§ Lord John Russell:
I have now to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the better discovery of Bribery in the Elections of Members of Parliament. In doing so, I must take it for granted, that the House will, in the same manner as they have done in former times, consider bribery an offence which poisons the fountains of representation and of morality. I know, that there are many who ingeniously argue, that as we cannot I do away with all corrupt motives—as we 1261 cannot establish complete intelligence, and complete purity, in the exercise of the elective franchise, so it is useless to attempt, by the penalties of any law, to prevent the practice of bribery. Now, Sir, until I hear such arguments supported by a great number of Members of this House, I shall consider that in this, as in all other cases, you are to inquire, whether by penalties and punishment you can put an end to that which the law can reach— and this, though you may not be able to do all that you may wish to do. You must deal with respect to this as you deal with other cases in criminal law. There are vices which that law does not affect to reach—there is treachery—there is ingratitude— vices tinged with the deepest guilt. They are crimes, but not criminally punishable by our laws; for we know, that with respect to them, the attempt at legislation would be worse than useless; and we must content ourselves with the punishment of offences which are within the scope of legislation. 1, therefore, consider that we may act with respect to the bribery of electors, as was once done with a crime not un frequent in this House—the actual corruption of Members of Parliament in the disposal of their votes. It is impossible, that we can say, that every vote that may be given, may not be without bias, and without some motive that taints it with corruption about it. This we may admit, but, at least, we may endeavour, and as then it was effected; that as to the direct corruption in this House, of Members of Parliament, we are, at least, free from the vice of former times. With respect to bribery, it had been said by a great authority, "If you show me the bribery, 1 will show you the law and the punishment." Though it is perfectly true as to personal bribery, that no act of bribery can be committed, for which there is not some penalty affixed by law, still there is the difficulty in the discovery of the offence, and there is the additional difficulty of your being able to show it to the satisfaction of the judge and jury, or the House of Parliament, who have to decide upon it. I heard it said, a very few days ago, and I believe with very great truth, that there was not merely a very great tendency not to regard this merely as a crime, but scarcely to consider it as an offence. The practice was compared to that of smuggling and poaching, as they are regarded by whole classes of the people. But with respect to these offences, 1262 you have much better means of discovering them, than you have with regard to bribery. As regards poaching, you have opposed to it the interests of the landed proprietors, and of their servants employed and engaged in detecting such an offence; and then, as to smuggling, you have the boards of revenue, and the officers acting under them, and you have large numbers all engaged in its prevention and detection, maintained at the public expense. With respect to bribery, as the matter at present stands, it seems to me, that it is left very much to the chance of private individuals having, in pursuance of their private rights, to bring to light acts of bribery that have been committed, or that may appear hereafter to be committed; and hence you have, as you must have, an imperfect inquiry, and bribery prevailing in many boroughs, of which no complaint is made. Of all the compromises, of which you have lately heard so much, this is the natural and inevitable result. You have a trial for the decision of a seat; a person wishes to obtain a seat, and he proves so much as will convict his adversary, and there he stops—and then to hope, that he will go on to fee counsel, and pay witnesses, in order that he may attain some public object, and go to the expense of procuring punishment upon others, as a mere national duty, is more than you can expect any individual to perform. With respect, likewise, to actions in our courts of law, where parties may have lost the elections, they may, in a moment of resentment, think, that their majority may be regained by actions in the courts of law. They may do this without proceeding further. This is, shortly, one of the objects of the bill which I shall propose. It is not so much to apply new penalties to bribery,' but it is to endeavour to bring to light, by more efficacious means than hitherto have been proposed, that bribery which has been committed, or that may hereafter take place. Nor should we at all despond; because, although it is impossible that bribery can be at once abolished by an act of Parliament, yet we have found that an act of Parliament, where it was intended to touch corruption in this House, was efficacious at a particular time, and with regard to the kind of bribery, in checking that practice. I believe the act which was passed in the last Session of Parliament, though the measure sent up from the Commons, was much shorn of its fair proportions in the other House, yet, 1263 I repeat, I believe, that simple enactment, making it unnecessary to prove agency, providing that parties should be allowed to prove bribery in the first instance, and afterwards trace that bribery home to the agents, or to the sitting Member—I believe that enactment has been found very effective. I say this, because I know, that there are not a few who, as the hon. Member for Montrose said just now, in his disappointment at the vote to which the House has this evening come, are disposed to say that there is no good to be derived from these continual enactments against bribery; who assert that it would be better at once to repeal all the laws against bribery, and leave the electors to do what they like. My opinion is quite different from this; and though I have no such Utopian notion as to believe that we can altogether put an end to bribery at elections for Members of Parliament, yet I am persuaded that great good may be effected by legislating on the subject, if all parties should agree in determining to consider with temper, fairness, and attention, the means which may be suggested for imposing a check upon these practices I will state the means which I shall beg to propose, under different heads. The first part of the bill which 1 intend to propose will have reference to the prevention of compromises, and the effectually bringing out disclosures of actual bribery before committees. I shall propose, with this view, that parties who assert bribery to have taken place within their electoral divisions, should be obliged to give — in some way so that it should only become public a few hours before the committee meet—a list of the parties who, as they allege, have received bribes; that impugned voters shall be allowed to defend their votes, and their cases be respectively considered by the election committee, and that in cases where the voters are not able satisfactorily to defend the votes they have given, such voters shall be reported to the House by the election committee, for the purpose of the parties being disfranchised by that report. I propose, in the same part of my bill, to recommend that there shall be an indemnity from the usual penalties in certain cases. What I shall propose is, that where a full disclosure is made of acts of bribery, the committee, in the mode agreed to with respect to past acts of bribery, shall have the power of reporting that certain witnesses have made full disclosures of those acts of bribery, and 1264 that in consequence they should be fully indemnified from any penalties in which they might be convicted in a court of law. I will not now state the arguments on which I justify this provision, but will go on to describe the various arrangements which I propose to introduce. I shall propose, in the same part of the bill, that the members, the candidates, and their agents, may be examined before the election committee. The next part of the bill is intended to prevent charges of bribery being compromised or withdrawn on an election petition. In the first part of the bill, I have secured, as far as possible, that the names shall be given of the parties alleged to have been bribed. In this part of the bill I propose that the committees, in certain cases, if they are satisfied that any compromise has been made, and that the proceedings have come to a premature close, or that a petition has been withdrawn in consequence of such compromise, may report to the House that such is their belief; and that then the House shall give such committee authority to proceed. It is clear, however, as 1 have already stated, that if this fresh proceeding, if this continued prosecution of the petition were to be left to the parties, it would be imposing an undue hardship on them; and that we have no right to call upon parties, who, pursuing their private rights, find they must expend some thousands of pounds for a doubtful result. I say we cannot call upon them to prosecute a petition under such circumstances, and I therefore propose that a solicitor or agent shall be appointed by the Speaker, or rather, perhaps, by the general committee named by the Speaker, which solicitor shall prosecute the matter of the complaint; and I propose, that if it shall then be found that bribery has been committed-by the sitting member or members, the election committee shall have the power of declaring the election void, in the same manner as if the opposing petitioners had carried on the petition, the inquiry being carried on in the same manner as at present. With respect to the costs of these petitions, ultimately, I shall propose that, in certain cases, where it shall be proved that the sitting member or his agents have been guilty of bribery, on those parties shall the costs be levied; and that in other cases they shall be levied on the petitioners. There will be various clauses in respect to this part of the measure. I come now to a class of cases which do 1265 not come regularly before election committees, which do not, in fact, come before any committee appointed in consequence of a petition claiming a seat; I allude to petitions generally alleging extensive bribery to have taken place in certain boroughs. It may be that before a case comes to a hearing, or immediately after an election, there has been extensive bribery, but there may be no person inclined to risk the consequences of prosecuting an opposing petition; or it may be that in some old borough a compromise is made, of which, either one of the sitting members is at one sacrificed, or it is agreed that at the next election some particular candidate shall be allowed to take his seat without opposition. It is well known that such cases as these do occur. I shall propose, then, that where a petition is presented, distinctly alleging extensive bribery to have taken place in a particular place, such petition may be tried, by order of the House, in the same way as an election petition; that the inquiry shall be prosecuted by a solicitor or agent appointed by the Speaker or the general committee; and I shall propose that the committee shall have the power to declare the seat to be void or otherwise in this case, in the same way as in the case of an inquiry coming before a committee in the ordinary way. All these provisions are intended to effect this object, that candidates shall not in future expect that by means of a large distribution of money, by means of giving either by themselves or their agents, some four or five thousand pounds, to persons who choose to receive bribes, in whatever form, they can secure a seat in this House. With respect to those portions of the bribery which proceed from a candidate seeking the honour of a seat in this House you would impose a great check on them if you could by any effectual measures, which would act generally, and in many cases prove to them that they would not obtain the honour which they seek, that they would lose that seat in Parliament which was the object of their hopes and expectations, and be likewise losers of a very considerable sum of money, which they had parted with in that vain expectation. With respect to the persons who are bribed, their object is different; what they seek is an immediate reward in the shape of a sum of money; and the check to be placed on them is that which I have mentioned, disfranchisement; but I do not think that part so effectual as 1266 some means, if we could devise them, by which candidates should be taught that bribery in future would be unavailing, or at least, that if they were guilty of it, there was a very great probability that they would lose their seats. The next point we have to deal with is that of an entire borough. We had in the course of the past year, and, unhappily, in the course of the present Session more particularly, several cases of complaints of extensive bribery in particular boroughs. Now there are two ways in which a remedy may be applied to such evils; there are two ways in which this House may attempt to check the nuisance; one way is by disfranchisement and I own that this seems to me to be a complete remedy when the borough is a very small one, and only enjoys the right of sending Members to Parliament originally by prescription, and now, in conformity with that prescription, under the Reform Bill. Such boroughs are only qualified by prescription, and not by their population or importance, to exercise the franchise. If we find their franchise to be exercised corruptly, inundating the country with bribery, if they possess no real importance, we may then, as in the case of Grampound before the Reform Bill, justly proceed to entire disfranchisement. There are other cases, in which particular places, such as Liverpool, Birmingham, and soon, seem naturally entitled to return representatives to Parliament, and in such cases, were we now about to redistribute the representation, we should assuredly continue to allow these places to elect Members. Now, in these places there are sometimes complaints of bribery; and some years ago, in reference to Liverpool, the hon. Member for Wiltshire introduced a bill, which he had very considerable difficulty, both in point of time and labour, in carrying through the House, for disfranchising a certain class of the electors of Liverpool—the freemen. I will not say now, whether the freemen of Liverpool ought to have been disfranchised by act of Parliament; but I think that was a remedy in the right direction; if there is corruption in a large place, in a large town, which all must agree is of sufficient importance to give it a right to representatives, the endeavour should be to form the constituent body in such a manner as seems best calculated to prevent bribery for the future. There is another mode which Parliament may take, that of suspending their power of returning Members to Parliament for 1267 one or two Parliaments, or for a limited number of years; but I do not think this mode so much in the spirit of the constitution as that I have just mentioned, and which has been in many instances sanctioned by the House; but then comes the difficulty, which 1 have seen as much as any man; that is to say, the difficulty of having one of these remedies carried into law. You find that an inquiry before a first election committee fails; you go through some other inquiry, either at the Bar of the House or before another committee; meantime, the public, the important political business of the Session, obliges you to postpone this inquiry from time to time, and ultimately the bill does not go to the House of Lords till the second or third Session. By the time it arrives in the House of Lords, the House of Lords being disposed to look strictly at these matters, a great portion of the evidence and many of the witnesses who established the case in the first instance may not be forthcoming, or the evidence adduced may not be such as was given on the former occasion, the wish on the part of the borough in question, being naturally to avoid disfranchisement; and it may well be found that after a year or two have elapsed, when the matter coming before the House of Lords, the evidence is not, in their opinion, sufficiently strong to support disfranchisement; not sufficient, at all events, to induce noble Lords in the profession of the law, and here I do not speak of one party or the other in the House of Lords, but of the law Lords generally. In 1834, I attempted a remedy for this evil, by proposing a select committee which should inquire into such cases. That bill was altered in the House of Lords, after considerable deliberation, I believe by a select committee, and a new shape was given to the measure. I stated, at the end of that Session, that though this was not such a bill as I should have proposed, yet I did not object to the general principle of the bill as it had been altered. The principle of the bill so altered was, that instead of a separate inquiry into these cases by the two Houses of Parliament, there should be a united investigation; that the case, being first examined in a mode analogous to the grand jury, by a committee of the House of Commons, and that it should then come before a tribunal composed of both Lords and Commons. The proposal of the Lords was, that there should be a judge to preside; 1268 and that there should be seven Members of the House of Lords, and five of the Commons, proposed by this House separately. Now, I think, that there is a very great objection to the having a judge to preside over these inquiries. I think, in the first place, that it is a matter so much concerning Parliament itself, so much concerning the functions of Parliament, and our rights as a legislative body, that it should be decided by Parliament itself, not acting under the direction of a judge. I think, likewise, that the number suggested by the Lords, assimilated to that of a jury, is too large. I should, therefore, propose, in adopting generally the principle of that bill, that there should be either five Peers and four Commoners, or four Peers and five Members of the House of Commons, constituting a commission of nine Members; and that this commission, instead of a judge, should be presided over by one of the Peers, who should be named by the Crown for that purpose. I shall propose that all the Members be named by the Crown, thinking it better that her Majesty, by her responsible advisers, should choose the persons for this sort of inquiry, than that either House should, by a majority, or any other mode, select Members for this purpose. However, this is a point for future consideration. I should propose to give to this commission the power of seeking the assistance of a judge, as their Lordships have the power of doing now in the case of impeachment. Cases of impeachment, such as happened in former times, are not likely now to arise, and do not occur in the present state of our constitution, as in the case of Strafford and of Bolingbroke; such matters as those are not likely again to engage the attention of their Lordships, but cases of corrupt boroughs are such as may occupy their attention; and I think in such cases their Lordships may very well be called upon to exercise their functions jointly with the House of Commons, I should hardly, perhaps, have proposed such a scheme in this House as an original plan, but finding that the House of Lords themselves have proposed it, I think it as good a mode of carrying on these inquiries as Parliament can devise. Then, what is to be the effect of these inquiries, and how far are they to go? I should propose that the result of them should be merely this, that the House should have a report laid before it, and should then legislate according to the circumstances, and according to the popula- 1269 tion and importance in other respects of the city or borough with which we should have to deal. Different cases would require different legislation. I do not think that we could well give such a tribunal any more power than to inquire into the circumstances, and ascertain what the facts are on which Parliament would then have to legislate. It will be necessary, when the House of Commons first addresses the Crown to appoint such a commission, that we should, by such Address, or by order of the House, obtain the services of the Attorney-general for that purpose. I do not know that I am here suggesting a very agreeable addition to the duties of that hon, and learned Gentleman, but still I think that the Attorney-general, and not an inferior law officer of the Crown, would be the proper person to be the adviser to such a tribunal. There are two other clauses in the bill, one of which is a clause to abolish the bribery oath. It appears to me that the administering the bribery oath to persons suspected or accused of bribery at an election, does not serve the purpose of preventing bribery, while it too often super adds perjury to bribery. It has been the declared opinion of Parliament, of late years, that oaths should not be needlessly kept up; and I certainly cannot but think that the bribery oath is, in most cases, liable to a sound objection. The other proposition I shall make, is in conformity with a suggestion made in the course of the debate this evening by the Solicitor-general, to the effect that the payment of any gift or valuable consideration to any voter, under whatever name, shall be deemed to be bribery. Such a provision as this is no doubt necessary. In the bill which I shall propose, there are some clauses not in conformity with the usual proceedings before courts of law. I allude especially to those clauses which give indemnity to persons who give evidence before any of these tribunals with respect to acts of bribery. It may be said that this is an indemnity given beforehand —a prospective indemnity, and, therefore, calculated to encourage persons to commit the crime on the certainty of impunity; and that, further, it is giving to these committees that power to pardon which now belongs to the Crown. I admit, the latter part of this objection; but as these are inquiries which are to be made by Parliament by a joint tribunal of this and of the other House of Parliament, the power of pardoning or indemnifying, if given at 1270 all, must, as it seems to me, be given to these committees, appointed in the manner I have stated. As to the power itself, it, as I think, must be admitted, only giving a power which the Crown now has in various cases, and which is continually exercised. In great crimes, even such as murder, the advisers of the Crown are in the practice of offering her Majesty's gracious pardon to those who may have been accessory to the offence, provided they were not the actual persons who committed it; but this cannot be said to operate as an inducement for persons to commit offences. There may be another objection—that the asking persons questions tending to criminate themselves, is not in conformity with the usual proceedings of courts of law. I hold, however, with reference to all these matters, that if we wish, if we endeavour to succeed in inquiries into bribery, we shall be obliged to adopt measures going beyond the ordinary rules of courts of law. In this respect, I consider that the House of Parliament should exercise that ancient right and privilege, which have been acknowledged by the greatest judges and the ablest statesmen of this country. In the report which Mr. Burke drew up by desire of the committee, in respect to the impeachment of Warren Hastings, he pointed out with great ability those arguments which tended to show that with respect to impeachments by the House, there was in Parliament an inherent power which is not to be hounded by the usual proceedings in courts of law. I will first read to the House two quotations, the one from Coke, as given in the report of the committee appointed to inspect the Lords' journals, and another from Mr. Justice Foster, a modern authority, and I will then read to you the words of Mr. Burke. Sir lid-ward Coke says:—It is by the Lex et Consuetudo Parliamenti' that all mighty matters in any Parliament moved, concerning the Peers of the Realm, or Commons in Parliament assembled, ought to be determined, adjudged, and discussed by the course of the Parliament, and not by the writ law, nor yet by the common laws of this realm, used in more inferior courts.Mr. Justice Foster's opinion runs thus:—It is well known that in parliamentary proceedings of this kind it is, and ever was, sufficient that matters appear with proper light and certainty to a common understanding, without that minute exactness which is 1271 required in criminal proceedings in Westminster Hall.And Mr. Burke says—Your committee were fully assured, and were resolved strenuously to contend, that no doctrine or rule of law, much less the practice of any court, ought to have weight or authority in Parliament, further than as such doctrine, rule, or practice is agreeable to the proceedings in Parliament, or hath received the sanction of approved precedent there; or is founded on the immutable principles of substantial justice, without which your committee readily agrees no practice in any Court high or low, is proper or fit to be maintained.If any of the provisions which I shall propose should be found at variance with justice, I shall be ready to abandon them; but I do not think it will be sufficient to any such provision that it is not in conformity with the usual practice of the courts of law. That practice may be most safe and admirable in cases to which it applies, but I conceive that we are bound more by the great rules of justice, and the great precedents of Parliamentary proceedings, than by any such limited and confined practice. I will conclude with saying that though, as I have already observed, I think that our legislation in this matter will not be fruitless, and that by the earnest endeavour of all parties we may effect great good, yet it does not depend on parties, much less on the leaders of parties, to effect a permanent and effectual cure for this great evil. Setting aside the leaders of parties, and those other Gentlemen who are conspicuous in this House, there are various persons of whatever party, who feel no difficulty and no scruple in spending large sums of money in elections, which, it must be obvious, are employed in bribery. There is, beyond these, a great body of electors, to whom the bribes are offered. We must hope that a better tone, that better feelings, that a more strict regard to the principles of morality on this subject will spring up and make its way, if we hope that our legislative measures should take effect. It is not by legislation merely that we can hope to succeed, but it is our part, at all events, to show that, as far as we are concerned, we will adopt any measures which can be shown to be useful, and not inconsistent with the principles of justice. I am far from despairing that, with the increase of knowledge—with the increase of religious instruction—with the increase of general improvement which we may hope to take place in the morals of the country—we may make some progress 1272 in remedying and removing this great evil. The noble Lord concluded with moving for leave to bring in a bill for the better discovery of bribery in the election of Members of Parliament.
§ Sir R. Peel
said: Sir, I shall give my cordial support to the motion of the noble Lord for leave to bring in a bill to prevent the practice of bribery, and to facilitate the exposure of that offence after it has been committed. It appears to me that there are three defects in the present law with respect to the examination of witnesses. The first is the case in which an election committee is appointed at the instance of an individual for the purpose of determining an individual right. In that case the individual having no other object than to maintain his own personal right, when the enforcement of that right becomes desperate, or the. expense of maintaining it is likely to be so considerable that his private fortune would be injured, he has every motive for withdrawing from the contest. That consideration leads to compromises, several alleged instances of which we have heard of in the course of the present Session. Now I do think there ought to be a remedy for this, and that a committee having been appointed for the adjudication of an individual right, that committee ought to have the power, and ought to be compelled as a duty, to report to the House that the inquiry had been broken off" on account of circumstances which the committee might set forth, and that it considered the public interest required that the inquiry should be conducted at the public charge. I apprehend that the noble Lord's measure will have for its object the providing an effective remedy for this defect. There may be cases, too, in which electors, though aware of bribery and corruption having taken place, fear to call for a Parliamentary inquiry into the matter, in consequence of the expense; and in such cases no committee would be appointed, whatever the state of the case, and there would be consequently, a great impediment in the way of justice. I am prepared to support a measure which should facilitate inquiries into such cases as these. I do not wish to transfer the onus of trying questions of individual right from individuals to the public, where such inquiries would otherwise be made in the same way as at present; but where, from some such circumstances as those which I have 1273 pointed out, the inquiry which the public ' interest demands would not otherwise be made, it would be highly desirable that the public should institute the inquiry, and that electors should have due protection in such inquiries. In cases where such an examination should be instituted, and should be found that the sitting Members were unduly returned, I should suggest that where the opposing candidates, by the determination of the committee, were shown to have had the majority of bonâ fide votes, that the seats should not be, as was proposed, declared void; but that the opposing candidates, so placed in a majority, should, as in the rule already observed, be declared the sitting Members. I think it of great importance that Members in affording facilities for candidates, who have not succeeded to petition, should take care not to transfer the onus of prosecuting an individual right from the individual to the public. When the public interest is involved in the question—when, for instance, the question arises, whether a borough should be disfranchised, or some public example should be made on account of bribery — in a case like this, it is quite right that the public should take charge of conducting the inquiry, and bear the expense of it; but, then, you must be careful, that by being too ready to transfer the expense to the public, you do not altogether do away with the inducement to the individual to prosecute his own rights. I do not say the public have no concern in the question as to who shall have the seat. What I say is, that if, without due precaution, you promote petitions to be prosecuted at the public expense, the effect will be that unsuccessful candidates may incite electors in their interest to present petitions in cases when such petitions would otherwise never be heard of. The opportunities or temptations thus presented for attempting to get a seat in the House through the means of election petitions would be a serious evil, and I hope the noble Lord provides for it.
§ Lord J. Russell
was understood to say, that when the petition was prosecuted at the public expense, and the sitting Member unseated, the election should be declared void.
Sir R. Reel:
In that case there certainly would not be so much temptation. But then, if it appeared clearly by the result of this inquiry that a majority of the 1274 electors was in favour of the unsuccessful candidate, would you, in that case, make a new election necessary? Suppose it be proved to your satisfaction that a certain individual ought to have been elected, would it be just to make the election void, and have recourse to a new election? I do not understand exactly how the noble Lord means to deal with such a case. With the principle of his motion I cordially concur—and I trust he will see that it is in no unfriendly spirit I throw out this remark. It is of the greatest importance that you should not lightly promote petitions at the public expense, relieving candidates from the charge attending the prosecution of their individual right. There is one other consideration with respect to this branch of the subject. You ought not to subject Members honestly and fairly returned to annoyance and vexation, on account of the facility given to the prosecution of petitions. You ought not to subject a Member, who has firmly refused to participate in bribery, and who has obtained his seat through perfectly honest means—you ought not, indeed it would be manifestly unjust, to subject this man to the annoyance and expense of defending his seat. At present you subject the party prosecuting the petition to enter into recognizances. But if you provide that, on a petition against the return of a Member merely signed by a certain number of electors, it shall be proceeded with at the public expense; that no doubt will be very efficient in causing petitions to be presented when corruption has taken place; but take care that you do not subject Members honestly returned to vexations to which an honest man will not submit. Now, you take a certain number of voters—you say six—as the number by whom the petition must be signed. Take the case of a Member who has said he would not owe his election to bribery, and whose friends have done all in their power to prevent it. Yet we all know what a stimulus to the getting up petitions the heats and animosities of elections are. [Lord J. Russell would require recognizances from the petitioning party.] I wish it to be understood that I speak for honest men, who are honestly returned; and if you wish Members to be fairly returned to this House, you should not subject honest men to a prosecution which would operate as so great a discouragement against coming forward as candidates 1275 as to deprive the House of the services of many who are most useful as Members. I do hope, therefore, that, in facilitating petitions, you will not subject honest men to these discouragements. The other defect which I wish to allude to, is the difficulty, so far as the boroughs are concerned, of obtaining results satisfactory to Parliament and the public. We appoint a committee of inquiry; the committee reports the existence of systematic bribery; the inquiry goes to the Lords, and is not proceeded with during that Session. In the mean time, the feelings which led to the presentation of the petition have died away. The electors meet: they say, why should we proceed with this? Shall we not be charged by posterity with causing the disfranchisement of the borough? and is it not much better to withdraw the evidence from the House of Lords? Again, examined before the committee of this House may be dead, or gone over sea, when the case is proceeded with by the Lords, so that that House may have a different evidence from this. I apprehend therefore, that if the law be left as it is, the Lords will not in such a case be unwilling to concur in positive disfranchisement, except upon evidence heard at their own Bar. I understand the noble Lord means to provide a joint tribunal, consisting of Members of both Houses, before which these inquiries should be entered on;men of a certain number of Members. The noble Lord's proposition I am par-Lords and Commons, in a clear case, would be satisfied, the House of Lords, whose legislative power I understand the noble Lord to leave in full force, would consent to the. step of disfranchisement, I believe that supposing the House to consent to the measure, it would be better to leave to the Crown the nomination of the tribunal than to give it to Parliament, as it appears more likely that the Crown, acting under the advice of responsible advisers, would make an appropriate selection; especially when it is considered that there may be differences in Parliament from election reasons, and a committee constituted under such influences could hardly produce a good result. Though the course is somewhat novel, there is, I think, something analogous in East-Indian jurisdiction, and on the whole, 1 think it would be better to leave to the Crown the appointment of a certain number of Members. The noble Lord's proposition I am per- 1276 fectly satisfied with, and I believe it to be a great improvement on the bill of 1834 which was sent down from the Lords. It is much less cumbrous, and we have seen, Sir, by recent experience, the good effect of leaving nominations in certain cases to rest with the Chair, under the guarantee of the character of the individual who occupies it. instead of referring them to majorities of the House. For these reasons, Sir, I approve of the Noble Lord's bill more than that of the House of Lords. With respect, to the observations of an hon. Gentleman opposite, (the Member for Montrose) as to the see-saw decisions of committees, though, by adopting a definite rule, you might avoid these see-saw decisions, I doubt much whether this is a principle by which questions of this kind ought to be decided. To the retrospective provisions of the noble Lord's bill I shall Newcastle, for instance, I hope that it will be carried into effect, and that a clause will be contained in the bill, by which, though the Noble Lord's bill may not receive the Royal assent these two months, any person taking money at the approaching elections, whether it be taken in the shape of "market-money" or in any other way, shall be liable to punishment. The law with respect to bribery and treating is certainly in an unsatisfactory state. 1 hardly know what the law relating to treating is now. It will be a difficult point to define am! dining together. But here again, I fear, it roust be admitted that though such 1277 dinners do not operate as bribery on the electors, they may do so on the publican. Therefore it will be difficult in boroughs of a limited size and particular description to discriminate between hospitality and corrupt practices. There is another point to which attention should be called,— I mean the payments made for the conveyance of electors to the poll. It is very doubtful, at this moment, what, is the law in respect to that point. Some committees of this House will say that it is legal to give reasonable refreshments to the electors, and I believe it has been decided that it is perfectly allowable on the part of a candidate to pay the expenses of the conveyance of electors to the polling places. [Dissent.] At least I am under the impression that election committees of this House have determined that a candidate might legally pay for reasonable refreshment for his voters, and for their conveyance to the place of polling. ["Mr. C. Wynn: No."] My right hon. Friend may be right. But I never yet passed through a town in which there was a contested election, that I did not see a number of carriages always provided at the expense of the candidates for the conveyance of their voters. And if it be the case that electors will not take a sufficient interest in the exercise of the valuable privilege they possess, to induce them to come to the poll, unless they have the means provided them of doing so, I am very much afraid that any sudden and violent interference with the existing practice in that respect, will very materially diminish the number of voters. To say, therefore, that on no account shall the expenses of conveyance or reasonable refreshment be paid on the part of the candidates, would be, in my opinion, to make the number of electors voting at each election considerably less—thus practically diminishing the amount of the elective franchise. On the other hand, I am sensible that if it were made legal to pay such charges, the permission might be made a cloak to cover a far worse degree of corruption than now prevails, and which carried to excess, would be neither more nor less than the grossest bribery. Now, Sir, I think that the noble Lord is perfectly right, in proposing that every species of direct payment, as between the voter and the candidate, should be held as bribery; whether that, payment, be made under the name of "market money," of 1278 "head money, "or of treating in general; be the amount 7s. 6d., to one class of electors, 10s. to another or 1l. to another. I am perfectly ready to support that proposition. But after this shall have been done I am afraid that we will leave the law on other points connected with the question, on treating for instance, and on various other classes of expenses, the same as we found it. In every borough there are certain individuals who take a lead in all political matters, and who altogether influence the electors in their respective places. Now, I believe that if these influential persons of both parties in boroughs set their faces against bribery, and came to an understanding to discourage all unnecessary expenses, they would do a great deal more towards the suppression of the evils complained of than all the acts of the legislature. These practices have prevailed so long that I do not expect a great deal could be done towards their suppression at once; and I consider that the extinction of them must be the effect of time and better habits. I do not wish to underrate the advantage of law in this respect. I believe that the noble Lord has struck at the root of bribery in his bill; but, though the committees of this House have shown hitherto an almost total absence of party feeling and a fixed determination to put down bribery, I think at the same time that the exposure of the practices made necessary some preliminary proof. I do not, therefore, underrate the law, but I think that good example and improved habits will more effectually lead to the diminution of bribery—its extinction I scarcely look for —than any legislative enactment whatever, and I do hope that the leading men of the country will set their faces so effectually against it, that after the next general election, come when it may, there shall be little or no cause to complain on the score of bribery.
§ Mr. Hume
regretted the law did not take the question out of the hands of committees—and define what it was constituted bribery. This it should do by express words. And it should also define what treating meant. He did not. agree in the view of the right hon. Baronet respecting the value of the interference of leading men at elections, since he considered them very generally the most active in promoting the corruption of the constituency. The takers of bribes were 1279 not the only persons who ought to suffer a penalty—the givers were equally culpable and deserving of punishment. Ought not the Southampton people, who had collected money for this purpose, to be rendered subject to the penalty for bribery, which was sought to be visited upon the poor man, who had been but too easily tempted to take the money for his vote. What he wanted to get at was the briber in these cases, but it was vain to hope for successfully combating bribery, unless they agreed to enlarge the constituency. [Cheers.] Aye, he was even for going further, and giving the people the protection of the ballot, to assist the effects of the enlargement of the constituency. If a person even lent a voter a sum of money at a less rate of interest than legal interest, in order to secure his vote, it ought to be reported to be bribery in both the giver's and receiver's cases.
§ Mr. Roebuck
would not attempt to debate the proposition of the noble Lord, though he would throw out a suggestion which he thought might materially check the practice of corruption by means of the person who might be declared duly elected. He should recommend that that person upon appearing at the Table of the House to depose to his having neither bribed his constituents, nor being a party to the bribery, should also put in a statement, and verify it, of the amount of the expenses he had incurred at such election.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, that the recommendation of the hon. and learned Gentleman would not go for much in dealing with the question; inasmuch as no account of the expenses of a candidate could indicate the real amount of money expended. It would be impossible to carry on an election in a great town, such as Liverpool, without the expenses of printing, music, and other such necessary excitement. His first election did not cost him a shilling. His other elections did not cost him more than 200l. or 300l. The question as regarded the conveyance of voters was beset with difficulties. It was scarcely possible to expect that poor electors would come a distance of twenty miles in some cases, to vote at their own expence, besides leaving their daily business. He was, therefore, of opinion, that the House would do better to legalise a certain amount of expenses in respect of maintenance and conveyance than to attempt to abolish them alto- 1280 gether. He was of opinion that 5s. tickets to pay for the use of the horse and the dinner of the voter, would be more likely to prevent illegal practices than the most stringent legislation on the subject. There was also much difficulty in regard to boroughs, because it would be almost impossible to prevent the franchise from being affected by extraneous influence. With respect to the particular proposition before the House, he (Lord Sandon) was of opinion that the subject should be treated more as a moral than as a political crime. He should, therefore, prefer that in place of the tribunal suggested, a power should be given to the House, on a primâ facie case of bribery being established against a borough to address the Crown to send down a commission of inquiry to the spot, and that the report of that commission should be taken as the basis of any proceedings on the part of the Legislature. If upon the report bribery was found to prevail to that extent in the borough, that there were not 300 electors untainted by it, he should then suggest, as that was the number fixed by the Reform Act as entitling a place to retain the franchise, that the privilege of returning to Parliament should be taken away from it; and if the number, on the contrary, was above 300, then he should suggest that the delinquent electors be disfranchised, and left in the middle of their neighbours as a mark for observation. That would have a better effect, in his opinion, by promoting a good moral feeling, than all the laws that could be passed on the subject.
§ Leave given to bring in the bill.