§ Order for Committee read.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON,
in moving that this Bill be committed, observed, that it had undergone material alterations in its passage through the Select Committee which had been appointed to consider it. These alterations he would explain in detail when the Speaker had left the chair.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
complained that he had not heard one single word that had fallen from the hon. Baronet, and he believed he was justified in asserting that none of his hon. Friends around him had been more fortunate than himself. The rumour in his immediate vicinity, however, was, that the hon. Baronet had moved that the Bill be committed; and to that Motion he should like to propose an Amendment if the Speaker should rule that it was competent for him to do so.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, it was quite competent for the hon. and gallant Member to move an Amendment on the Motion of the hon. Baronet.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, that, being the case, he should not hesitate to move that the further consideration of the Bill be postponed for six months. He had frequently taken occasion to express his deep detestation of measures of this kind. Many Bills similar to the present had been introduced; 809 but he was happy to say that they had been most effectively "burked" one after the other. The present measure was the worst of all, and he hoped that an ignominious end awaited it. They were going from absurdum ad absurdius. He was as much opposed to bribery and corruption as any man in that House could possibly be, and he defied any man to prove that he had been guilty of either offence; but the reason why he resisted the present Bill was, that he knew that it would belie its title, and be wholly inoperative in preventing bribery and corruption. It would, moreover, discourage the practice of hospitality, and of those friendly offices which neighbours ought to interchange, and which were rendered imperative by local feelings, and, it might be, by local obligations. It would also compel a Member to be guilty of many mean, dirty, and contemptible transactions. If it was intended for the injury of the resident gentlemen who might aspire to the honour of a seat in that House, and for the protection of scamps and adventurers who dropped from the hustings as if from the clouds on the day of election, why was not a measure introduced to prevent the practice of bribery and corruption by the hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury bench? No men indulged more largely in such practices. Every one knew that, when a dissolution of Parliament was expected, or had taken place, it was a thing of common occurrence for a Minister to tell one of his quondam supporters to go down to Portsmouth, Greenwich, or any other place, and to get himself returned; accompanying the advice with a promise that, in the event of his success, he should be made a Baronet. What was that but bribery and corruption? In spite of all their Bribery Bills, he would continue to discharge the duties of hospitality and good fellowship, as he had done within the last week. There were many ways of bribing besides slipping a 5l. note into the hand of an elector. This Bill would discourage the 5l. practice; but did they not all know that a wink was as good as a nod, and that a candidate might not be the less acceptable because it was known that he could procure a situation for the son or cousin of an elector? It would be degrading for any gentleman to stand on the hustings and take such an oath as was required by this Bill. What would Pitt or Fox have said to such a measure? They would have spurned it from them in a moment, as he hoped the House would now do.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair."
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee,' instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR G. GREY
said, he was sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite should oppose the House going into Committee on the Bill, as he thought this was only due to the hon. Baronet, the framer of the Bill, in common fairness. The House would remember that he opposed the principle of the Bill on the second reading; and he said then that the declaration exacted by the Bill from Members, that they had not been guilty of bribery, would be a snare to the conscience. He objected to its principle, and he thought it aimed at what was utterly impracticable. The House, after a full discussion, however, decided against the view which he took; and he must say that he was surprised when he found that he could not number amongst the opponents of the Bill on that occasion the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, who, he believed, left the House before the division took place. As the principle of the Bill was then fully discussed, he would not now oppose its going into Committee; but he begged to be understood, in assenting to the Committee, that he still retained his objections to the principle of the measure, which he would take occasion again to bring forward at a future stage of the Bill, which would be, he thought, a more fitting opportunity.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
said, that it was a most unusual practice to discuss the principle of a Bill on the question that the Speaker do leave the chair; and he would not now detain the House longer than to advert to one remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lincoln. That hon. Member asked what Mr. Pitt or Mr. Fox would have said to this Bill? Now, he was prepared with an answer, such as perhaps the hon. and gallant Member did not anticipate; he found that in 1809, a Bill was introduced by Mr. Curwen for the same object, and on similar principles as the one before the House. 811 He was not aware at the time the present Bill was read a second time, that an oath had been introduced into Mr. Curwen's Bill of a nature precisely similar; and he found that among those who voted for the Bill on that occasion were the names of Wilberforce, Canning, Tierney, and Mr. Speaker Abbot. His answer, therefore, to the hon. and gallant Gentleman was, that he could not tell what might have been the opinion of Pitt or Fox; but he could tell the hon. and gallant Member that such men as Wilberforce, and Canning, and Tierney, men of opposite sides, upheld a Bill founded on the principles for which he was contending; he could tell him that Mr. Speaker Abbot, taking an unusual course, addressed the House in favour of the Bill after leaving the chair.
MR. VERNON SMITH
was surprised at the course pursued by the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich, who, when the House were about to go into Committee, got up and introduced a discussion on the principles of his Bill. He said he was sorry to see another course now too frequently pursued, that of getting a Bill sent before a Special Committee, and then of coming back to the House with the decision of the Special Committee, announcing it in favour of the Bill, as though to influence the free opinion of the House. He thought the course was most prejudicial. It was, in his opinion, an objectionable practice first to introduce Bills, and then refer them to a Select Committee; and he considered that this was one which ought not to have been so referred. But, independent of this consideration, the Bill was objectionable, because it would tend to smooth over the offences of bribery and corruption. He should, therefore, give his decided opposition to it, and particularly to the first clause.
suggested that the discussion should be taken in Committee; and intimated, that if it were, he should reserve until then the observations which he desired to make.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the chair.
§ Amendment proposed in page 1, line 7, to leave out the words "That every person who shall be elected."
said, that he had voted for the second reading of the Bill, but had then carefully guarded himself on the clauses respecting the declaration, on which be had reserved his opinion. Having since been appointed a Member of the Select Committee to which this Bill had been referred, he had given the most deliberate attention in his power to the subject of the declaration. The provisions of it were attended, in his opinion, with insuperable objections; and therefore it was his intention to vote against them. If they looked back to the general subject of declarations, it would be found that they furnished no very encouraging examples to proceed further in the same direction. In the case of commissions in the Army, a declaration had been framed with the utmost care in order to provide that no more than a fixed sum should be paid for their purchase. Had that declaration been found effectual in any one case? Had it not, on the contrary, been found so ineffective that the War Office had been obliged to abandon it scarcely one year ago? His hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich had alluded to the debates in 1809 upon the subject of declarations. That year, however, was by no means the first time the question had been before Parliament; for in 1768 a Motion of the same kind as the present was made by Mr. Alderman Beckford. The difference was only that, in 1768, an oath was proposed instead of a declaration; and, if authorities were to be quoted, he would mention that no less an authority than Mr. Burke took part against the proposal in that year. But even with regard to Parliamentary oaths, the means of evasion had not been wanting. Look at a neighbouring country on this subject. In France, men, who in the transactions of life would be trusted with implicit confidence, had taken the oath of allegiance to Louis Philippe, whilst they were avowedly and without disguise in correspondence with the exiled royal family. Similar instances occurred in this country when there was a Pretender to the British Crown. From these facts, he came to the conclusion, not 813 that oaths and declarations were useless, hut that great care should be taken before fresh ones were adopted or sanctioned by the Legislature. The present declaration, moreover, was liable to very great objections, which no change in the details would overcome. It purported to be as follows:—I, A B, do solemnly and sincerely declare, that I have not by myself, or with my personal knowledge or consent, by any agent or person employed by me, or acting on my behalf, by any gift, loan, or reward, or by any promise, agreement, bargain, or security for any gift, loan, or reward, procured or induced, or endeavoured to procure or induce any person to give his vote for me.And further—That I will not hereafter give, pay, or lend, or knowingly repay or discharge, any money or security for money, to induce any person to give, or to forbear giving his vote.He wished the House to consider whether there were not cases in which evasions might be effected of the obligations of this declaration. Take the case of an eldest son, the heir to, but not the possessor of, an estate. A candidate in that position seldom paid any part of the expenses of his election. They were generally defrayed by his family. The candidate might not have committed bribery; but it might happen that bribery had been committed in his behalf, though without his knowledge, and that the payment of such bribery would never be required of himself. This was not a rare case; and the words of the declaration, as now framed, were not sufficient to guard against such a case as this. Take again the case of the leader of a party, or the "patron," as it used to be termed of a borough, willing to bring in a friend at his own expense, and for his own objects. In such a case, the candidate might not know anything about bribery; yet bribery might have been committed by his party upon his account. When cases like these had been suggested to the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich, he had replied, "I admit these are difficulties, but if we cannot provide against bribery in all cases, it is no reason why we should not deal with it in as many cases as we can." But the House should consider that this answer did not in the smallest degree bear upon the real difficulty. There was nothing more important than that all candidates at an election should be upon an equal footing. Suppose some borough to be won by bribery. It would be ridiculous to debar one 814 man, and not the other from that bribery, to tie up the hands of the one, and let the hands of the other slip into his pocket, and from his own pocket to the voter's. If this declaration would not apply to a Peer's eldest son, or to the candidate of a political party, what position would the other candidate be put in? Why, the two could not compete upon equal terms: bribery was facilitated in one case, and prevented in the other. This, as between two great evils, was actually worse than leaving both the parties to bribe or treat alike. Then, different interpretations might be put upon the declaration. It would bind a sensitive mind so far, while a callous mind would not be bound by it at all. One Member of the Select Committee had, with great force, stated in that Committee that it was not always easy to say that the promise to give a particular vote might not be a stronger inducement to support a particular candidate than direct acts of bribery. Suppose a man of the Jewish persuasion, eager for his own admission by law into the Legislature, or suppose a town interested in a railway or canal: might not a promise to take an active and favourable part in those matters influence the votes at an election? It was, in such cases, very difficult to say where corrupt inducements began or ended; and these were points which the House would do well to consider. He was not putting the case of a candidate holding one opinion against a candidate holding another; but of a candidate surrendering his own opinion for the sake of obtaining particular votes at an election. On the whole, the subject was fraught with so much difficulty, that, anxious as he was to put an end to corrupt practices, he must oppose this declaration; but he hoped his hon. Friend would not, on that account, relinquish the remaining clauses of the Bill, to some of which he (Lord Mahon) attached considerable value.
§ SIR F. THESIGER
said, when his attention was first called to the proposed declaration to be made by candidates at the hustings, and by Members at the table, very great objections occurred to his mind. If persons, for example, were disposed to violate the law, they would not hesitate to take the declaration; whilst, on the other hand, timid and scrupulous persons might be deterred from taking it from an apprehension that there had been conduct in the election which might be involved in the declaration. But, after considering the whole subject, and particularly the form of 815 the declaration, he had arrived at the conviction that it was absolutely necessary they should endeavour, at least, to make an experiment, and to try, by means of a new law, to reach in some degree the source of the mischief. The House had expressed itself, in the most sincere terms, anxious to repress bribery and corruption; but they had not followed the right course in their legislation. Their acts had not carried out their intentions. Undoubtedly Election Committees had been armed with very great powers for the purpose of investigating charges of bribery; but the House had regarded the detection and punishment of the offence much more than the prevention and repression of it. Having, then, signally failed in all their endeavours to prevent the evil, it was worthy of serious consideration whether the proposed declaration was not likely to strike at the very source of corruption. Some persons might feel their honour affected by being compelled to make the declaration at the table; but when it was considered that it was to be exacted from every Member, he thought a person must be peculiarly sensitive who, under such circumstances, could object to it. Was there anything in the declaration itself to deter any conscientious man from taking it, either at the hustings or at the table? It consisted of two parts. First, the candidate was to delare he had not—by myself, or with my personal knowledge or consent, by any agent or person employed by me or acting on my behalf, by any gift, loan, or reward, or by any promise, agreement, bargain, or security for any gift, loan, or reward, procured or induced, or endeavoured to procure or induce, any person to give his vote for me, or to forbear giving his vote to any other person.Could any person hesitate to make that declaration? [Sir G. GREY: I certainly should.] He hoped the right hon. Baronet would give his reasons for it. He (Sir F. Thesiger) could see no ground for not making a declaration of this kind; and, so far as he was concerned, he should not hesitate. The other part of the declaration was intended to prevent a practice which was too common at elections. In many cases a gentleman went down to a borough a stranger to the constituency, and he was compelled to employ the services of some person who possessed local knowledge. That person acted as his agent, conducted the whole proceedings, the candidate interfering no further than going round with his friends canvassing. When the Member had taken his seat, and 816 the time for petitioning had expired, the agent sent in a bill, containing very considerable charges for the expenses of the election. As the law stood, it was quite impossible for a candidate to investigate the charges, or to inquire into their propriety; he was compelled to adopt them, and pay the amount. The rule, in fact, was, "All charges paid, and no questions asked." Now, if every candidate were obliged to make these declarations, every hon. Gentleman would wish to know what the charges were which his agent proposed to make, and unless there were such proper and legal charges as would enable him to subscribe the declaration, he would refuse to pay them; and, on the other hand, the agent would know that, as the law existed, it would be impossible for him to obtain payment of charges which would not be considered absolutely legal. As to the objection, that hon. Gentlemen would feel repugnance to the taking of the declaration, was there any one who could object to say that he would not pay any sums advanced, or perform any promise made by persons acting on his behalf, for the purpose of corrupting any voter, or inducing him to give his vote in his favour? Surely his noble Friend the Member for Hertford, if he carried such a doctrine to its full extent, should object to any oaths whatsoever being taken. He should object to the oath of allegiance, as an insult, also. He (Sir F. Thesiger) was not aware before that leaders of parties went such lengths as to be disposed to take upon themselves the cost of the election of candidates to support their views, and that the candidates themselves were such mere cyphers. But, in fact, all the cases put by his noble Friend were of such rare occurrence that it would be quite sufficient if words were inserted to meet those that were at all likely to occur. The declaration might be made more comprehensive; but surely it was no valid objection to its enactment, that it did not at once meet all the cases that could possibly be met with. There were certain cases, such as those where railroads through certain districts were contemplated, and where various local interests were concerned, which no declaration or oath that could be framed could reach. He did not mean to say, for he did not think, that these declarations would totally prevent all bribery at elections. If persons were morally corrupt, or were not disposed to obey the law, they would always find means to evade it. But, as all 817 their legislation upon the subject had hitherto failed—as they had not as yet succeeded in reaching the source of corruption by their previous legislation—he thought they ought to try another experiment, which went at once to the fountain-head, and tried the consciences of the persons most deeply interested. They had hitherto directed their legislation chiefly against the voter; let them now try what could be done with the candidate. He hoped the Committee would accede to the principle of the declaration being enacted, and that they would try to make it, by such alterations as should be deemed expedient, as efficient as possible.
§ SIR G. GREY
was bound to say, that after having listened with the utmost care and attention to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Abingdon, and having considered the arguments which he had adduced, the objections which he had made to the second reading of the Bill remained still unshaken. He thought the enactment of such a measure would be a very dangerous step; and he entirely concurred in the views taken of it by his right hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, and the noble Viscount the Member for Hertford, and in their objections to the declaration. He objected, first, to the principle of any declaration at all; and, secondly, to a declaration on the grounds upon which the proposed declaration stood. He thought it was rather an extraordinary course to adopt to present a Bill to that House to do away with the oath to be administered to the voter, and to substitute a declaration to be made by the candidate. The hon. Member for Droitwich said that Mr. Speaker Abbott's opinion was in his favour; but he (Sir G. Grey) believed that Speaker Abbott thought that so long as they imposed oaths upon the voters, they should impose oaths against bribery upon the Members also. But this was a now proposition to do away with the bribery oath, as taken by the voter, and to substitute two declarations, one to be taken by the candidate at the hustings, the other by the successful Member upon taking his scat in that House. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Abingdon also said there would not be the slightest difficulty, with any honest man, about taking the declaration, and that one of the consequences would be, that the candidates would scrutinise the charges of their election agents. But surely the hon. and learned Gentleman should remember that 818 the declaration was not to be enacted for the righteous man, but for the unrighteous. The hon. and learned Gentleman assumed that, if hon. Members were honest and conscientious men, they would not hesitate to take the declaration. But he (Sir G. Grey) said, if they were such honest and conscientious men, they would not hesitate to abstain from bribery, and they would take the most effectual means for preventing their agents from doing anything that could be construed into bribery. But he believed that men honestly and sincerely desirous to abstain from bribery, might not be aware of the steps taken by their agents to secure their election; and they would hesitate about taking a declaration that they had done nothing either themselves or by their agents to obtain votes corruptly, when the discovery of any such acts upon a scrutiny before a Committee, after they had subscribed the declaration, would for ever incapacitate them from being elected again, He himself should certainly hesitate in making such a declaration; and he spoke of himself only as representing a class. He had had some experience in county elections. He did not believe the hon. Member for Droitwich had had much knowledge of the proceedings in county elections; but, from his own experience, he should say there was no use in blinking the question at all; it was almost the unanimous practice in counties to give tickets for refreshments, and he had known it adopted with a very safe conscience. The two committees of the candidates agreed, in order that no voter should have an advantage over another, that to parties coming a long distance tickets to the value of half-a-crown or three shillings should be given. Now he did not know how that might be considered by some hon. Gentlemen. It was a matter that would be viewed in different lights by different persons. Some would consider it a certain inducement to electors to come and give their votes; for, if the tickets were not given, the voters living at a distance would not come in to the polling-places, whilst for the candidate who gave them, the electors would come crowding to his poll. And the fair ground that existed for a difference of opinion upon that question was an illustration of the differences that might arise upon other subjects connected with it, and of how some men would regard the construction which they might put upon its meaning. Some of the most conscientious 819 men might be prevented thereby from taking their seats. But he should also object to the Bill upon the ground of its total inefficacy. What was the most general species of corruption? Why, head-money. And he defied any hon. Gentleman to say what there was in that Bill to prevent any hon. Member from making the declaration, and then going from the House, and giving what was generally expected, and what was commonly called "the old thing." For the promise in the declaration was not to abstain from giving what it was the general expectation would be given, but only not to pay what was promised by agents for the purpose of corruptly obtaining votes. As to the declaration to be made in the first instance by the candidates, he saw nothing to prevent either of them, the moment a poll was demanded, from adopting such practices as he might think desirable. Neither could he agree in the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Abingdon, that the declaration would be an inducement to hon. Gentlemen to examine their agents' bills. He believed that the result would be directly the contrary. He believed an hon. Gentleman would merely say to his agent, "Don't let me see what the expense is—don't let me know what you do. You will take the opinion of counsel upon the law of the case for your guidance, and in order that counsel may tell me whether the course I am pursuing is legal." As he said before, he thought such a Bill would lead to a great deal of prevarication and deception; and it would be easily evaded by those who wished to evade it; and, at all events, there would be still a good deal to be said upon many subjects involved in it. He thought the Bill, especially in that part relating to the declaration, was attempting to do that which was utterly impossible; and he did not think, with the hon and learned Gentleman the Member for Abingdon, that they had failed in putting a check upon bribery by their past legislation. He did not think their recent legislation had been wholly inoperative.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
said, that this Bill had been supported by very high authority, and he was sanctioned by a recent majority in the House in his attempt to put a check to evils the magnitude of which no man could attempt to deny. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had thrown upon him a charge of inconsistency in proposing a declaration to be taken by Members, instead of the oath administered 820 to electors. For that proposition, however, he had the high authority of Judge Black-stone, who said that the oath should be imposed upon the Member, rather than on the elector. He repeated, also, that he was sanctioned by the opinion of Mr. Speaker Abbott. Under what circumstances did they call upon an elector to take the bribery oath? He took the bribe offered him by the agent of the candidate at a time when it was very uncertain whether he would ever be called upon to take the bribery oath, and when no witness was present. At the last moment, before a crowd of his assembled neighbours he was called upon to swear that he had never taken any bribe. Why, it was almost vain to expect from a voter such an amount of moral courage as could enable him to undergo the ordeal of confessing his having taken the bribe. And the consequence was, that perjury was added to the bribery. Now, he thought that calling upon the candidate at the hustings, or at the table of the House, to sign such a declaration as he proposed, and making it perfectly certain that it would have to be signed, would be a very far preferable mode, and much better calculated to put a stop to corruption. His right hon. Friend said that laws were not made for righteous men. But surely it was on behalf of honest men that laws were made against the dishonest; and it was on behalf of the honest candidate that he called upon the House to pass that Bill. He had been told, in perfect confidence, by hon. Members, that if they had had such a declaration before them to sign, they would never have been obliged to submit to the charges which they had had to pay. If oaths and declarations were only for the dishonest, how could they manage with the present system? Had they not heard, during the debate upon the Jew Bill, enough to point out a parallel case? How did they keep out the infidel and the atheist from the House, but by the oaths that had to be taken by all? As to the objection of the right hon. Gentleman that hon. Members might pay head-money, after taking the declaration, because head-money was not distinctly set forth, he begged to remind him that the declaration was against bribery of every description, and by the Act 4 and 5 Victoria, c. 20, head-money was made distinctly bribery.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
said, that, with 821 great respect for his right hon. Friend, it appeared to him that, according to the plainest form of language, the declaration was against bribery and corruption of all descriptions, and the Act of Parliament having made the giving of head-money bribery, it would be impossible for any man to think that it was not absolutely included. As to bonâ fide arrangements between candidates at county elections for the giving of tickets for half-a-crown or 3s. for refreshments to voters coming from long distances, he did not understand how it would be possible for any man to think for a moment that such tickets could come under the head of bribery, or obtaining votes by corrupt practices. His noble Friend the Member for Hertford had alluded to the declaration formerly made by officers of the Army. That—which had been given up for some time—was only a sort of private declaration in a letter to the Horse Guards; but the present proposition was for a public declaration at the table of the House of Commons. He had alluded before to all the cases that had been adduced against him; but he could not admit that it was any argument against his Bill, that, because there were difficulties in applying the test to all cases, the test should not be applied at all. Those frightful cases of corruption which he had stated before to the House, demanded the adoption of some stringent measure of prevention. He had mentioned one case that occurred at the general election of 1847, where 13,000l. had been expended in the direct purchase of votes; that, at the same election, in another county, 8,000l. had been similarly expended; and that in a third case, which occurred within his own knowledge, 7,000l. had been spent in the same manner. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Abingdon had said, with great truth and justice, that our legislation hitherto had been only directed to the punishment of those found guilty of bribery. Was it not time that they should attempt to prevent its commission? He would repeat to the House what he had before stated, that the only way in which they could hope successfully to put an end to wholesale bribery, was by exciting in the minds of men who went down to stand as candidates at elections a feeling that their own honour, and their own characters, were involved in the result as to whether they sanctioned such corrupt procceedings or not.
§ MR. HUME
must confess that of late his mind had very much changed on the 822 subject of bribery at elections, and he must acknowledge too that every attempt which they had hitherto made to put an end to it had failed. The very declaration which the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich now proposed, he (Mr. Hume) had himself proposed nearly two and twenty years ago; but now, after reflection and more experience, he feared that he could regard it in no other light than as a trap to catch the conscientious man who might himself be innocent, yet was involved by the acts of his agent. He entirely agreed that the time had come when some effectual measure ought to be tried, and he thought that he was in a position to mention to the Committee a complete and perfect cure. His remedy consisted of two parts: first, he recommended an extension of the suffrage; and, secondly, the vote by ballot. He ventured to say, after all the experience he had had, that those two things, very simple in themselves, and very reasonable, would prove to be a perfect cure. Hon. Gentlemen adopted the ballot system in the club-houses, and in their own affairs. Why should they not then extend it to voting for Members of Parliament? Besides, his opinion in favour of the ballot had been fortified by what had taken place in Europe within the last two years. Hitherto hon. Gentlemen had objected to the ballot, because they said that it had only been tried in one country—the United States. But now he had authority for saying that it had put an end to every thing like bribery and disturbance on the Continent, and that under it the great election in France had been most decorously and properly conducted. He said also, that the same result would follow its adoption in this country. All the riots, debauchery, bribery, and corruption which had disgraced our elections would be effectually put an end to, as they had been on the Continent, if they would but extend the suffrage, and allow the electors to vote by ballot. That was the remedy which he recommended, and he should now vote against the present Bill, although similar Bills he had formerly supported. ["Hear, hear!"] He admitted that his opinion had changed, but what was the good of experience if it did not mature the judgment?
MR. VERNON SMITH
wished to put upon record his solemn objection to the multiplication of declarations and oaths by Members of that House. The proposed declaration would, he was convinced, be 823 found inefficient. It might easily be evaded, and would be merely regarded as so much waste paper by the immoral and irreligious man, while conscientious men might be deterred from taking it. He believed that many hon. Gentlemen who had originally supported the hon. Baronet were opposed to this Bill. The Members of his own Committee, that had been selected by himself, were now found abandoning him; and even the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, whose name was on the back of the Bill, was of opinion that there should be no declaration. Under these circumstances, he was determined to take the sense of the House on the clause.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
begged entirely to deny the charge that the Committee had been selected from Members partial to the objects of the Bill. The Committee had been chosen in the most impartial manner.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the hon. Baronet proposed to make an experimental declaration, and the opinion of the majority of the House evidently was, that the experiment would fail, and that the declaration would fall into contempt. He would wish to know how the hon. Baronet would meet this case, which was not an improbable one: a Member might be returned by the influence of an association that advanced money as loans to indigent electors, on the understanding that if these electors voted against the candidate of the association the loans would be called in, but not otherwise? The Bill would not meet such a case as that, while it was made criminal to give a voter coming from a great distance a refreshment ticket to the value of a few shillings.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
Before the House goes to a division, I wish to state two points which induce me to give my vote against the clause now under consideration. I could not make up my mind to give a vote silently against this clause, because I thought I should be doing an injustice to the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich if I did not bear my humble testimony to the credit he deserves for the attention he has given to this subject, and the labour he has bestowed upon it. I would call the attention of the Committee to a declaration which the hon. Baronet proposes in the 8th Clause of his Bill, with respect to oaths taken by electors, where, having recited what the Acts of Parliament are, he says that "Whereas the oath of affirmation prescribed by the said recited 824 Act has been found by experience to be ineffectual for the purposes aforesaid." I do not differ from the hon. Baronet in that respect, but I think the oath against bribery by an elector is far more effectual than any oath you can put to the candidate. Generally a voter has a full knowledge of the circumstances under which he voted. He has received or will receive a bribe for voting; therefore, he is conscientiously declaring the truth, or he is perjuring himself. So far there does not seem a difficulty in obtaining a correct declaration by the voter whether he is bribed, or expects to receive a bribe. You have found that ineffectual, and the hon. Baronet declares it is found to be ineffectual, and yet he proposes that which is far more difficult, namely, that the candidate who has not had a communication with a great number of voters, and who has trusted to agents, should make a declaration that no bribery has been committed on his behalf, and no promise or offer made. Therefore, having found that ineffectual which it is in the competency of a man to declare, you think to make that effectual which it is not competent for a man to know. The hon. Baronet himself says that the allowance for their expenses of county electors coming to vote, and the obtaining of some refreshment at the places of election, the small sum of half-a-crown, would not really amount to bribery. Others would think that a larger sum for a man travelling a greater distance, and who had been in the habit of receiving five or six shillings a day for his labour, would not amount to bribery. The voter would be tempted to go to the candidate who would give the largest sum. [Sir J. PAKINGTON: It might be done by mutual agreement.] The hon. Baronet says that might be done by mutual agreement. Another man might think that what one candidate gave was insufficient, and they might agree to give a very lage sum, and in that way the candidate would be unable to say whether it came within the compasss of this declaration. You would have to rely upon one set of; men being specially scrupulous, and refusing to take the oath for fear of its being interpreted into a false declaration; and another set, whoso consciences were of a more robust nature, willing to take this oath on taking their seats in Parliament. The other point to which I would call the attention of the House, is the penalty you will inflict. When I considered the subject, it seemed impossible that an oath 825 could be proposed without saying that any person who perjured himself, and acted contrary to the oath, should be unable to sit in Parliament. The hon. Baronet has fairly met that objection, and does disqualify the person who has committed bribery. But then consider what the consequences may be. I have an instance which occurred very recently, and which I shall not be afraid of mentioning, because I believe it is an instance of a gentleman who acted with perfect honesty on this subject. It is the instance of Mr. Strutt, who was found by a Committee to have been guilty of bribery. He assured me, as a man of integrity and honour, after the decision was come to, that nothing could have surprised him more than the evidence before the Committee. He had not the least idea that any bribery had been committed. He said this without finding any fault with the decision of the Committee. Now, Mr. Strutt, and a person in the situation of Mr. Strutt, on the first day of the meeting of Parliament, would come up to the table and take the oath and declaration, and do it conscientiously. It might afterwards be proved in a court of justice that bribery had been committed by the agents, and the penalty upon the man, who might be one of the most distinguished and one of the most able of your Members of Parliament, would be to be disqualified for ever. The hon. Baronet has met the objection fairly by putting in the disqualification, and I do not think it would be possible, after having imposed an oath, to inflict a less penalty; but it is a penalty so great, so severe, and, I must say, so undeserved, that I could not vote for this oath with the penalty attached.
§ SIR R. PEEL
had often given his support to policy which had for its object the suppression of the offence of bribery; but he feared that the House had only been increasing the evil by taking delusive securities against it. Every effectual security they ought to have; but if they adopted delusive securities, they would be giving to the dishonest, to those who were inclined to disregard the obligations of an oath, a decided advantage. He most cordially joined with the noble Lord at the head of the Government, in giving the fullest credit to the motives and to the ability of the hon. promoter of the Bill; but he feared that much of it was not well adapted to further the end which they all had in view. In the early part of the discussion they had been talking of two classes of 826 men. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department observed, that laws were not intended for the control of the virtuous and the honest, but for the control and the punishment of those who were dishonest. Now, said his Friend, the promoter of the Bill, there was another class of men who wanted to have the aid of a declaration to be made at the table—many virtuous men who could not resist the temptations which were sometimes offered at elections. Suppose an agent to approach one of these men, and to say, "The true way for securing this election is by being liberal"—if in such a case, argued the hon. Baronet, you would allow the gentleman in question to say, "That there is a declaration which I must take at the table of the House, which alarms me, and I cannot, therefore, yield to this temptation," then—so reasoned the hon. Gentleman—you would be conferring a great public advantage, and promoting the cause of public morality. Why, what sort of a man was this supposed personage? He found a law prohibiting an offence, and he did not defer to it. On the contrary, he committed the offence notwithstanding; and it was now proposed to restrain him by the imposition of such a declaration as the one in question. He (Sir R. Peel) had no respect for this class of persons—persons who had not virtue enough to do what they believed to be right; and he was not content to legislate for them. But the fact was, that bribery prevailed in so many forms, that it was difficult to exclude it by a declaration. He had been reading the declaration now proposed, and he begged to ask its hon. promoter what he would do in a case of this kind? Suppose a solicitor—of course, a highly respectable solicitor—a solicitor having great influence in a small borough, with some 300 or 400 voters. He is the leading man—in fact, has great influence—and of course abhors bribery. Well, there are two candidates for this borough. To one of them comes the honest and respectable solicitor, and to him he says—"There are offices in the gift of the Crown—these offices are the objects of honourable competition. There is no bribery involved in taking one of them. Somebody must fill it. It is, or it ought to be, a reward for the virtuous and the intelligent—I have some influence here. I think myself qualified to fill one of the situations in question—nay, I believe you will do good service to the public by getting me appointed 827 to it. Now, here are two of you candidates, both very intelligent and respectable men—I must vote for one—a great deal of interest will follow my vote, and it shall be given to whichever of you promises me a public situation of 500l. a year. "Now, is this bribery? But the hon. candidate says—" I really do not see how I can reconcile my compliance with your request to the declaration which I shall have to make." "Oh," but, says the agent, "I shall soon settle that. A late Act, Sir John Pakington's Act, reduced the penalties for certain offences from 500l. to 100l. Now, one of these offences is that of taking any office or employment under the circumstanees in which we now treat. Well, I am willing to stand the brunt of the penalty. But there is actually nothing in the Act which subjects you to any inconvenience for giving me the office; for although the words office or employment' are mentioned in the Act, they are omitted in the declaration which you will have to make. That only speaks of reward, and reward means of course pecuniary reward, and has nothing to do with an office or employment." [Sir J. PAKINGTON: Reward is mentioned in the declaration.] In the enacting part of the Bill, the words "office or employment" are added to that of "reward." The agent may well enough, therefore, persuade the candidate that he can make the declaration. But all these checks are, after all, delusive. They give an advantage to the dishonest above the honest man. Again, what will you do in the case of a man representing a county, where, without anything like corrupt motives, it has long been the practice to give 2s. or a 2s. 6d. ticket for refreshment to voters? Really there can be no corrupt motive in the majority of such cases; but at the same time the existence of such practices do give facilities and opportunities for bribery. Now, if a gentleman adheres to this custom, and is very scrupulous, he will find it difficult to make the declaration. Others who take a looser view of the matter, will find no difficulty in the affair at all. In fact, the result will be, in all probability, the exclusion of men of scrupulous feelings and strict sense of honour. On the whole, then, I am inclined to think that the course which this Bill contemplates, is more likely to encourage bribery than to put it down; and I therefore, giving full credit to the motives of its supporter, cannot undertake to support it.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
would first ask the House whether they were really desirous of putting down bribery? He thought that where there was a will there was a way. It appeared to him that Gentlemen wished to continue the system of bribery, and yet retain a character for honour and purity. The hon. Member for Montrose had proposed the ballot as an effectual check to bribery, but that measure the House would not adopt. He certainly admitted that it was difficult to make men honest by Act of Parliament. If they were determined to break the law, they would find means of evading any enactment; but the declaration proposed in the present Bill, appeared to him to be one means which would have a beneficial influence, both with regard to the candidate and the electors. Constituencies got it into their head that the candidates had some particular interest in being elected, and that the voters did them a service by sending them to Parliament. Now he wanted the electors to understand that it was the interest of the voters to have good representatives, who, if they did their duty, imposed on themselves a great deal of labour and expense. An hon. Member said that this Bill was calculated only to catch the scrupulous, and let the unscrupulous go free. He did not think it could have that effect. Although not a perfect measure it was in the right direction. He knew a Member for a small borough who said to him, "I can truly say that I have committed no bribery, and yet my election cost me 4,000?." He (Mr. Brotherton) wanted the country to believe that the House of Commons were desirous of putting down bribery. If that was their desire, let them exhibit it by passing this Bill. If they did not approve of this measure, had they any other to propose? If one measure could not be adopted, let another be substituted. But, at all events, let them show the country that they were determined to put an end to the evil. He had not changed his opinions on the subject, and, believing this to be a move in the right direction, he should give it his cordial support.
§ MR. SHARMAN CRAWFORD
maintained that the declaration should be imposed on the candidate, and that it was most cruel to impose it on the poor voter; and gave cordial support to the principle of the Bill in requiring a declaration.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, that he had formerly stated that this Bill would be inoperative, 829 and that only the ballot and extension of the suffrage would produce the intended effect; but if the Bill did not answer fully, he believed it would answer partially, and he would vote for it to get what he could.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
replied: After the opinions which had been expressed by the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, he thought it very unlikely that the Bill, in its present form, would become the law of the land; and, therefore, he left it entirely with those who supported the declaration to say whether they would put the House to the trouble of dividing. He was willing to take what course was thought desirable by those who supported the views which he entertained.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 54; Noes 146: Majority 92.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Hindley, C.|
|Aglionby, H.||Keating, R.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Kershaw, J.|
|Ashley, Lord||Lawless, hon. C.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Lushington, C.|
|Bass, M. T.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Blandford, Marq. of||O'Brien, T.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||O'Flaherty, A.|
|Clav, Sir W.||Palmer, R.|
|Clifford, H. M.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Cockburn, A. J. E.||Pilkington, J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Crowder, R. B.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Currie, H.||Smith, J. B.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||Somers, J. P.|
|Drumlanrig, Visct.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Duff, G. S.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Duncan, G.||Talfourd, Serj.|
|Duncuft, J.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Ellice, E.||Thornely, T.|
|Evans, J.||Tollemache, hon. F. J.|
|Fergus, J.||Tollemache, J.|
|Grattan, H.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Greenall, G.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Greene, J.||Wood, W. P.|
|Hardeastle, J. A.|
|Henry, A.||Pakington, Sir J.|
|Heyworth, L.||Brotherton, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Blakemore, R.|
|Alexander, N.||Bourke, R. S.|
|Arkwright, G.||Bouverie, hon. E. P.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Boyle, hon. Col.|
|Bailey, J.||Bremridge, R.|
|Bennet, P.||Bromley, R.|
|Bentinck, Lord H.||Brooke, Lord|
|Berkeley, C. L. G.||Bruce, C. L. C.|
|Blair, S.||Buller, Sir J. Y.|
|Bunbury, E. H.||Lacy, H C.|
|Campbell, hon. W. F.||Law, hon. C. E.|
|Chaplin, W. J.||Lennox, Lord H. G.|
|Charteris, hon. F.||Lewis, G. C.|
|Chichester, Lord J. L.||Lewisham, Visct.|
|Christopher, R. A.||Lindsay, hon. Col.|
|Christy, S.||Locke, J.|
|Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G.||Lockhart, A. E.|
|Codrington, Sir W.||Lockhart, W.|
|Cole, hon. H. A.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Mackinnon, W. A.|
|Coles, H. B.||M'Gregor, J.|
|Compton, H. C.||Maitland, T.|
|Craig, W. G.||Matheson, A.|
|Cubitt W.||Matheson, J.|
|Dalrymple, Capt.||Maule, rt. hon. F.|
|Davies, D. A. S.||Melgund, Visct.|
|Denison, E.||Miles, W.|
|D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T.||Monsell, W.|
|Drummond, H.||Moody, C. A.|
|Drummond, H. H.||Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.|
|Duckworth, Sir J. B.||Mundy, W.|
|Duff, J.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Dundas, Sir D.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Dundas, G.||Ord, W.|
|Dunne, F. P.||Ossulston, Lord|
|Egerton, W. T.||Owen, Sir J.|
|Estcourt, J. B. B.||Packe, C. W.|
|Ewart, W.||Patten, J. W.|
|Farrer, J.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|FitzPatrick, rt. hn. J. W.||Portal, M.|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.||Power, N.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Price, Sir R.|
|Forester, hon. G. C. W.||Pugh, D.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Renton, J. C.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Goddard, A. L.||Reynolds, J.|
|Goring, C.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Salwey, Col.|
|Greene, T.||Sandars, G.|
|Grenfell, C. W.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Grogan, E.||Smollett, A.|
|Gwyn, H.||Stafford, A.|
|Halsey, T. P.||Stanley, hon. E. H.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Sturt, H. G.|
|Hastie, A.||Sutton, J. H. M.|
|Hastie, A.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Headlam, T. E.||Thompson, Col.|
|Heald, J.||Towneley, J.|
|Henley, J. W.||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Herries, rt. hon. J. C.||Turner, G. J.|
|Hildyard, R. C.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Hood, Sir A.||Verner, Sir W.|
|Hope, Sir J.||Vyse, R. H. R. H.|
|Hornby, J.||Wall, C. B.|
|Howard, Lord E.||Willyams, H.|
|Hume, J.||Williamson, Sir H.|
|Jocelyn, Visct.||Wilson, M.|
|Johnstone, Sir J.||Wodehouse, E.|
|King, hon. P. J. L.||TELLERS.|
|Knox, Col.||Mahon, Visct.|
|Labouchere, rt. hon. H.||Smith, V.|
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
moved that the Committee report progress. There were several clauses of the Bill so connected with that which had just been rejected, that he would require some time to consider 831 the future course to be taken with I the Bill.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again on Wednesday 9th May.