely impossible for any man, however good his intentions and however pure his spirit, to fight an election without rendering himself liable to a terrible punishment. He had an Amendment down specifying that an agent should be duly appointed and authorized in writing to act. He 1194 could see there might be objections to that, and he was quite willing to admit them; but some other words he must insist upon having. Therefore, before this discussion assumed a practical form, he hoped the Government would say distinctly how far they meant to concede this point, or whether they did not mean to concede it at all.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, it was obvious that even the weight of certain distinguished names attached to some of these Amendments would not carry them into the Bill. It was impossible, for instance, to agree with the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard), providing that, to be made liable for the acts of an agent, such agent must be appointed by the candidate. It was clear that the result which would follow agency by appointment was likely to be that one agent would be appointed, and bribery be done by all the rest. They would not have seen many of these Amendments on the Paper, if there had not been this affinity between this question and the Proviso which gave a dispensing power to the Judges. The two questions were connected and dovetailed one with another, and he had not the slightest doubt that what the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) and other Members said was true—that if they could not extract from the Government a clear intention to open some door for relief from the present injustice which was felt as to the operation of the election law through men being held liable for some petty action by an agent, contrary to their whole life, and to the general tenour of their proceedings and instructions, they would have to fight this question of agency as best they might, even though it might be a hopeless task to attempt to define the word "agency." With reference to the particular Amendment under discussion, he should be very sorry to place a candidate in the position proposed by accepting that Amendment. If a candidate recognized a man in any capacity whatever during an election, he would be answerable for all his acts, and that would be a great deal worse than some of the Judges' decisions. The Attorney General, with all his legal acumen, had not struck upon the right words. There must be further consideration of the matter; and he could only 1195 join in the chorus of inquiry from all parts of the House as to the view of the Government upon this question.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he thought this Amendment brought the Committee face to face with the whole question, which would have to be raised very soon. There were only two ways of meeting this difficulty. One was to define agency, which he thought was a hopeless task; the ether was to give to the Judges something like equitable jurisdiction—a power to take a just and right view of each case according to the circumstances. He believed the latter course was the only way in which the question could be dealt with; and he thought the Attorney General, when he saw what the feeling was on both sides of the House as to the injustice of the present state of the law, would feel the necessity of meeting the case in some degree. He did not believe it could be met by anything like a definition of agency; and the objection ho had to the Amendment was that it involved, in some degree, a description of agency. This was not a convenient time to raise this question; but there were several Amendments on the Paper which sought to effect what was now desired, and of those he thought that of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) was the best. As had been said, some intimation from the Government as to the mode in which the Government would, by-and-bye, deal with these Amendments, would greatly facilitate the progress of the Bill.
said, the words of this Amendment were not his words, but were the words of Mr. Justice Lush. He was quite aware that the definitions of all the Judges were not to be applied to all cases; but these words were taken from the carefully-considered Judgment of Mr. Justice Lush in the Harwich case, in which he attempted to give a definition of agency; and he had put them on the Paper with a view to raising in a definite form the question whether it was desirable, and, if desirable, whether it was possible, to define the meaning of "election agent;" and, therefore, so far as there was any credit or discredit attaching to this particular definition, he must disclaim any title to either the one or the other. The question was, whether it was desirable, and, if desirable, possible, to define an elec- 1196 tion agent? He was aware that the Government in this clause were seeking to improve the existing law; but their clause was the law as it stood. The various Amendments on the Paper were attempts to alter the existing law; and the burden of proof rested, to a large extent, upon them. He thought there was a very wide and general feeling throughout the country among those who had considered this question that the Law of Election Agency and the decisions of the Election Tribunals wore not altogether satisfactory—that, in the first place, the careful and the cautious and innocent candidate was liable to be involved in acts which he had not only not authorized, but which he had taken the utmost possible pains to prevent; and, in the second place, the Judges being tied down by the narrow words of the existing law, were compelled, as in the Bristol case, to unseat a candidate who was the free and the undoubted choice—and the choice by no corrupt means—of the vast majority of the electors. He thought it was desirable that the existing law should be altered, so as to be made a good deal more in consonance with public sentiment and public ideas of justice. The very phraseology of this clause was extremely misleading. A man might be guilty of any act, from murder downwards, by his agents; but that was when he had employed some person to do it, or had connived at it. But hero the clause spoke of a man being guilty by an agent; but he might not only not have given any instructions for corruption, but given direct instructions to the contrary. He did not like the language of the present law. It was extremely difficult and dangerous for candidates to observe the present law, because no man could know what he was responsible for and what not. If there was any possibility of a candidate, by any care or caution, or by any legal assistance, limiting the circle of those for whom he was responsible, a man might go into an election with a comparatively light heart; but every man who had stood an election knew that he was placed in the power of undefined persons whose names he did not know, and of whose actions he was ignorant, and that, after making every effort to conduct his election with purity, he might find that the act of some unknown and unauthorized agent had rendered all his labour fruitless and his seat void. He 1197 quite agreed that there were two ways of meeting this admitted imperfection in the law. One was by attempting to define an agent, and so limit the persons for whom the candidate was responsible; and the other was by giving the tribunal which tried an Election Petition a sort of equitable jurisdiction, by which it might have power to acquit an innocent candidate, and relieve him from disqualification and the loss of his seat. He was not at all bound to either of these methods, and he had only proposed this Amendment in order to raise the point. He had not moved this Amendment in order to embarrass the Government, but to raise in a definite form a question which the Committee must consider and decide; and although it was, perhaps, inconvenient to discuss both matters at the same time, when the Government and the Committee had come to a general understanding as to the particular mode in which the case was to be met, he should be in the hands of the Committee, and would withdraw the Amendment and adopt that which was in accordance with the general sense of the Committee. At the present moment they had really entered upon the most difficult question. He felt sure that the Attorney General was not wedded to the particular phraseolegy of his own Bill, and that everything said by any hon. Member to assist in the solution of this extremely difficult question would receive careful attention at the hands of the Government. If they should be so fortunate as to arrive at anything like a general understanding as to the best mode in which this question could be settled, he would at once withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. M'LAREN
suggested to the Attorney General that, unless he was able to propose an Amendment to cover some of the grounds set up, he should withdraw the clause for the present, and let them proceed with the Bill.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, that if anybody had any doubt as to the importance of the clause, he had only to take up some of the decisions in similar cases. To him some of those decisions were extremely comic. He found in the Stroud case that a person who was not a committee man, or even a canvasser, was held to be an agent, although the sitting Member's agent had distinctly told him he could not be employed. He was actually told by the candidate that he 1198 was not wanted there; but still he took upon himself the duty of canvassing, and other duties, and succeeded in invalidating the election. In another case, he found it laid down that the son of an agent was not necessarily an agent, but a wife was; so that a candidate was not only responsible for his own acts, and the acts of his agent, but he was also responsible for any indiscretion that the wife of the agent might commit. He (Mr. O'Connor) did not think it was his business to dwell upon that part of the case, because it was familiar to most of the hon. Members who had taken part in the discussion. He only wished to speak upon the clause from the standpoint of an Irish Member. The other night, when referring to the question of -agency, he said that, so far as he could judge from the decisions of Irish Judges, any candidate who was accepted by the priests would be held responsible for every act done, and every word spoken, by every priest who supported his candidature. He then only had read the cases cursorily; but now, on looking into the authorities more carefully, he found that Mr. Justice Fitzgerald, in the Limerick case, stated that if he found that priests made the cause of the candidate their own, and gave him their countenance in every parish; if it turned out at the time of the election a candidate represented his cause as identical with that of the clergy; if he were accompanied through the streets by the clergy canvassing, he (Mr. Justice Fitzgerald) would doubt long before he said that the candidate was not responsible for the acts of those priests in the several districts. Now, what did that mean? Let them take a large county like Cork, in which there wore a large number of towns. In Cork, as in other counties in Ireland, there was usually a meeting of the clergy to decide on their candidate during an election contest. The priests of County Cork met, the views of several candidates were put before them, and they selected ono of those candidates. So that candidate, in a county which was scores of miles in extent, was held responsible, under the decisions of the Irish Judges, for every word that might be spoken on 100 platforms, or from 100 pulpits. Let them take another case—that of Galway. It was there held that a letter from a sitting Member to a Roman Catholic priest, three months before 1199 the election, proposing a clerical conference of three dioceses, to settle how far tenants should go against landlords, and proposing, also, the organizing of meetings, would constitute every Bishop and priest his agent. He (Mr. O'Connor) did not suppose that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General would stand up in his place and say that he agreed with the law as laid down by the late Mr. Justice Keogh in that case, though ho remembered that at the time the present Attorney General was ono of Judge Keogh's doughtiest champions in the House and elsewhere. Ho (Mr. O'Connor) would like to remind the Committee of the position in which they were placed by the Government. Speaker after speaker had risen in different parts of the House—from the Front Opposition Bench, from the Benches below the Gangway—and asked the Government what they meant to do, and, up to the present, the only speech they had had from the Government was that of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), who did not know anything about the question, but who was willing, apparently, to be led by the Committee. The Attorney General sat there in silence, and he had not ventured to rise, although there had been long pauses. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to stand by the clause as it was at present framed, or had be a set of words ready to spring on the Committee, and which he was only keeping back until a certain time had expired? If that was the case, the hon. and learned Gentleman alone would be responsible for any waste of time that occurred.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, it was necessary for the Committee to consider, with very great care, the position which had to be assumed with reference to this clause. The Bill which they had under consideration was a Bill for preventing and diminishing corrupt practices at elections. The clause they had now under consideration proposed to make an alteration in the existing law. But the question they had under consideration now was not the prevention of corrupt and illegal practices at elections, but the protection of candidates at elections. That was the whole scope, purpose, and object of all the observations that had been made, as it seemed to 1200 him, without a reference to, or a consideration of, what their consequences might be in promoting and increasing corrupt practices at elections. Ho did not, for a moment, say that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were careless about this matter. But when they had before them Amendments, which undoubtedly concerned themselves, which—it was to their personal interest to promote, and to put into a Bill of this description, they ought to consider, in the first place, and above all things, whether there was any danger to be apprehended from those Amendments in increasing corrupt practices at elections rather than diminishing them. They ought to be suspicious; they ought to be jealous of introducing any diminution or mitigation of the present law. Ho thought he was justified in calling on the Committee to carefully consider Amendments of this sort; because they were there professedly, and ho believed honestly, to endeavour to diminish corrupt practices; and it would be a disastrous thing if it could be said that they were so anxious and eager about protecting themselves from the consequence of corrupt practices, that in their eagerness they were not quite so careful about how the Amendments that were suggested might operate. He did not think anybody for a moment would deny that if they were to accept the Law of Agency as was suggested in some of the Amendments, they would have done even more than they could in any other way to render corrupt practices at elections almost certain. If they provided that the candidate should only be responsible for the acts of this or that, or the acts of other persons, they would open the door at once to a flood of corruption, and they would render corrupting even more certain than at the present time. He did not dispute that there had been cases in which persons had been held to be agents where it would have been expedient that they should not be so held; but it simply amounted to a choice of evils. The only security they had for purity of election was that there should be no persons who could corrupt the constituencies; but the Amendment said that an election should stand provided there had been no corrupt act on the part of A, B, or C. By the adoption of the Amendment they would have corruption infinitely more widespread than 1201 it was before. He was not saying this in hostility to what Members had in view; on the contrary, he shared their feelings in this matter, and in every other which had for its object the prevention of corrupt practices. But, on the other hand, when they were dealing with a measure of this sort, he was bound to state plainly that, in his opinion, the limiting of agency by attempting to define individuals would enormously increase corruption, because it would make it possible without the Member losing his seat. In this way a place might be corrupted wholesale, and yet they would be unable to bring home a case to any person. It was true that by the Amendment proposed Members might protect themselves; butthey would then only be practising a sham, because instead of preventing corruption, which was the object of the Bill, all they would achieve would be to protect themselves. It was upon that ground that he objected to the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). In making these remarks he was speaking his honest convictions; but, at the same time, he wished the Committee to understand that he had every desire to settle in a satisfactory manner this question of agency, if he could see his way to arrive at that result. There was a proposal, not connected with the subject of agency, that would come forward when a later part of the Bill was reached, which he would not discuss then. It was, however, an Amendment that would have to be considered and fully debated. It seemed to him that it would be disadvantageous to mix up the discussion of the two subjects; because, whatever conclusion the Committee might come to on the equity of the clause, or the discretionary power of the Judges, he could not help thinking that great mischief would be done by adding anything which any of' these Amendments suggested with regard to agency. On the grounds they had put before the Committee, Her Majesty's Government could not be parties to accepting any of these Amendments, because they saw no reason whatever in favour of limiting the definition of agency. The whole ability of the House had been at work upon this scheme of defining agency for some weeks past. Hon. Members opposite and on that side of the House had all been trying 1202 their hands at it; but he had not seen anything produced that could be regarded as satisfactory. The Government, therefore, could not entertain the hope of being able to produce anything that would be satisfactory to the House. Hon. Members could not but suppose that the Government had carefully considered this subject; they had scrutinized every ono of the definitions upon the Paper, none of which they had been able to adopt; and if they could not hit upon any satisfactory device, it was because they could not do that which had been found to be impossible by others.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he had listened with great regret to the statement of the Solicitor General. They had debated this question for a long time, and every one of them had recognized. the importance of the discussion, as well as acknowledged the great difficulty of the question. But he had to remind Her Majesty's Government that, although the debate had been going on for a considerable period, every single speaker who had taken part in the discussion, except the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, had spoken either for the Amendment or for the idea which it covered. The Solicitor General had also pointed out this fact—that Members of the House on all sides had loyally endeavoured by Notices on the Paper to suggest various solutions of the question. Notwithstanding that the subject was a difficult one, everyone had endeavoured, as far as their ability went, to give the Government all the assistance in their power; and thus it was that a number of Amendments had been put down indicating some possible solution of the question. He had hoped that before the Solicitor General concluded his remarks he would have indicated not only the danger of interfering with the law, but also what Amendment later on he would be prepared to make. His hon. and learned Friend, in framing his Amendment, had adopted the words of Lord Justice Lush—language spoken judicially and in no dogmatic spirit. They had merely raised a discussion upon the question, and had indicated that they would be satisfied to withdraw the Amendment, if the Government would say which Amendment standing upon the Paper they would be satisfied to accept, or what modifications 1203 they would themselves introduce. It was obvious that this discussion must go on for a considerable time in the very nature of things, unless some indication wore given of the intentions of the Government. It was impossible to imagine a more important topic than that which was under discussion; and if the Government were not prepared to say more than that it was a difficult question, that many solutions had been suggested, and that they were not prepared to accept any one of them, it was only natural to expect that the debate would continue until they had made up their minds. The Solicitor General had admitted that he was not prepared to say that some of the decisions under the present law should not have been given. He took it that that admission implied that there should be some change in the law. But no such alteration was proposed in the Bill. It was therefore for the Government to say what alteration, in their judgment, was necessary. If the existing law bad been found to work without gross injustice in particular cases, they would have been satisfied with its remaining unaltered; but the admission of the Solicitor General practically conceded that the existing law required revision and change. If the Law of Agency allowed a corrupt agent to penalize and unseat a Member, he said that it was one which required revision and amendment. Now, the Solicitor General said they must be very careful with regard to all Amendments which might be attended with the disadvantage of increasing corrupt practices. He admitted that; but surely they should take care that there was some provision introduced into the new Act that would prevent injustice being done to innocent candidates. Now, the Solicitor General had conceded that there were some decisions under the Law of Agency which he regarded as having worked injustice to innocent candidates; and surely with this admission they were entitled to say to the Government—"If you will not take the Amendment before the Committee which contains the judicial words of Lord Justice Lush, will you take later on one of the Amendments in the names of one of the Members for Wolverhampton and Plymouth, which enabled the Election Court to take excuses, and to consider from an equitable point of view what are the 1204 acts charged?" But he was not concerned in indicating to the Government a particular Amendment out of the vast number upon the Paper which they should select. It was for the Government to make their own choice. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham presented this Amendment to the Committee as one which offered some solution of the difficult question before them. The Solicitor General, at the close of his speech, had pointed out that there was one Amendment which the Government might be prepared to discuss later on. That was not a very large concession, but it was a satisfactory statement. They had expected that some indication would have been given that one or other of the Amendments on the Paper would be accepted; but the Solicitor General had held out no hope of this, and the Attorney General had not spoken upon the Amendment at all—the Old Guard was kept for the final charge. He would not detain the Committee further than to say that this 4th clause was one of great moment, and that he believed that if the Government would give some indication of what they were willing to do, it would possibly shorten the discussion, and allow the clause to be passed without any undue delay.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he had listened with considerable disappointment to the speech of the Solicitor General. He had come down to the House in the expectation that the Government would have been prepared to make some reasonable concession in this matter, in order to meet what they must have known to be the general feeling of Members with regard to the present clause. They were going by this Bill to include in the severer penalties a number of things which were not formerly so included; and they were asked, in the face of that increased responsibility and difficulty, to leave the question of agency untouched, and that, too, by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General, who had. not hesitated to admit that the existing law with regard to agency had inflicted serious injustice upon certain individuals. Were they to be asked by Her Majesty's Government to enable them to so spread out the meshes of the law in regard to agency until they could inclose innocent candidates? That was the very essence of 1205 the question. The admission of the Solicitor General, that a certain number of men had been unjustly condemned because the interpretation of the law had been drawn too far, was very significant. Let hon. Members consider what that meant. Supposing that the hon. and learned Gentleman himself had been petitioned against with regard to his seat for the borough to which he was elected, and suppose that one of the Judges improperly decided that a certain disqualifying act had been committed by persons who were held to be his agents, then the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been excluded, had this Bill been in operation, from Parliament for seven years. Was it not monstrous that the Government should ask the Committee to adopt a clause providing severe penalties, and, at the same time, admit that it was surrounded with great danger? They were asked to support the Government in what he must call a piece of most dangerous and slipshod legislation. It might be said that they were in favour of corruption; it might be said that they were not in favour of restraining it, at all events by proper legislation; but some, at least, of them could appeal to their past history to show that they had never been engaged in any borough where there had been any large amount of corruption. He challenged anyone to assert that he had ever been engaged in anything of the kind. Therefore, he considered it right to claim for candidates who sought to prevent corruption in their constituencies that they should: not be exposed to the penalties of the Bill without due protection. He called upon the Attorney General, from whom he thought they were entitled to have a distinct reply, to make some statement on this matter. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman must either agree to a limit in this definition of agency, or agree to insert in the clause an equitable provision, which would protect candidates from such proceedings as had taken place in former cases; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman could not see his way to do that, he thought they must regard the further progress of the Bill with some degree of doubt.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
said, he was sure no one in that House accused the hon. Member for Burnley of having any- 1206 thing to do with corruption of any kind. But he thought the hon. Member had somewhat overrated the effect of the particular clause under discussion. The hon. Member had spoken of a candidate, found guilty of corruption through the act of an agent, as being excluded from Parliament. But if he had read the clause more carefully he would have seen that a Member was only excluded from sitting for the borough or county for the time specified. The question they had to deal with was this. Was it possible to introduce into this Bill a definition of agency, and, if it was possible, would it be expedient to do so? Now, the difficulty of defining agency, so as to include every possible case, was admitted on all hands; and it must, therefore, be conceded to be extremely difficult to give a satisfactory definition of the term. For himself, he should be exceedingly sorry to attempt to do so. Although he had tried his best, he had found it perfectly impossible to produce any definition which would include every possible case. The Committee must bear in mind that those who were promoting this Bill had to cope with an exceedingly astute and able set of men—the people called election agents—who were perfectly ready and able to avail themselves of every-loophole which might be created by the wording of the Bill. He was certain that any definition of agency which they could give would still leave some cases untouched, of which opportunity would be taken to commit the corrupt practices which it was the object of the Bill to prevent. He would not take up the time of the Committee by going over the Amendments bearing upon this question upon the Notice Paper; but he thought the Committee would admit that not one of them would prevent the evil which they had to contend with. The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) contained these words—"Any person expressly appointed by the candidate himself." But he would point out that any person desirous of winning an election by corrupt practices would take care that the person, or agent, by whom this corruption was to be carried out, should not be expressly authorized by him, and that, in all probability, even the name of the individual would not be known to the candidate. If hon. Members would 1207 take any one of the Amendments, they would see that it pointed out the easiest possible way by which the enactment could be set at nought; to use a vernacular expression, a coach and four could be driven through any one of them. If they attempted to put into the Bill a definition of agency, even supposing such a definition could be arrived at, they would be simply making themselves ridiculous; and it would afford the strongest grounds to the country for saying that the object of the Bill was to protect the candidate, and to leave the constituency exposed to corrupt practices. He was therefore opposed to any attempt to introduce a definition of agency. He believed it to be impossible to frame a satisfactory definition; and, moreover, if it were possible to do so, he did not believe it would be expedient, because that definition, however complete it might appear to be, would, of necessity, leave a loophole which an astute election agent would be able to avail himself of. With regard to the Amendments upon the Paper which dealt with excuses, if any satisfactory form of words could be found he should not be opposed, in principle, to providing that, in trivial cases, where a candidate was really innocent of the acts committed by a person technically his agent, the Judge should have discretion to deal with such cases in such a way as not to affect the election. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) and the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Clarke) bad Amendments upon the Paper with reference to this subject; but as they were not then before the Committee it would be out of Order to discuss them. Although a particular wording had been introduced by those hon. Gentlemen, lie thought the principle they contained well worthy of the consideration of the Government. But with regard to the question now under discussion, he was opposed to any attempt to import into the Bill a definition of agency.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he was glad to hear the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down; because, although he had declined to discuss the Amendments to come forward with regard to the question of excuses, he had given his support to the principle which they embodied. Although it was not in Order then to 1208 discuss the details of the 6th clause, it was important to the Committee to have some indication from Her Majesty's Government as to whether they were prepared to agree with the Solicitor General or not in the statement he had made. If the Attorney General would get up and say he agreed with the view expressed by the Solicitor General, and that he would accept one of the Amendments, or would endeavour to put them into more proper language, then he thought they might get 'to the end of the present discussion without farther delay, and deal with the rest of the question. He was disappointed with the speech of the Solicitor General, because it appeared to him that he did not recognize the real difficulty before the Committee; although he admitted that in some cases people had been held to be agents, and that candidates had been punished for their acts, when in justice they should not have been so treated. That amounted to an explicit expression that Members had lest their seats in that House, and had been subjected to severe penalties, not only apparently, but actually, because the Judges had carried too far the interpretation of the law. If that were so, it was obviously the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown to endeavour to find some remedy for that evil, and that remedy must be found in one of two ways. Either they must define the person for whom the candidate was liable, or else they must give the Judge some equitable discretion. He admitted the difficulty of defining agency; because, unless they were extremely careful, the definition put upon it would only be a cue to the corrupt person as to how far he might proceed. Everyone recognized the difficulty of defining agency for the purpose of the Bill; but, at the same time, everyone recognized that a definition must be found. The Amendments which proposed to deal with excuses did not excuse wrong in the person who had done it, but protected perfectly innocent persons from suffering, for a wrong committed by another, the severe penalties which must be part of every Election Law. Now, it was most important that there should be some way of remedying this evil. On a former occasion he had quoted the opinion of Lord Bramwell, and in doing so he had used words of considerable authority; but there were other words 1209 which he might have used of much greater weight for the purpose of this discussion. In the Committee of 1875, one of the Resolutions proposed was—That if on evidence the Judge should find that the election was a pure one, and that the existence of bribery, treating, and intimidation was exceptional only, and such as could not have an effect upon the result of the election, the Judge should not unseat the Member.The author of that Resolution was the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General; so that in 1875 the Solicitor General recognized that a state of things existed for which it was desirable that some remedy should be found. He did not put that Resolution before the Committee.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he was glad to hear the statement of his hon. and learned Friend. The Resolution in question was supported by the opinion of Lord Bramwell. He (Mr. Clarke) urged on the Government that these two questions were correlative. They must either define agency, or they must give an equity clause. If the Government said they were prepared to accept the latter solution, or that they were prepared to find some modification of the clause, he believed hon. Members would be glad to surrender the difficult task of endeavouring to define agency. He hoped the Committee would refuse to go to a Division on the Amendment until they heard from the Treasury Bench what was intended to be done.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, he thought there was great inconvenience in the tone adopted by several Members on the opposite side of the House. They were told that the question involved in the present Amendment was a most difficult one to settle. Every speaker who had addressed the Committee had said it was impossible to define agency in the sense in which he wished it to be defined; and yet hon. Members who had spoken from the opposite Benches had recommended the Committee to continue the discussion on a matter so difficult of settlement until the Government was prepared to offer some definition of their own. He thought that was altogether out of Order. He declined to discuss the question of excuses upon the Amendment which was then before the Committee. 1210 The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had made a hectoring speech which had in no way assisted the Committee, inasmuch as it did not offer the slightest solution of the question as to how this matter was to be settled. The matter stood thus. It was said that it rested in the discretion of the Judges to decide what constituted an agent, and that in exercising such discretion the Judges had occasionally made mistakes. The same thing might, of course, be said with regard to matters of Criminal Law which depended upon the decisions of the Judges. But what was the cure to be applied? The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gorst) had taken great pains in drafting his Amendment. The first part of it ran thus—Any person acting for the promotion of the election of any candidate at such election in any capacity to which he has been appointed by such candidate.The Committee would see, with regard to the first part of the Amendment, that the corrupt work might be done by a person who was not appointed. The proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman amounted to this—that a man was not an agent of a candidate unless he was appointed by him; he had to be appointed either by word of mouth. or in writing. If the hon. and learned Member had failed to give them an acceptable definition, after all the pains he had taken in the matter, the Committee, who had an opportunity of comparing his Amendment with the rest of the Amendments on the Paper, would be able to say that agency could not be defined in any way. If they attempted to define it they would create a large field for corruption, and defeat the very purpose of the Bill. HE submitted that they ought now to go to a Division.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that, no doubt, they were on a point of considerable difficulty and of equal importance, and it was desirable that they should do what they could to arrive at a satisfactory solution of it. They must feel—he was not sure that the Attorney General himself did not feel—that the Judges had gone too far in their construction of the Law of Agency. They had travelled far beyond the ordinary principles of the Common Law, and the principles which regulated the relations between man and man, and he ventured to think 1211 that they had been unwise in carrying the Law of Agency to the extent they had. They had not carried out the law, they had created it; and the question was whether the House, in dealing with Parliamentary elections, could not place some limit on the jurisdiction they had assumed in this respect? There were two modes of dealing with the question—first, by a definition of the agent himself; and, secondly—what they would have to contemplate further on—the bearing of this law on the candidate himself at an election and the agents he appointed. The section they had before them dealt with the first of these—namely, the Law of Agency itself as applied to election matters; and he confessed there was very great difficulty in coming to any conclusion as to what should be the definition of agency in an Act of Parliament. He felt that a great deal must be left to the discretion of the Judges in this matter. No doubt, the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham was open to objection, because it settled nothing in this direction. There was involved in the Amendment the question of the recognition by the candidate of the fact that the agent was acting for him. He (Mr. Gregory) had himself endeavoured to prepare an Amendment to meet this difficulty; but it was very hard to do it if they followed the principle that governed the Law of Agency in this country. Then, as to the other matter—namely, how far the agency should act on the candidate, and the penalties to which he should be subjected, he (Mr. Gregory) could not help thinking that before they allowed a wide construction of agency to pass they should know how far the law was to be applied to the candidate himself, and how far his liability for the acts of his agents under the unlimited construction of agency adopted by the Judges was to be allowed to go. He could not help thinking that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General might reasonably give them some assurance that some modification might be made in the clause so as to limit the liability of the candidate. He might give them some assurance of this kind before they abandoned the Amendment, which would be better than nothing.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
was understood to say 1212 that he had listened to every word which had been said on this subject with very careful attention. The matter was a most serious ono. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would not think that in what he was about to say he was unduly warm, and was exhibiting an absence of a desire to discuss the question in a conciliatory spirit; and if he spoke emphatically, he trusted hon. Members would not take offence. But what he wished to say was this—that he would rather the Bill had not been introduced than that this Amendment, which they had discussed at such great length, should be introduced in it. Ho would rather give up every benefit in the Bill than see adopted any Amendment in the direction of this which his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) proposed. No doubt they would be able to put a stop to some corrupt practices by it; but, whilst they did that, on the other hand they would be opening the door—though, perhaps, only a small door—to corruption, the path to which through that door would be very straight. What were the Amendments before them? They were some seven or eight in number, all requiring that the agent should be nominated by the candidate in some particular way. The Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) contained the words—In which his assumption to act has been adopted or recognized by such candidate.The Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) contained the words, "any person expressly appointed by the candidate himself;" that of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope) said, "duly constituted or recognized;" that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) said, "expressly appointed, adopted, or recognized;" and the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) had the words "duly appointed and authorized in writing." The problem was one they would all solve if they could; but the necessity for a solution of it certainly had greater weight in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham than it had in his (the Attorney General's). The hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment appeared to be the least harmful of any proposed, and it was taken by the Com- 1213 mittee as being the best that could be chosen. Let the Committee, however, see what it came to. They had two principal matters to consider. They had not only to consider this matter from a selfish point of view—namely, as to how it would affect themselves as candidates; but they had to consider it from the point of view of the constituencies. They must bear in mind that a man need not be a candidate unless he wished; but the constituency must be a constituency, whether it liked it or not. If the constituencies wished to be pure they had a right to demand from Parliament that they should have pure elections. In the present Amendment it was required that the agent's assumption to act should have been adopted or recognized by the candidate, and in that of the hon. Member for Newcastle it was required that the agent should be appointed in writing. What did that mean? Why, it meant simply this—that every candidate who was discreet enough to remain in his country house, and who, whilst actually engaged in the contest, never officially appointed an agent, and said, "I will conduct my election by myself," would, notwithstanding that wholesale corruption might be practised in his behalf, never have his election declared void. There might be infinitely more corruption than in a case where agents were appointed, and yet there would be no power to get at the candidate. They were going to say—and there was no escape from this conclusion—that in order to save the candidate from losing his seat the constituency must suffer to the extent of having a Member elected by wholesale corruption. Let them take the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle, which required that the agent should have been appointed in writing. If that were adopted, did they think that, in the future, any candidate would put his name to paper? No, he would say—"What have I to do with writing, when if I do, and anything goes wrong, I may be unseated? All it is necessary for me to do is to say you are my agent; you can act for me; you can do what you like, and the House of Commons and the constituency have no remedy: though there may be a majority against me in the constituency, I cannot be unseated." A Caucus might put up a candidate, and tell him that he was to appoint no one his 1214 agent, and that he was to appoint no one expressly his agent; and they might bribe against the majority of the constituency, and so return their man. These Amendments were most unsatisfactory, and hon. Members knew it; and when the fact was pointed out to them, they wished to put on the Government the responsibility of framing an Amendment to deal with the question they felt they could not deal with themselves. They said to the Government—"You have command of the best draftsman in the country;" and they, therefore, assumed that the Government could do that which, if done by anyone else, would be fatal to the constituency, and an injustice to the House. If such an Amendment were carried, the Bill ought to be entitled—"A Bill for the better carrying on of Corrupt Practices; or, if they did not like that, they could give it another title—namely," A Bill for the better protection of Candidates corruptly elected." Gentlemen opposite might call him obstinate, weak, vacillating; but let them not call him an impostor, as they would have a right to do if he were to carry through a Bill with such an Amendment in it as this. He was asked to define what an agent was. Well, they could never define what was a question of fact as well as a question of law. An eminent Judge who, during these debates, had been so often referred to, had said—Do not ask me for a definition unless it is necessary. Do not ask me to define what is day and what is night; but I can always tell you when it is day and when it is night.When hon. Gentlemen attempted to define agency, let him (the Attorney General) ask them whether they could define it not only in the case of an agent for a candidate at a Parliamentary election, but in the case of a mercantile or commercial man? What was an "agent" in commercial matters? They could not tell him—they could not define the man who made contracts and transacted business for them, and they could not define the servant or assistant who was to make them liable for an accident. In all these definitions by learned Judges, they had all spoken with respect to the subject-matter before them; and it was an injustice to a Judge to take some words from the middle of a Judgment, and say that was an express Judgment. Did the hon. and learned Member (Mr. 1215 Gorst) say that the Government were to accept this as the best Amendment that could be found, and say they were satisfied? He did not say they would not accept it; but it would be unjust to the constituencies, because a constituency ought not to lose its Member, when he had only employed a man to carry a bag, or deliver a circular. He was certain that there was no hon. Member who did not feel that that would be unsound. That was the outcome of a week's consideration; and ho was sure the hon. and learned Member had done his best to find a definition. If that was the best definition that could be found, was he not justified in saying they could not define agency? And if they could not do so, they must leave the question of fact to be determined by the Judge. They must not make a bad law because they were not satisfied with the present law. This tribunal might give an unsatisfactory decision; but it would try the question of fact, as a jury did; and it would be better to take away that jurisdiction and give it to some other tribunal than to put on the Statute Book a bad law. If they were to define this principle to the fullest extent, would they take away trial by jury because some innocent men had been found guilty, and guilty men had been acquitted? He thought the hon. and learned Member would best display the courage of his opinion, not by suggesting an alteration of the law, but by suggesting some other tribunal. Another view had been put forward by hon. Members. They said they had put Amendments on the Paper for a limitation of agency. The Government were prepared to take a vote on every one of them if carefully framed; but they must stand or fall by the decision of the Committee on the question whether there should be a limitation. That was not a question of framing or drafting, but of substance, and that amounted to an impossibility. Another view was suggested which was unusual and unprecedented in his experience in Parliament. It was said by some hon. Members there was some evil in the system, and they offered a remedy that they knew the Government could not accept, but that they would not part from that insufficient remedy until they obtained a solid promise that the Government would do something. In jus- 1216 tice to the Government, had they not better do one thing at a time? He did not think it was business-like for the Government now to be asked to deal with the second suggestion, and be told that if they would not, in anticipation, promise to accept something else, the Committee must go on to debate this insufficient remedy. He thought the Committee would scarcely favour that view; and when he was asked to give an equity clause or an elasticity clause, he could only say, on the part of the Government, that he would not at this moment give a pledge one way or the other, except that whatever Amendment was proposed should have the most careful consideration of the Government, after having had the assistance of debate, and he would ask the Committee to take assistance from the Government, as the Government asked it from them. The suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. Horace Davey) of an equity clause was well worthy of consideration; but what he said was that they should treat this Amendment as they had treated others. The hon. and learned Member was a perfect master of equity. Would he assist the Government by drawing up a clause which could be safely accepted? Ho could only promise, on the part of the Government, that they would consider the Amendments as they arose, and he asked the Committee to deal with. each as it came before them. The Government did not approach any Amendment in the spirit of not trying to meet it; and if they could not give reasons for not accepting it, they might be defeated, and, if so, would be prepared to take the consequences. This Amendment stood alone, and could not be coupled with that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and ought not to be so treated.
said, he was not acting with any intention to hold a pistol at the head of the Government by keeping this Amendment before them until they agreed to discuss it. He had not the control of the Amendment. The right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had control of it; and as soon as the discussion had arrived at a point when it became unnecessary and useless, the Amendment would be withdrawn. So far as the discussion had proceeded, it seemed to him 1217 that no Members of the Committee were eager to seek a solution of this difficulty of defining agency. The Solicitor General and the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. Horace Davey) had denounced any attempt to define agency, and the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch found fault with all the other Amendments; but neither hon. and learned Gentleman had addressed himself to this particular Amendment. As he had frankly stated, it was not his definition, but the definition of Mr. Justice Lush; and ho was still of opinion that it was a very good definition. The only Members of the Committee who had addressed themselves to the discussion of the Amendment itself were the Attorney General and the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), and the only fault they found with the definition was that it was wide and vague. But it was not so wide and vague as the present law. The definition was some sort of guide to a judgment as to what was to be considered agency; and it gave a more precise idea of what an election agent was than was to be obtained from text books, or from merely hearing the word "agent" in all its generalities pronounced. If this definition was wide and vague, what became of all the denunciations of the Attorney General as an encouragement to corruption? That being the case, no Member of the Committee, he thought, with hardly an exception, considered it possible for them to frame a definition of election agent which would extricate them from the difficulty of the present unsatisfactory state of the law. Therefore, so far as he was concerned, ho thought the discussion had reached a point when this Amendment might with advantage be withdrawn, because they might go on discussing the general subject, and not, upon this Amendment, arrive at any satisfactory result. Therefore, he would venture to suggest to the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire that he might now withdraw the Amendment, and in a short time they would arrive at an equitable clause, which might be pressed on the Government. One or other he hoped the Attorney General would accept.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, the Attorney General had made a powerful and earnest speech; but he had not touched the real question before the 1218 Committee, except at the close. When the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of this being an unprecedented course, he must have forgotten what took place in the discussion of the Land Bill. Directly after the Land Bill went into Committee, a discussion was raised as to what the Government intended when the 7th clause, which dealt with fair rent, was reached; and long before the Committee came to that the Primo Minister stated what the Government intended to do. Anyone who had been present when the Bill was passed through would remember that the progress was very much facilitated by that early statement. What hon. Members now wanted to know was, what course the Government intended to adopt? and this question arose out of the question of agency. The Attorney General need not have made so long and eloquent a speech to prove, practically, that two and two made four. It was impossible to define agency, and every remark the hon. and learned Gentleman made was true up to the hilt; but what they said was that under the existing Law of Agency gross injustice had been done, and that ono of the most eminent Judges of the land—Lord Bramwell—stated before a Committee of that House that although it was impossible to give a now definition of the Law of Agency by Statute, yet he was compelled to administer an unjust law; and ha suggested to that House a mode by which that injustice might be remedied. The mode he suggested was, that where an Election Judge was satisfied that the election had been pure, and that the candidate and his agent had been entirely guiltless of any corrupt or illegal practice, but that some unrecognized local agent had committed some trivial act which did not effect the general result of the election, the Judge should have power to do what the House had always had power to do—namely, to exercise equity, and not vacate the seat. What did the Government mean to do under those circumstances? As an illustration, he would give the case of an hon. Member who was now sitting in that House, to show how the Law of Agency had worked. The night before his election his coat of arms was being painted in the Town Hall of the city in which he resided, he himself paying the cost. He had never seen the painter before then; but the man came for some 1219 instructions with respect to the work. The next day the man asked someone in the market place how he was going to vote. He persuaded the man to vote for the hon. Member, and gave him 6s. for his vote, and the hon. Member was unseated for that. That was a case which ought to be met; Judge should have power to deal with a case of such gross injustice. Hon. Members might say they were not discussing that; but they were discussing that; and what they wanted to know was what the Government intended to do? The Government were now altering the law; but Members who took the course he had taken to-night were put to a great disadvantage. He very much regretted to hoar from the Treasury Bench, and espeoially from the Solicitor General, a sort of implication that those who differed from the Government upon this question were, somehow or other, sympathizing with corruption.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARBER HERSCHELL)
said, he had never made any such suggestion. He had only said that in dealing with a matter of this sort it was a question more for the protection of the candidate than for putting down corruption, and therefore they ought to be very careful.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, that impression had been conveyed, and it had not been confined to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The suggestion had been made that those who differed from the Government on this subject, who were quite as loyal as the Government as to putting down corrupt practices, and were entirely free from corrupt practices themselves, were endeavouring to make this Bill, practically, a measure for encouraging corrupt practices. The Solicitor General said they ought to be very careful not to protect themselves; but they were hero to make laws, and to protect candidates as well as other people—and they were hero for something more than that. The object of this Bill was to prevent, as far as possible, causes which would prevent introduction to that House of desirable Members. They might make candidature for Parliament so dangerous that it would be a strong door against men of the class they desired to see; and he repudiated any desire to protect themselves unduly, or to injure a constituency. He wished to do what was 1220 right and fair, and not to inflict injustice on one class or on another. The question before the Committee was, whether they could relieve the stringency of the Law Agency? They admitted, with the Attorney General, that they could not define agency; but he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) that this definition was, perhaps, as good a definition as could be put into so many words; but the very fact of the goodness of that definition, and the palpable failings there were on the face of it, showed how very unwise it would be to adopt it. He had no intention to vote for any of the Amendments which attempted to define agency. Three-fourths of the Committee had pressed upon the Government the desirability of introducing some provision or stipulation which would prevent a Judge being compelled, against his will, to do what he felt was a gross injustice. That had no bearing whatever on corrupt practices; it opened no door to the extension of corrupt practices; and it would protect the constituency, by allowing it to have the man of its choice—chosen, perhaps, by a majority of several thousands—and not be deprived of its Member by the foolish act of some man whom the Member did not know, and whose act did not, in the slightest degree, affect, perhaps, half-a-dozen voters. He would again ask the Attorney General, notwithstanding what he had said, to say "Aye," or "No." It was all very well to say be would listen to arguments; but the Committee might depend upon it that the Government had made up their minds. These Amendments had been on the Paper sufficiently long; and the matter was too serious for them not to have made up their minds, and it would be more candid to tell the Committee at once.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
asked the Committee to consider how they stood in reference to this Amendment. In a very candid speech the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had offered up a child for sacrifice. He said the time had arrived when the Amendment might be withdrawn. That seemed to be a very reasonable course; but, so far as he could see, no one, however much interested in the matter, thought that the Amendment could be, or ought to be adopted. One would say 1221 that a business-like Assembly, under those circumstances, would dispose of the Amendment and go on with something else; and not, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) and hon. Members opposite seemed to wish, to keep it before the Committee until they got a pledge of something else. If the House of Commons were going to act on that principle, they would transact Business in a manner contrary to the first principles of Parliamentary procedure; and for the Government to accept such a rule of action as that would be not only injurious to this Bill, but altogether destructive to the conduct of the Business of the House of Commons. Therefore, all he could say, on the part of the Government, was that they could not accept any such rule of action. He had attended very carefully to the debate, and he understood that the general feeling of the Committee was that this matter could not be dealt with by a definition of agency. That argument was exhausted. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton said, in the broadest terms, that that was his view. Why, then, did he insist on protracting the debate on the question of a definition of agency? That was the most unbusiness-like method of dealing with the Bill that could be conceived. Then the hon. Member said the Government must give some idea of what they were going to do on some subsequent Amendment. Why? The Government, according to the hon. Member, must say "Aye" or "No" upon Amendments which had not been discussed, and which could not now be discussed. Why were the Government to say "Aye" or "No" upon an Amendment which had not yet been discussed? That would be to say that argument was to have no effect upon them; that they would not listen to, discuss, or advance arguments; but by anticipation would say "Aye" or "No" upon an important question raised by a subsequent Amendment. That was a most unbusiness-like and improper proceeding, and, if the Government acceded to it, would destroy the proper conduct of Business. Therefore, the proposal of the hon. Member was objectionable, not only upon this particular point, but upon the general question of Parliamentary Business. If the Committee were of opinion, as he thought the majority were, that they could not 1222 satisfactorily attempt to make a definition of agency, or without doing a great deal more harm than good, they had better pass over all these Amendments, and come to the subsequent Amendment, and hear the argument of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and those who thought with him; hear the argument from the other side, and then decide upon the matter which the hon. Member wished the Government to decide by anticipation, by saying "Aye" or "No." That was the fair way of dealing with the question; and he hoped those who wished. Business to be regularly and speedily transacted would assent to that course.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that the Committee had been discussing this question with the greatest calmness, and the greatest advantage, until the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary. That speech no one could say had advanced the matter in any way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had not produced a single argument. He was very anxious to see this question settled, and he thought that everyone who had been present throughout the discussion had made up their minds that the result had been very advantageous, and had tended really to facilitate the progress of the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had said these two questions were distinct and separate; but they were not. The question of the definition of agency and the question of relieving the hardship of the Bill as it stood by some equitable clause were one and the same. The whole point which had been objected to was that, by this Bill, they were imposing a much more stringent law than that which at present existed. [An hon. MEMBER: No, no!] Were they not adding to corrupt practices enormously? [The SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir Farrer Herschell): Not by this clause.] This clause affected the question of who were guilty by an agent. They had increased the number of corrupt practices; but they need not now discuss that. While they were increasing the stringency of the Law of Agency they wore creating a great hardship; and the law, as administered by the Judges as compared with the administration of the law by that House, was working evil. That was admitted. A great number of Amendments had been 1223 put on the Paper on the question of definition, and hon. Members said they did not care whether the Government accepted them or not; but they had put down these Amendments with a view to solving the question, and then the Government said they could not discuss this matter now. Suppose there were no Amendments, they must solve the question by defining agency, or they must restore the equitable jurisdiction which did exist when these matters came before this House, and take away the hard-and-fast lines which the Judges had been obliged to follow. Quito irrespective of the Amendment, they were perfectly entitled to ask, with regard to an admitted difficulty, the opinion of the Government as to how they meant to get over it? It was idle for the Government to say—"There is another bridge we have to got over later on, and we will tell you what you want to know when we come to that." He did not care whether the Amendment was withdrawn or not; the sooner they came to the real discussion the better. He did not think there had been any waste of time, however, the question having been fairly argued from all quarters of the House. There had. been unanimity on all sides such as he had never seen before, no ono having said a word in favour of the clause as it stood, except the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood); and sooner or later the Government would have to give some relief when they came to consider the equity jurisdiction. If it was the wish of the Committee that he should withdraw the Amendment he would do so. He had only moved it in the absence of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), in order that they might have a discussion upon it. He was not in the least satisfied with what had fallen from the Attorney General, but should be willing to withdraw the Amendment.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he did not rise to impede. He had been an attentive listener to the whole of the discussion, but up to now had not taken any part in it, although some other hon. Members had spoken two or throe times. He saw no practical result to be gained by the continuance of the discussion, as the Committee had now had every aspect of the question presented to it; but hon. Gentlemen who had not beard the whole of the debate, having only recently come 1224 down to the House, wished, apparently, to drag them over and over again over the ground they had already traversed, and it seemed to him a most useless enterprize. He, for one, was not inclined. to sit there hour after hour listening to observations he had heard again and again. Very often in trying to define certain terms they succeeded, not in enlarging the discretion of the Judge, but in confining it; and what he said on the question of equity was this—that it was not clear to him, from anything which had been said in the discussion, that the Judges could not now administer equity in reference to agency if they liked. If they had failed to do it, that was no argument against the letter of the law. If the Committee proceeded to definitions the Judges would be bound to administer strict law; whereas, under the law as it stood, they were free, if they had sufficient intelligence, to administer equity.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he had been in the Committee since the commencement of the evening, and had followed the arguments which had been used. Ho now wished to say, in corroboration of what had. fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross), that a good deal had been gained. by this conversation. The Home Secretary had given them to understand that this was not a practical mode of conducting the Business of the House of Commons—that to insist on one clause until they got the sanction of the Government to another was not a business-like way of proceeding. Well, ho (Mr. Cowen) wished to say that, so far as his knowledge of Business was concerned, this was a common way of proceeding. On the Irish Land Bill he perfectly remembered that when one clause was reached the Committee refused to go further until the Government made known the drift of their intentions on another part of the measure. The same thing occurred during the discussion of the Irish Church Bill, and of the Arrears of Rent Bill of last year. The Committee had insisted on having a declaration of the general policy of the Government on the measure before the House on a special clause, and they refused to go further until that was done. They were doing the same on the present Bill. The Committee said—"You cannot define agency; therefore we wish to have the Equity 1225 Clause that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton has put on the Paper as an alternative." He (Mr. Cowen) understood the Government to say they did not wish to give this clause—there was no use concealing the matter—therefore, if the Committee consented to part with this Amendment, they would be doing it with their eyes open. They were not going to define agency; they were not going to get an Amendment such as that which was indicated; and they were now about to give their sanction to a clause in the Bill which would practically render to many hon. Members the occupation of their seats almost impossible. Under the Bill, as it now stood, every member of a Caucus, every member of a Liberal or Conservative Club, would be the agents of the respective candidates; and, that being so, it would be impossible for any man who was connected with an Association, as almost every candidate in a large town was, to go through an election without being placed in a very awkward position. Ho would give an illustration of this; but there were many instances to show how harshly the Law of Agency was applied. There was the case of the Bewdley Election—was there over a harsher application of the Law of Agency than that experienced by Mr. Harrison? In Bewdley there was a beneficent man, a Quaker, who had an agricultural instrument, which he was in the habit of lending out to his neighbours without charge. On one occasion one of his servants, in lending this instrument to an elector, said, jokingly—"You can have the use of it, and I hope you will vote our side at the election." There was no direct agency, and the act was not connected with the election; and yet, because the Quaker and Mr. Harrison were both members of the same political Association, Mr. Harrison was deprived of his seat. The Bill, if it passed in its present form, would impose terrible responsibilities on candidates and constituencies who would be unconscious of many of the difficulties which surrounded them.
§ MR. DIXON-HARTLAND
said, that as he was, perhaps, the only Member who had gained his seat in consequence of a Petition, and that after 14 days' hard fighting, it would be admitted that he knew something about the matter. In his case a number of his supporters, without his knowledge, formed them- 1226 selves into a Committee. Some of the Committee authorized persons to go round to certain voters to endeavour to secure their votes, and ono of those voters was undoubtedly bribed by a person to the extent of 10s. The matter was brought before the Election Judges, and their decision was that the case of bribery was clearly proved, and they had nothing to do with the question whether it was just or unjust to make the candidate responsible for it; but that if he (Mr. Dixon-Hartland) had. been seen canvassing with the man who bribed the voter, or if, by any means, agency could have been brought home, he would have been unseated. If the present clause of the present Bill had been in force ho would have had no chance of justice. The Attorney General said that if the Amendment were accepted the Bill would be ono for the promotion of corrupt practices; but, to his (Mr. Dixon-Hartland's) mind, without it it would be simply a Bill for the wholesale disfranchisement of constituencies. The Attorney General had spoken of candidates not appointing agents; but one clause of the Bill declared that every candidate should appoint an agent. The candidate would have no option in the matter. It was a fact, moreover, that candidates could not absent themselves from the elections, otherwise they would have very little chance of success. According to the clause, the result of au election was to be affected by the course which had been taken in regard to corrupt practices; and the Home Secretary asked why they should discuss this matter upon the question of agency? He (Mr. Dixon-Hartland) would reply, for the reason that the Committee felt so strongly on the matter that if the Government would not give an Equity Clause they would refuse to agree to this section.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that the Committee should have some more definite understanding from the Government. This was not only his opinion, but that also of hon. Members on the Opposition and on the Ministerial side of the House. The Attorney General had told them it was most unbusiness-like to consider two things at the same time. He (Mr. Labeuchere), however, contended that they were not considering two things at the same time, but were considering one and the same 1227 thing. The course the hon. and learned Member was taking was like telling them to leap over the hedge without knowing what was on the other side. The Attorney General wanted them to give the Judge full power to define what an agency was. It was a difficult thing to define; but they ought to know what they were to leave the Judge full power to decide. Let them understand from the Government whether they would accept one or other of these Equity Clauses. The Attorney General had said—"I will not give you any pledge. The Government will pay great attention to the discussion, and come to a decision when it is over." Well, the Government had brought in the Bill; they knew its character; they had seen its clauses; and the Committee would be children if they thought they could persuade the Government against the decision they must have come to one way or the other. Do not let them, if they gave these powers to the Judges, bind the Judges' hands. If the Judges were allowed no discretion, candidates all over the country would soon discover the truth of the maxim—Summum jus summa injuria. Lord Bramwell himself had stated what would occur. There would be cases where the Judge would say distinctly—"I am obliged to say Mr. A is the agent of Mr. B.; but in equity I do not think Mr. B. ought to be answerable for the acts of Mr. A. I am bound, however, to say that Mr. A. is the agent of Mr. B., because Parliament has imposed this duty on me." Ought not the Committee, therefore, to give power to the Judges to decide, not only according to law, but according to equity?
§ MR. W. FOWLER
said, he had a strong Equity Clause to propose, and ho was anxious to get to business. He did not think they had wasted any time hitherto; but he believed it would be well for them now to got to the main question. They could not quite expect the Government to bind themselves to the course they would take when the Amendment was withdrawn.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, ho had now an Amendment to move in line 28—namely, to leave out "for seven years after the date of the Report," and insert "during the Parliament for which the election was held." The Attorney 1228 General having altered the former punishment, it was not possible that they could retain the seven years' disqualification in cases where the corruption was the act of an agent. He (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was afraid he should have to divide the Committee on the point. He could not conceive it possible that the Committee would make the punishment in the case where the offence was committed by the agent as great as it was in the case where the offence was committed by the candidate himself.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 28, after the word "borough," to leave out the words "for seven years after the date of the report," and insert "during the Parliament for which the election was held."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
was understood to say the right hon. Gentleman had rather misunderstood the modification. The period of disqualification set down in the Bill of last year was 10 years; but hero he had taken a middle course. The question involved was not one affecting the person so much—it was not a matter of punishment, as no moral wrong might have been committed by the candidate—but it was a question affecting the constituency. The object of the clause was to prevent a man who had been unseated for corrupt practices again coming forward after a short interval as a candidate and reaping the benefit of the former corruption. The object in proposing to keep the men out for seven years was to give the constituency time to recover the effects of the previous corruption. One Parliament might not be a sufficiently long period, as it might only mean waiting a year or two, or even a few months. Ho hoped, therefore, the words of the clause would be adhered to.
said, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General rather exaggerated the length of time over which corrupt practices produced a grateful effect in the memory of a constituency. Ho was glad the hon. and learned Gentleman recognized that the man who did no wrong did not deserve to be punished. That was a great step in advance; but what, he would ask, was the good of this dis- 1229 qualification? It was simply introduced, originally, to prevent a man unseated at one election from being seated at the next. The idea of Parliament was that at the time when the man was unseated for corrupt practices there was always such a feeling in his favour on the part of his constituents, and such sympathy for his misfortunes, that if he were to present himself immediately after an election once more for the suffrages of the constituency his return would be certain; and the election would, therefore, be hardly a fair one. The disqualification for the Parliament then sitting was, consequently, introduced in order to secure the lapse of sufficient time between a person's being unseated and his presenting himself again as a candidate at a fresh election. He believed that the disqualification originally adopted by Parliament, which was not adopted as a punishment, was really quite far enough to go. There had been no reason since last year for altering the disqualification; therefore, believing that the man, who was unseated did not deserve punishment, and that there was no urgent necessity for disqualifying for more than the Parliament then sitting, ho (Mr. Gorst), if the matter went to a Division, should certainly vote with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, this question was one which turned very much upon the other they had discussed. If the person who committed the corrupt act were not an agent, surely the hon. and learned Gentleman might consent to some modification of the Bill. If the candidate were altogether innocent—that was to say, if corrupt acts wore committed without his knowledge, or altogether against his expressed wish, there should be some modification. Of course, if they were to enact that an elected Member was not to be held liable for acts committed against his express desire, there would be no harm in the disqualification proposed in the Bill. He did think that before they dealt with this question it was most desirable that they should have some intimation from the Government as to the course they intended to take on this subject.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, they were now on line 28 of the clause, and the point about which there had been so much said arose on the next line; and yet it was said to be such an extraordinary thing to ask 1230 the Government to intimate what they were prepared to do when they came to the next question. It was not necessary to refer to previous Parliamentary experience on this point, for the course the Government here objected to was followed, in other matters, every day. When they arrived at a point which led to something else the Government were asked what they meant to do on the point they were coming to, in order that hon. Members might make up their minds what they should do with the question immediately before them. He supposed they would be told, on the authority of the Home Secretary, or some Minister of the Crown, it was a monstrous thing to ask the Government, having come to line 28, what they intended to do when they come to line 29. He did not think such an attitude on the part of the Government was at all calculated to advance the Bill. They were entitled to assume, however, that the Government were not inclined to make any concession when they did come to line 29, and that they meant to reject every alteration that was proposed. They should act on that supposition, and concur in the view of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) when ho said that the proposal of the Government was too severe. With reference to this important matter, he should never forget the impression and feeling exhibited by one who was long a Member of that House, a much respected man—namely, the late Sir Henry Jackson. It was a fact that several times in the course of his life, after he was unseated for Coventry through the act of an agent, he used to speak in the most mournful manner of the great injury which had been inflicted upon him, which had been inflicted upon his moral sense. No one who knew Sir Henry Jackson, and the fine spirit he possessed, would be surprised when he was told that Sir Henry had frequently declared that he had never recovered the shock sustained by his moral sense and pride by being turned out of his seat at Coventry for bribery, for some miserable act on the part of an agent which he did not authorize. The Attorney General spoke of every piece of bribery as though it were wholesale corruption, and he made provision for cases which were entirely exceptional in their nature. It scorned to him (Mr. Lewis) that they had no 1231 option but to resist the punishment which was proposed by the clause, seeing that the Government did not mean to make any concession.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, the contention of the Attorney General, not alone in reference to this Amendment, but with regard to almost all the others that had been proposed, was that they would lead to wholesale corruption. But ho would ask how that wholesale corruption could take place if the Act had the effect that was claimed for it of limiting the expenditure at elections? [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): By the law not being obeyed.] That was what he desired to know. If a man were such an idiot as to spend three times the amount allowed in the Schedule, in the hope that during the next seven years from the date he was turned out a vacancy might occur in the constituency, and that the recollection of his corruption would insure his re-election, he could understand the argument of the Attorney General, although he doubted that anything of the kind was likely to take place; but if a man were to spend the amount calculated his doing so could not be wholesale corruption. That being so, some of the clauses of the Bill must be inoperative, and consequently superfluous.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 184; Noes 91: Majority 93.— (Div. List, No. 147.)
said, the Amendment he was about to move raised a question already hinted at—namely, as to the Election Court having a kind of dispensing power. If the Government accepted the principle of his Proviso, he was willing to leave it to them to frame a more satisfactory wording in case of need. He would remind the Committee that this question was before the House last Session. In the Committee on the Bill he moved a clause having much the same effect as the Amendment he now proposed; and the Attorney General, on that occasion, said Her Majesty's Government would take the matter into consideration before Report. Having received that assurance, he withdrew the clause, for the purpose of enabling the Government further to consider the matter. The present proposal, therefore, came before the Committee without any 1232 previous decision having been come to with respect to it, without the Government having pledged themselves against it, and, moreover, with the promise that they would give it further consideration. Further, it came supported by the authority of Baron Bramwell, which had been cited by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Clarke), in the course of the debates on the Bill, and also by the authority of the Solicitor General, who, in Committee in the year 1875, proposed to divide on an Amendment embodying the same principle. Now, although the Amendment deserved discussion, its principle could be very briefly stated. The effects of the decision of the Election Court—that the agent of the candidate had been guilty of corrupt practices—fell, one of them, on the candidate himself, and the other upon the constituency for which he was elected. The effect of the Judgment of the Court was to disqualify the candidate for seven years from being elected by the constituency; and its effect upon the constituency was that the election which had been held was declared void. The proposal he had to make was twofold. It was that, under certain circumstances, the candidate should be relieved of the disability put upon him; and, under certain circumstances, the constituency having suffered in the manner described, it proceeded on the principle that it should be assumed, primâ facie, that the candidate had committed the corrupt practices alleged, but that they should be rebutted if sufficient evidence could be produced to convince the Court, first, that the candidate was perfectly pure, and had taken every possible precaution to insure a pure and honest election. Primâ facie, the candidate would be guilty if his agent had committed corrupt practices at the election; but the object of this Proviso was to give him an opportunity of proving affirmatively to the Election Court that he was not privy to, or a consenting party to, the corrupt practices committed; and, further, that he had taken all reasonable and possible means to prevent them. If the candidate did that, he said it was not just that he should be subject to any disability whatever; it was not fair that he should suffer for the fault of others who had wronged him, without any consent on his part. Again, it was not necessary 1233 to carry out what the Attorney General had pointed out as being requisite to secure the election of another person; because, if a constituency was of so base a character that corrupt practices recommended a man to it, a man who proved that he had not done or consented to any corrupt practice, and that he had given orders to his agents not to engage in thorn, would certainly not recommend himself to the constituency. And, further, the proof he would have brought before the Election Court would be of such a nature as to be detrimental to the constituency. Further the proposed that if it were proved to the satisfaction of the Election Court that the result of the election was not affected by any corrupt practices the election should not be void. the Bristol case, to which he asked the attention of the Committee, was one in which the elected candidate (Mr. Robinson) was, undoubtedly, the free choice of the vast majority of the electors. But, at a test ballet, a person who became the agent of the candidate had been guilty of a little act of treating, by which a vote was obtained for Mr. Robinson. It was a most trivial act, and done without his knowledge, and it was one which the Judge said could not possibly affect the result of the test ballot, much less the result of the election; and yet so stringent was the law that the Judge was compelled to unseat the candidate in this case. Baron Bramwell, on that occasion, made use of the language which had been quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Clarke). The Government having agreed to the imposition of tremendous penalties on the candidate for the act of au agent, all he asked was that, in accordance with the view of Baron Bramwell, the opinion of the Solicitor General, and the opinions pressed upon them by Members of their own Party, and by persons who could not be suspected of any desire to promote corruption at elections, the Government should adopt some kind of equitable clause that would give the Judges the power, in cases where they thought the election perfectly fair, not to commit the monstrosity of unseating the candidate because, perhaps, an agent had given ono of the electors a trumpery glass of beer. That was the view which they wished to force upon the consideration of the Government. So far as the actual words 1234 of the Proviso were concerned, he was entirely at the service of the Attorney General. If he thought any other form would be more satisfactory to the Government, he would agree to any alteration, as long as it embodied the principle of the Amendment. To that principle, however, he and his hon. Friends would certainly adhere, in pressing upon the Government the adoption of some Proviso which would carry out the object he had described.
Amendment proposed,In page 2, line 29, at end, add:—"Provided, That, if it be proved to the satisfaction of the election court that no corrupt practice was committed with the knowledge and consent of such candidate, and that such candidate took all reasonable means for preventing the commission of corrupt practices, such candidate shall not be disqualified as hereinbefore provided; and, if such candidate has been elected, and it is further proved to the satisfaction of the election court that the result of the election was not affected by any such corrupt practices, his election shall not be void."—(Mr. Gorst.)Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he need not remark that his hon. and learned Friend had placed his Amendment before the Committee in a fair and moderate tone. His hon. and learned Friend said that this question had been before the Committee last year, and that an undertaking was given that it should be considered. He could assure the Committee that the matter had been repeatedly under the consideration of himself and his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General; and had they been able to arrive at the conclusion that the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham was consistent with the maintenance of purity of election it would have been cheerfully adopted. His hon. and learned Friend said that he was willing to adopt any form of wording which the Government might consider better than that in which the Amendment was drafted; but he would point out that this was not a question merely of expressing ideas by words. They were dealing with a question of great nicety, and they had to decide whether the principle which the Amendment embodied would in any way prejudice the attainment of the object of the Bill, which was to put down, to the 1235 utmost of their ability, electoral corruption. What the Government objected to in the first part of the Amendment was that it gave the Judges a dispensing power, and enabled the candidate, when he had not been personally guilty of corrupt practices, to go back, upon the Petition, to the same constituency, and during the existence of the same Parliament for re-election. That was a most dangerous power to give the Judges, especially if there should be any suspicion of partizanship on their part. The Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend went far beyond that which had been proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross). The second part of the Amendment, if it were carried, would induce an agent to think that a mere isolated act of bribery on his part would not unseat a candidate. It said that if it were proved that the result of the election was not affected by any corrupt practices the election of the candidate should not be void. In his (the Attorney General's) opinion, however, every agent should feel that he would run the risk, by an act of bribery on his part, even although unknown to his candidate, of unseating the latter. In a large constituency, whore the majority was 4,000 or 5,000, or where the majority was only 500, there might be 50 corrupt votes; but they would not affect the election. How could the Judge say, although there were 50 corrupt votes proved, that the result of the election was brought about by corrupt practices? A person, although he might have seen very extensive bribery going on in the street, could not petition; because what he had seen, or could prove, might not be sufficient to substantially affect the result of the election. The percentage of cases proved, where bribery and corruption had extensively prevailed, was far less, ho believed, than hon. Members thought. He believed that sometimes it was impossible to prove more than a hundredth part of the corruption. In Sandwich, where three-fourths of the constituency were bribed on one side, they had not proved a single case of bribery, although it was shown that the public-houses had been subsidized. Elector after elector was put in the box and swore that he had not been bribed. The Judges found that there had been no such bribery as 1236 was alleged, and the Member was simply unseated for having used the public-houses. Even if the bribery of one or two persons had been proved, if the Bill, as the Amendment proposed to alter it, had been in force, the Judge would not have been able to find that those cases affected the result, seeing that the majority was 250. He would put another view before the Committee. They heard a great deal about the expense of elections—everyone admitted that their cost was very burdensome; but the result of this Amendment, if adopted, would be to increase it, for it would be necessary not only to try if there had been one or two cases of bribery, but also to try if the election had been substantially affected. Every Petition would, therefore, amount to a scrutiny. It was not the Government who brought forward this proposal for the alteration of the law. And it must be borne in mind that whilst this alteration was proposed the definition of the crime remained the same, and also its danger. He was bound to state plainly that the Government could not consent to the Amendment, for they wore not ready to bear the responsibility of a change so great as its adoption would involve, and which might produce such disastrous consequences.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, he hoped that the Committee, after fully discussing this subject, would be able to moot the objections of the Attorney General, as the Government did not seem altogether indisposed to accept the principle of the Amendment. He should like to begin with a few words of protest against what seemed to him to have run through the Attorney General's argument — namely, the objection to the tribunal which was to try these cases.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
was understood to say he had guarded himself in his objection.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, ho was glad the hon. and learned Gentleman had had an opportunity of making that disclaimer, as he should have regretted to hear the Attorney General for England describing the election tribunals as tribunals whose conduct would be guided by partiality—who would find according to their own particular views—when they wore to be composed of Her Majesty's Judges. They must as- 1237 sume, after what had now been said, that the questions which had to be determined would have to be determined by a competent tribunal—a tribunal which was able adequately to form a judgment on the facts presented to it. The question of principle was this—whether the Government intended to give the Judges power, under this provision, of absolving both the candidate and constituency under certain conditions? The principle of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was perfectly obvious. Personally, ho (Sir Hardinge Giffard) should have preferred raising the discussion on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. II. Fowler); but the principle of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham was obvious, and it was most clearly stated by showing what the law had been, and what, apparently, had been the policy of the law. Hitherto, they had said that the act of any person who was guilty of corrupt practice, and who was fixed with the character of agent, should vitiate an election; and not only so, but that the candidate who had won his seat by the means of the agency should not sit for the place during the existing Parliament. Now they had increased the penalties, and had declined to define agency. Let them see what that would come to. If the tribunal could find out that the candidate himself had not been guilty of any corrupt practice, and that the act of his agent had not really affected the election, which had been, so far as the majority was concerned, pure, where was the policy of vacating the seat and disqualifying the candidate? Hitherto, the theory had been that they could not find out the extent to which the corruption had proceeded, and that, although they had not any judicial proof, yet it might be that a great deal more corruption had been, in fact, committed than had been spoken to. One single act of corruption by an authorized agent was sufficient to vitiate the election. There were two sides to that question. He had in his experience seen—what he believed to be the worst possible effect of the administration of justice—all the sympathy on the side of the person unseated. They had all witnessed this from time to time—that a person who had been unseated through some 1238 trifling act of his agent had been found to possess the sympathy of the people, because they felt ho had been the victim of an unjust system. From his election experience he believed that if every effect or influence of the law was strictly administered, there was not a single seat in that House that could stand; because, under the elasticity of agency, it was absolutely impossible for a candidate to prevent some imprudent person doing some rash act. This disastrous state of the law led to the very thing the Attorney General had pointed out; for a man might be convicted and rendered liable to penalties by something which involved moral wrong on his part. The principle involved in this Amendment was recognized as a matter of justice, and not of Party politics. He was not speaking of one side more than another, for he had represented both sides on Election Petitions. Something, which everybody's common sense recognized, ought to commend itself to the Committee. This was a practical question. The Attorney General had propounded a question which he now proposed to answer. The hon. and learned Gentleman said—"Suppose there wore 50 people bribed, how is the Judge to answer the question which is involved in the Amendment—whether the result of an election was affected by corrupt practices?" He thought it would be a very foolish thing if the Committee were to profess, by definite numbers, to bind the tribunal which was to decide a question of fact. He would take the case of Sandwich. It was not always a question of numbers. It might be a question of the character of the corruption; it must depend in each case on the circumstances of the particular election, and it was not crediting Judges with too much acuteness to suppose that they could not find out whether, on the whole, the election had been pure; whether, although there might have been 50 persons only proved to have been bribed, it had been corrupt. He differed from the Attorney General in supposing that they must, as a matter of law, assume that only 50 people had been bribed. There were some facts which proved, as part of the train of reasoning, other facts; and that that was so was proved by the law they were now seeking to enforce. What was the meaning of unseating a Member because a single case of bribery had been proved? 1239 It was not that they thought that was the only case, but because they took that as a proof that bribery had been committed, and they inferred from that that the corruption had affected the election. And so the Judge would find that a comparatively small part of a constituency had been bribed; but it would not be an unnatural conclusion that corruption had prevailed to such an extent as to affect the election—although only 50 cases had been proved. On the other hand, the value of the principle of this Amendment appeared to be this—in a constituency of 20,000 or 40,000 voters, although there might have been 50 persons bribed, the Judge might be justified in coming to the conclusion that the result of the election had not been affected. But this was a question of fact; and, like every question of fact, they must give the tribunal which was to decide the question of fact credit for being able to decide it. The question was, whether they wanted that authority, or would require a Judge, when he had come to the conclusion that an election was pure, to follow a hard-and-fast line, although he found that the election had not been affected by corrupt practices, and that the candidate was innocent of wrong-doing, and so void the election? In whatever form that question arose—on any of the various Amendments—it seemed to him that the principle of this Amendment, so far as justice was concerned, was admitted by the Attorney General. All the hon. and learned Gentleman said was that they could not practically arrive at a conclusion upon a question of fact, because there were so many difficulties surrounding it. Ho did not think that was so difficult as to what constituted agency. Ho invited the Solicitor General to state his views, in view of the Amendment he himself had proposed. Assuming, as a matter of fact, that a Judge found that an election had been pure, and that the candidate himself had not been guilty of any malpractices, was there any reason, in common sense or in justice, why that conclusion should not be given effect to; or was there an impossibility of a Judge, acting on reasonable evidence, coming to such a conclusion? If those propositions were established, it seemed to him that the Attorney General had admitted that that was what ought to be done.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, that, on account of something he had said on a previous occasion, he thought it fair that he should state the view he took of this matter, and the reasons why he could not assent to this or the other Amendments. He need hardly say that no Member of this Committee had given more consideration to this subject, with a view to finding a solution, than he had. He found that all that hon. Members wore now proposing was what he had ventured to suggest to a Committee of that House in 1875. Therefore, if he could see his way to getting rid of the difficulties in his mind, he should be glad to do so. He sympathized completely with the object in view, because he had been one of the first to suggest that something ought to be done in the direction of attaining that object; and if, after consideration, he felt serious difficulties, that was not for want of every effort on his part to find a way out of those difficulties, and arrive at a solution. It was true that when the Committee sat in 1875 he did suggest an amendment of the law in this direction; and he could not help thinking that ho introduced certain elements of safety, which would not be introduced by any of the Amendments before the Committee, because he suggested that the Judge should be bound to find affirmatively that an election was pure. He did not find such a definite onus in any of these Amendments. But his proposition in 1875 did not meet with very much favour. That Committee was composed of some very eminent Members of the House; he did his best to convince them that his view was the right one; but he signally failed. Throe supported the proposal in addition to himself, and seven voted against it. Those who voted against were Mr. Isaac Butt, Mr. Cubitt, Mr. Villiers, Mr. Rod-well, Mr. Spencer Walpole, and Mr. Whitbread; and ho thought it would be acknowledged that he had cited a considerable weight of authority in giving the names of those Gentlemen, from both sides of the House, who voted against his proposal. Mr. Leeman and Mr. Serjeant Simon wore among those who supported it. He would now tell the Committee why he could not think they ought to adopt a provision of this kind. If he thought it was by any 1241 moans a certainty that at any election trial it was possible to prove exhaustively by evidence that the election had been pure or impure, he should still be in favour of this proposal; but the more ho had looked into the matter and examined the reports of election trials, the more he was satisfied that, though only two or three cases of corruption were proved, yet there might be behind them a great mass of corruption. It was that consideration that shook his belief in the proposal he had made in 1875. He would take the case of Sandwich as an illustration; and what was found was that people's moral sense with regard to perjury in these matters seemed to be non-existent. People who would be called highly respectable would bribe others, and thought they had fulfilled all moral obligations when they swore that no bribery had existed. That was seen at Sandwich, where a man who had given bribes declared that he had not given any bribes; and one after the other of the men who were afterwards proved to have received bribes swore that they had not. So that at Sandwich, where it was known that three-fourths of the people were bribed, the Member would have been seated but for the public-house hire arrangement. He could give other instances. If hon. Members would compare the evidence upon the Election Petition trial with the evidence before the Commission which followed, they would find that people who swore on the Petition trial that they had not received anything admitted before the Commission that they had received money bribes. A vast amount of bribery went on, and yet all that could be proved, after the most diligent efforts, was a very small amount of bribery; and what he was sure of was that in many cases there would be extensive corruption, and yet not proof enough to unseat the Member. [Sir HARDINGE GIFFARD: The issue is the other way.] Would not the issue be discharged? None of those corrupt practices might have availed; nearly 1,000 voters might have been bribed, and yet the Judge would not have been able to report any corrupt practices, because every single individual whose act was attacked swore ho had not received any money, and the agent swore he had not given any money. Take the case of an agent. A Petitioner proved two or three cases of 1242 isolated bribery by an agent; but the agent would be prepared to come forward and swear that he had not spent a penny, although, in reality, he had spent a very large amount of money. What would happen? Would not the Judge necessarily find that it had been proved that there had only been an exceptional case of bribery, and that the election had been, on the whole, a pure one? He thought hon. Members opposite would recognize that danger. The Committee would incur a serious responsibility if they opened the door to such a state of things. Bribery might largely exist; but if only a few cases could be proved the election might be declared pure. The difficulty of the case arose from the difficulty of finding out the bribery, and the readiness of people to deny, on their oath, having been bribed. If the facts could be got at at once there would be no difficulty. There was only one other consideration. It had been said that the result of this would be very mischievous, because a man who was really the choice of a constituency might, after all, be unseated. He admitted that that was an evil; but he did not think it was an evil of such extent as had been suggested. If there was a large majority, and only a few trivial cases of bribery, there was not likely to be a Petition. [An hon. MEMBER: Bristol.] He did not at the moment remember what the majority there was. [An hon. MEMBER: Very large.] It might have been; but he was sure hon. Members would agree with him that, as a rule, people petitioned because they believed the election had been won by corruption, and that, if they could unseat the Member, they would have a chance of gaining the seat for their own candidate. That was the ordinary object of a Petition. Of course, therefore, there was a great check—he would not say an absolute immunity—upon Petitions, in cases where there were such large majorities that the election had not been really affected by a few cases of bribery, and the election was substantially pure. He had now put his views before the Committee. He fully admitted the difficulty of the matter, and he should like to meet it; and if he was not prepared to support now what he had formerly suggested, it was because he had become more and more convinced of the danger, and he had been driven to the conclusion 1243 that they would be doing more mischief by the danger they would incur of increasing corruption, because it might be committed with impunity, than the good which might be effected.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, it was obvious that the Committee were now on the threshold of one of the most important Amendments to the Bill; and at that time in the morning it was impossible to further discuss the matter. Notwithstanding the depreciatory remarks of the Solicitor General upon his own proposal, he had still something to say upon that proposal; and he should, therefore, move that Progress be reported.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Lewis.)
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he thought time would have been saved if the Committee had been told earlier what was the general view of the Government with regard to this proposal; but now it was clear that they must report Progress.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, it seemed to be obvious that, inasmuch as it was impossible for the Committee to argue the question at an earlier part of the evening, it was utterly impossible to point out the difficulties of this Amendment. It would not have been fair to the Government to be called upon to make a statement without being, at the same time, able to give their reasons fully.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, there were here five Amendments very much of the same kind. Hon. Members on both sides of the House were anxious that one or other of those Amendments should pass. No doubt, they thought all the Amendments of equal value; but if they were to divide on every one of them they would weaken their case. If the hon. and learned Members for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), Plymouth (Mr. Clarke), and Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) would withdraw their Amendments in favour of that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), they could unite upon that one Amendment to-morrow, and so have a fair chance of carrying it.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he should be happy to place himself in the hands of the Committee; but he wished to 1244 deny that ho had obstructed progress.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, that, although he should have liked to contribute his Amendment to the Bill, yet, as the Amendments were substantially the same, he should be quite willing to givo up his.
Motion agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.