§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, said, as he had been permitted to bring it in without giving any explanation, he thought it was due to the House, and to the measure itself, that he should make some statement upon the present occasion. He was aware of the difficulty of dealing with the question of bribery at elections; but, after the notorious corruption which had taken place at the general elections of 1841 and 1847, the subject assumed a new degree of most pressing importance. He introduced this measure with great deference to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, whose attention had been specially devoted to the subject, and who had given it the most praiseworthy attention. Few men understood it so well as the noble Lord; and it was with no intention of depreciating or lowering the value of his exertions in the cause, that he (Sir J. Pakington) proposed his present measure. Neither did he mean to undervalue the two Acts upon the subject of which the noble Lord was the author in the years 1841 and 1842. But he should express his decided opinion that the existing laws were altogether insufficient for the prevention of bribery at elections. He did not mean to say that the present laws against bribery were not sufficiently severe; they were stringent enough in their provisions; but what he was about to prove was, that the existing law was, to a great degree, inoperative, for the reason that under it all chance of detection and of punishment of bribery at elections was dependent entirely upon the presentation 1042 of election petitions; Whereas he was prepared to prove that wherever corruption exists there was a combination of the most powerful motives, which had the effect of deterring, and did deter, persons from presenting petitions to Parliament. That was the argument which he sought to establish. He would not detain the House by adverting, at any length, to the details of existing Acts of Parliament, but he must request permission of the House briefly to call their attention to what were the existing laws against bribery and corruption at elections. From the time that our constitution gradually assumed its present shape, and it became an object of ambition to men of birth and station to acquire seats in the House of Commons, from that time must we date the commencement of that system of corruption of which we had to deplore the enormous increase. The first attempt was made to check bribery at elections towards the end of the reign of Charles II., and during the reign of James II.; but those attempts were vain. At length, in the seventh year of Will. III., the Act was passed which was known as the Treating Act: and it was upon that Act that the present system of Parliamentary constituency was founded. The next Act of importance was the 2nd Geo. II., which was so well known as the Bribery Act. By that Act the bribery oath was provided, which might be put to electors before they were permitted to give their votes. But the principal provision of that Act was the 500l. penalty connected with deprivation of seat, and of privilege to be re-elected, imposed upon those who should be convicted of bribery in a court of law. But the Act had become virtually a dead letter. He had intended to have moved for a return of all the convictions obtained, and the prosecutions instituted under that Act, But upon consideration, and after inquiry, he found that the prosecutions were so very few, and the convictions still so more rare, that it was not worth while to move for the returns, and it was evident that, for all practical purposes, the Act was a dead letter. Yet it was to these two Acts, the Treating Act and the Bribery Act, that they had trusted, until, in 1841, the noble Lord at the head of the Government directed his attention to the subject, and brought in the first of the two Acts to which he (Sir. T. Pakington) had referred. In that Act, the very important power was given to Parliamentary Committees to receive proofs 1043 of acts of bribery before the agency of the parties was approved. It was a most valuable Act; but its defect was, its requiring the previous presentation of a petition. If no petition were presented, there was no possibility of proceeding. The next Act was that passed in 1842. Every Gentleman who listened to him, recollected the compromises of bribery cases which had led to that enactment. Its provisions were chiefly directed against compromises. But the House would recollect that the only practical result of that Act was, so far as compromises were concerned, that it had effected a change in the time at which the compromises were made. The noble Lord said, "After the presentation of the petition, you shall make no compromise." But no legislation could prevent parties from effecting compromises before any petition was presented. Another portion of the Act would also, he (Sir J. Pakington) feared, tend to render it inoperative, namely, the power given in certain cases to the electors themselves to present petitions to the House where bribery prevailed. For the manner in which the power was ham-pored with the necessity for the petitioners entering into recognisances to the amount of 1,000l. in the first instance, and the discretion given to Committees to make the petitioners liable to costs, should the case not be borne out, would render the Act entirely inoperative. These two Acts, then, could not come into operation until after petitions should have been presented to Parliament. There was a Bill upon the subject at present pending in another place. He held a copy of it in his hand; but he knew it would be irregular and unfair, until it should be properly before Parliament, to enter into any discussion upon its provisions. He might, however, say thus much, that its principle was much the same as that of the Bill that was brought before Parliament last Session—namely, the detection and punishment of bribery, by a Commission to be sent down to the towns where the bribery was alleged to have been committed. Now, the same objection which he had already made to the measures of the noble Lord, applied to that; for not only should they have a Commission appointed, but they should first have a petition presented to Parliament, before the provision of the Act could come into operation. He should inform the House that he was prepared to offer them something more than mere opinions upon the subject; but he should be 1044 obliged to throw himself on the indulgence of the House to place in him a certain degree of confidence. He had had the particulars of some contests that had taken place during the last general election of 1847, placed at his disposal, with the view of promoting the Bill which he was then moving—but of course under certain conditions—with the promise from him, that he would neither mention the places implicated, nor disclose the names of the parties concerned. He, therefore, begged the House to accept his honourable assurance that he would not state any facts which he was not able to prove, and of which he had not complete knowledge. Again asking them to place confidence in his statements, he should call the first borough to which he should allude, "Borough A." In that borough there were between 1,000 and 2,000 electors. [An hon. Member here suggested "Aylesbury."] It was not the borough to which his hon. Friend referred. He merely called it "A" for the convenience of reference. But he was in a condition to state that nearly all the electors in it were accessible to bribery. The exceptions consisted of the banker, the clergyman, some lawyers, and a few respectable tradesmen. The usual amount of bribe was from 4l to 5l. per head. He had in his hand some very curious papers, addressed to a candidate, and signed by several of the electors, openly asking him what terms he meant to give. He had also a form of paper by which the voter was entitled, after the election, to go to a certain place and there to receive a certain sum of money, or double the amount, according as he had given a single vote, or divided it between the two candidates. He was in a condition to state that upwards of 700 voters had polled at the last election, and 13 out of every 14 of those so polled were bribed. At that place, in 1841, the aggregate expenses of the election were 7,000l., expended in direct corruption of voters. In 1847, the cost had risen to 8,000l, which sum was spent in the direct purchase of votes. And a letter which he had received upon the subject, which had been written shortly after the election, stated that the effects of an election at——,"were most demoralising and degrading, and that the hospital was filled with men maimed, and bruised, and maddened with drink." He should mention another place, in a borough which he would call "B," where bribery had been carried on in 1847. It was not 1045 a small constituency. He would not, of course, name the exact number of votes, but there were between 1,000 and 2,000. He had in that case information from both sides, under the condition of suppressing names, to which he had before referred. In the election of 1847, between 1,000 and 2,000 voters of that place polled; and out of every 28 men who had voted on both sides, 17 received money for their votes. The rate of bribe was much higher in that place than in the other he had mentioned. The sums given ranged at 10l., 12l., and 15l., as the usual price per head in the earlier portion of the election. But later in the day, the prices rose to 50l.; and before the close of the day, one or two voters received 100l. for their votes. And to show the contaminating and demoralising influence of this system of corruption, where it obtained so extensively, he was sorry to add, that in this case master tradesmen and professional gentlemen were not above taking prices for their votes. In the aggregate a sum of no less than 13,000l. was spent at that place in the direct purchase of votes. He bad bound himself to the House that he would not give any details to the accuracy of which he could not pledge his own voracity. He should, therefore, be careful of mentioning some other places of which he had not received such perfect proofs. He had, however, received information, which, although it did not enable him to go into details, was yet sufficient to show that the same system of gross notorious bribery prevailed in them; and he asked the House of Commons, was this state of things to be suffered to go on? Was that vile system of bribery to be allowed to continue unchecked and uncontrolled? In not one of those cases which he had detailed to the House, had a petition been presented, or the matter brought before the House. How could it? The losing candidate dare not; he would be himself involved in the punishment he sought to draw upon others. The electors could not petition, because they had a common interest in screening the common corruption; and he was perfectly convinced that if it were the intention of the House of Commons to put a stop to the system, they should adopt another plan than that of petitions, which they would not in such cases obtain. He confessed, he thought the policy which the House had pursued for a long period of time, of punishing corruption by wholesale disfranchisement, had 1046 tended very much to diminish the chances of obtaining petitions in such cases. He spoke upon this subject with very great deference to those experienced statesmen who had sanctioned that system. But it was his opinion that to punish extensive bribery by wholesale disfranchisement, was an unjust and unwise course, because the tendency of the present day was to extend popular rights, and such a course was an infringement upon them. But he thought, besides, the wholesale disfranchisement was an unjust punishment, because it punished the innocent with the guilty. It punished posterity for the sins of those who were now alive; and it was justified only upon the ground that they were holding out warning to others. But had such a warning ever been effectual? He believed it never had. If the hand of the rich man were hold out with a bride in it, the poor man saw only the gold within his reach, and he never thought—how could be think—of the punishment inflicted upon some other place in an adjoining county which had been disfranchised for corrupt practices? Lot them look, for example, at the case of the borough of Great Yarmouth, which had been brought forward last year. He (Sir, T. P'akington) was unable at the time to attend the House. Had he been able, he would have opposed, although be had stood alone, the disfranchisement of 1,000 men, because sixteen had been proved to have taken bribes. But it was alleged in that instance, that although sixteen cases only had been proved, the corruption was proved to have been extensive. He bogged to remind them that Great Yarmouth was in the county of Norfolk, and they had previously disfranchised the borough of Sudbury, in the county of Suffolk, the very adjoining county, which should have been a warning to Great Yarmouth, if such things served as warnings. Yet Sudbury seemed to have been forgotten. They must not trust to the remedy of disfranchisement, nor should they wait for election petitions, if they wished to convince the country that they were in earnest about stopping those practices. And further, instead of aiming, as all their legislation had hitherto done, at the poor voter, they should aim at the more guilty party by whom the voter was corrupted. He asked, would any man tell him that, in such cases as he had mentioned, the candidates were innocent of the bribery committed? He did not believe any man could think so. He plainly told the House that it was not so. 1047 It was impossible that it should be so. He did not moan to say that cases might not arise in which the candidates might themselves he supposed to be innocent. They all knew that in some instances fathers brought in their sons—political leaders brought in their partisans. But those were the small minority of cases, and even then bribery could not be carried on without the knowledge of the candidate. But in the great majority of cases it was a matter quite notorious that candidates stood upon their own moans. They had it in their power to analyse their bills, and they bribed with their own money. And this brought him to the second point of his case. He had shown them that the present provisions against bribery were ineffective, and he now had to propose that they should impose a check upon the candidate instead of upon the voter. It was for these reasons that he ventured to propose that no man should take his scat in the House of Commons until he had made a declaration at the table publicly before the House and the country, that, so far as his knowledge went, he was himself innocent of any corrupt practices. He was aware that objections would be made to Euch a declaration. He might be told that it might turn out to be only a trap for tender consciences. But he did ask the House, before any hon. Member decided to vote against his Bill upon that ground—he asked them to look to the wording of the declaration which he proposed. He had been careful to word it so that no man could be called upon to declare anything that was not within his own knowledge, and within his own power to ascertain. But he would propose, if the House allowed the Bill to go to a second reading, that it should be afterwards referred to a Select Committee upstairs. He was quite aware of the great difficulties of the subject. He was aware that any declaration ought to be most cautiously drawn up; but it was his intention that that which he proposed should be reconsidered by the Committee upstairs. He hoped, however, that the House would doom that the arguments in favour of the course which he proposed, were stronger than those against it. He had been told only on the previous day by a gentleman well known to many Members of the House, as being generally connected with elections all over the country, that the principle of the Bill which he had introduced was the only principle on which they could hope to put a stop to corrupt 1048 practices—that, in fact, they could only hope to gain their end by exciting a feeling on the part of the candidates that their honour and character were involved in the course which they took. He put it, then, to the House, whether, for the protection of candidates themselves, it was not desirable that, when gentlemen of honour and character wont down to places where those practices had prevailed, and where, in reality, they had no option, they were compelled to fall in with the customs of the constituency, or their election was hopeless—he put it to the House whether it were not desirable to put such gentlemen on a new and different footing—to enable them to say to their agents, "If you go on with these corrupt practices, you must do so at your own peril; I have a declaration hanging over me, which renders it impossible for me ever to reimburse you? "He thought it was due to principle that when corrupt practices were notoriously rife, and were giving great public scandal, that Members, before they took their seats, should declare that they were not involved in them. He should then propose that it be imperative on Members to make this declaration before they can take their seats; and also, following the precedent of the Qualification Act, that it should be in the power of two electors—in cases in which bribery was suspected—to require that the candidate should make a similar declaration upon the hustings; but this was a part of the Bill that must be submitted to the closest examination in Committee. The next principal enactment which he proposed was, that in cases in which parties had been reported to the House by an Election Committee to have been guilty either of having taken or given bribes, that such parties should be therefore disfranchised for life. Improved as the constitution of Election Committees now was, he was sure that no parties would be so reported, unless a very clear case had been made out against them; and surely when such practices existed, those who were guilty ought to be held as unworthy of exercising the electoral function. The only remaining material enactment of the Bill which he should propose, was the total repeal of the bribery oath now in existence. He felt that in grappling with the offence of bribery, the candidate was the proper person to be attacked, and that therefore it would be useless and unjust to retain an oath which affected only the elector. It was manifestly unfair, 1049 he contended, towards men who had been overpowered by temptations which they could not resist, to be asked, when the time of election came, in the face of all the constituency, before all their neighbours, either to confess the offence, or to perjure themselves. He was sorry, indeed, to say that experience proved too strongly which was the alternative preferred. He would not trouble the House by entering into further details. He knew that some objections would be made to his measure; but he entertained a confident hope that these objections were such as might, by a further consideration of the subject, be completely removed. He might be told, that if he wished to put a stop to bribery, the real remedy would be to extend the franchise—to enlarge constituencies. Now he begged to say, that he had no decided views as to extending the franchise. He did not bind himself to any particular number of constituencies, or to any particular extent of franchise. When it could be proved that the franchise could be safely extended, then no one would be more glad than he would to consent to such an extension. But before he could consent to such a step, he should like to see the right of voting more valued than it was now—he should like to sec constituencies more sensible of what the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) called the dignity of exercising the electoral franchise as a high public privilege, and not the practice of selling it as a marketable commodity. These were the views which he entertained as to the extension of the franchise. But he would be allowed to ask the House whether they could consent to the enlargement of constituencies as a means of preventing bribery? Experience and reason answered in the negative. Experience could not fail of pointing to the cases of Nottingham and Norwich, where, in days not long gone by, those largo constituencies were the most notoriously corrupt in the country. And did not reason tell them that if they were dealing either with thousands or with hundreds—that if parties were nicely balanced, there would still be a temptation on the part of the candidate to buy, and on the part of the voter to sell, when a limited number would suffice to turn the scale one way or the other. No doubt he might be told that the severity of the Committee of last Session had put a stop to bribery. Now, certainly, the Committees of last Session did 1050 by no means shrink from the duty imposed upon them. Indeed, in some cases, he thought that they were too severe; but he did not think that their severity would stop bribery. He believed, on the contrary, that it would only have the effect of preventing the presentation of petitions. There was but one subject more which he wished to touch on. It had been said that there was a grave deficiency in his Bill, inasmuch as it did not propose to deal with the offence of treating. Now, he hoped that the House would make some allowance for a natural desire to deal with only one very difficult subject at a time. But he had suggested to some of his friends, to whom he had spoken on the matter, that in the Select Committee the subject might be fairly raised; and that if, in the opinion of that Committee, it would be wise to include treating in the measure, he would then have no objection to the introduction of a clause upon the subject. Certainly he did think that some regulation regarding treating would be highly desirable. He had now only to express his hope that the House would pause before rejecting the Bill in its present state. But whatever the decision of the House might be, there would remain to him the satisfaction that he had made a single-minded attempt to check what he believed to be a great and a growing evil—an evil which was sapping the foundations of a representative system which had long been the boast of England, and the admiration of the world. They were proud of the purity of their public men. But if they valued the purity of their public men, they ought to be most jealous of the purity of constituent bodies; for if the latter were allowed to be corrupt, the example would become contagious. He had now to ask the House to give the Bill a second reading. It did not pretend to be a measure for the prevention of all bribery, but it would certainly tend to check anything like a system of gross and wholesale corruption, while he thought that the House was bound to give a fair trial to what was a fair experiment, or at least to offer some homage to the principle of purity of election. He moved that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
stated that he did not intend to press the Amendment of which he had given notice, as the hon. Baronet who had just sat down had announced 1051 his intention of referring the subject to a Select Committee. He must, however, say, that he declined altogether to legislate upon a matter of this importance upon the information which had been obtained by the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. Upon such secret information—of course not obtained at Droitwich—he (Colonel Sibthorp) could place no reliance; neither was he prepared to be guided by the ipse dixit of any hon. Member whatsoever. If he entertained objections to the Bill when he gave notice of his Amendment, they had been increased tenfold by the speech which the hon. Baronet had made in support of it. Where the hon. Baronet obtained his information from, he could not for the life of him make out. It appeared rather to be the result of some secret inquiry, and he should always oppose a Bill which was based upon information derived from secret sources. The hon. Baronet then talked about the purity of public men. Good God! the purity of public men; where was it?—what was it? He had always thought and now boldly declared that the Treasury bench was the scat where, above all others, the grossest corruption prevailed. But he had heard with infinite satisfaction that the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Baines) who now occupied a seat on the Treasury bench as First Commissioner of the Poor Law, had refused to take office if he were not permitted to pursue what course he thought proper in reference to the navigation laws; and they had received an intimation from the noble Lord at the head of the Government—the Member for the city of London, which was all purity—that he had absolved the hon. Gentleman from voting against the repeal of the navigation laws; but the noble Lord did not give him liberty to vote as he liked upon every other question. No; the noble Lord was too cautious for that. He said the navigation laws was an open question; but questions might be open out of doors but not in that House. An open question out of doors was a very different thing from what was considered an open question in Downing-street. The purity of public men, indeed! Faugh! stuff! It was mere moonshine. It was impossible for them to be pure. Bribery and corruption were part of their system, and their impurity was as notorious as the sun at noonday. He could not help thinking that the hon. Baronet who introduced the Bill would have done much better had he delayed the second reading of the Bill until 1052 the House had seen the information which the hon. Baronet said he had read. Besides, there was a Bill coming from another place, and he should like to know, before they disposed of this one, what that Bill would be. A Bill was also introduced last Session into the House upon the subject, to which great attention was paid, and which incurred a great amount of expense—a waste of time, printing, and paper, and yet it all ended in smoke. And then the noble Lord followed it up with another Bill, which he managed to get through the House; but when it got up to another place, the other place wanted to shut up themselves, and they kicked out the Bill. But now it seemed another Bill was rising in the other place out of the ashes of the Bill they had knocked on the head last Session. Now, he would not say anything against the other place, but he always understood that that House looked with eyes of jealousy upon the intermeddling of the other place; but be that as it might, he, for one, did not like this interference of the other place. Why did they not mind their own business? But it might be possible that there was not too much purity in the other place, although it contained a mitre. What had bishops and priests to do with this question? What had Christian members of the Church to do with it. Why, nothing at all: and he hoped they would (though he hardly expected it) abstain from voting on the resuscitated Bill. If this Bill were passed, it would destroy that good feeling which had so long existed between the higher and the lower classes; and it was well known what care the wealthier classes bestowed upon their humble dependants. If, however, there was to be a searching inquiry into all their acts—if secret machinations were to exist, no man would be safe. Bribery and corruption had existed, and, doubtless, would exist. He hoped, at least, however, that he had never been guilty of such acts; he was, therefore, altogether free from the charge; but if eight or nine Bills had been introduced since 1841, for the purpose of altering the present state of things, and yet had proved inoperative for that purpose, he should like to know what chance the present measure stood of success. He hoped the Bill would be rejected, because he believed that every man ought to do what he liked with his own. At least allowing a man that permission was but carrying out the much-vaunted principle of free trade; but 1053 he supposed a free-trader (a hair of whose head he would not hurt) could not bribe; it was quite impossible; he was too pure a being to do so. He believed the Bill to be absurd, to be full of equivocations, and that it would prevent the purest and most honourable men from coming to the House and conscientiously taking the usual oaths. Nevertheless, as the hon. Baronet had consented to have the matter referred to a Committee upstairs, he should not oppose the Bill in its present stage, not wishing to thwart fair investigation. He trusted, however, when it came down again, if it came down at all, that it would so in a far different shape, and inculcate very different principles to that of the principle of obtaining evidence, by inquiring secretly of Mr. Smith, or Mr. Tomkins, disappointed voters perhaps: he would strongly oppose it. The parties who furnished evidence in support of the Bill were like a thief in the night, who came secretly to steal your character, and to put your silver spoons in his pocket.
SIR J. HANMER
said, it was perfectly true that former attempts had been made, without avail, as had been stated by the hon. Member who had just resumed his seat, to suppress the corrupt practices which had been so long carried on at elections. He hoped, however, that the present attempt of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington), though he (Sir J. Hanmer) was not able to give his support to all its provisions, would have a different result; and he was relieved from the difficulty under which the objections he entertained to the Bill as it then stood, placed him by the proposal of the hon. Gentleman to refer it to a Select Committee upstairs; and he trusted, through the searching investigation and practical suggestions of that body, that the House would be enabled to pass a measure to put an end to those evils which threatened, unless at once checked or restrained, to sap the foundations of Parliament itself. It was true that, heretofore, the attempts of official and of unofficial Members to stop the evil had proved abortive; but unless a remedy was devised without delay the day of vengeance was at hand. After all the evidence before Committees—all the knowledge that must be possessed personally by the whole House—Why was it that the question should be so unwillingly entertained, as if Gentlemen could doubt that they had a great evil, urgently pressing on their consideration? He could find, as he 1054 had said, many objections to the Bill, but he preferred to make them in Committee, where they might be separately dealt with, rather than impede its progress at present. As the Committee was to take into its consideration the subject of treating, that would be another reason for which the Motion of the hon. Baronet should have his support. The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Sibthorp) had said that if the Bill were passed no one would be safe. Had he (Colonel Sibthorp) been in his place, he should have asked him if any one was safe at the present moment? No one would be safe until the law with respect to bribery and treating, and their punishment, was placed on an intelligible footing. The difference between treating and bribery was by no means clearly defined, and a variety of opinions existed on the subject. He need not go any further back than last Session to find instances of this difference of opinion. No loss than three different judgments were given last Session on the subject of treating. Mr. Hodgson, who had been elected for Carlisle, was unseated because treating had been carried on by his agents, but without his knowledge and consent. It was thought he had a right to contest the seat again; he did so, and was elected, and no doubt sat in that House with great advantage to the city. The other decisions were North Cheshire and Horsham. The two Gentlemen who were petitioned against declared that they made repeated declarations to their agents and friends against treating, and would not be responsible for treating ill any manner. It having been alleged before the Committee that great treating had, nevertheless, taken place at the North Cheshire election, the Committee decided that as Mr. C. Leigh could not be sued at law for the expenses of treating, the offence had not been proved, and he was therefore allowed to retain his seat. But in the case of Horsham, where Mr. Fitzgerald was placed in the same situation, he having protested against treating, and having declared he would not be responsible for it, he had been declared guilty of treating, and had been removed from his seat. Now, here were three decisions opposed to each other, showing the necessity for a clear settlement of the law. There was another, though an incidental, question which arose in the Horsham Committee. They not only decided that Mr. Fitzgerald, who had the majority of votes, should be deprived of his seat, and was in- 1055 capable of sitting, because at a previous election some treating had been carried on against his instructions and without his knowledge, but the Committee declared that a noble Lord, who bad the minority of votes, was duly elected. Now, that question arose incidentally, but it was a very important question, and he hoped that if the Bill of the hon. Baronet was to be referred to a Committee upstairs, the terms of reference would not be small and narrow, and that the cases in which existing decisions of Committees of the House conflicted with the decisions in the courts of law would be submitted to that Committee, and that the House might arrive at a state of things such as the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln so much desired, namely, when the country would get a good, plain, and intelligible law on the subject. Fault might well be found with the declaratory clause as it then stood; but it was one thing to stand criticising a particular project, and another, to be obtuse to the suggestions of every contested election. He was not satisfied with the slate of things which they presented, and he believed the people could not be satisfied, especially as changes in the electoral system, were so frequently pressed for. Such changes could not be safely made at any time, unless elections were better secured by a revision of the existing law. As a part of that revision he gave his cordial support for sending up this Bill, objectionable as it might now seem, to a Select Committee.
said, he felt sure that there must be a general feeling in the House that the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich deserved its thanks for the very judicious and very temperate manner in which he had stated his opinions on this subject to the House. He (Viscount Mahon) thought the course proposed, of referring this Bill to a Select Committee, to be in every respect a proper one. But various doubts and difficulties occurred to him with respect to this Bill, which he was anxious to state to the House, not in any hostile spirit to the measure, but in order that they might receive a candid consideration from the House and the Committee. By the 2nd Clause of the Bill it was proposed that any Member "who shall, by the report of any Committee of the House of Commons, be declared to have been guilty of bribery, shall be for ever thereafter incapable to be elected a Member of Parliament." Now, 1056 there might be periods when party spirit ran high, in which it would be dangerous to have such an enactment as this. Let the House consider how such a regulation would have acted in former years. There had been times when the exclusion of great party leaders from Parliament would have been considered an object of paramount importance. How would such a rule have acted in the case of Mr. Pitt or Mr. Fox, or any other eminent men upon whose talents and exertions their party depended? Such a rule would have placed it in the power of any five Members of the House of Commons—or three Members even, as constituting the majority—to declare, upon doubtful evidence, and in a period of party excitement, that the head of their political opponents—the very man on whom their opponents depended for their political existence—should be incapacitated from ever again sitting in Parliament. Lot the House just reflect upon the temptation which such a rule would hold out to an indulgence in party spirit. Such a temptation might not be offered at the present moment, but would be, in periods of party excitement, such as, sooner or later, must be expected to recur. There was another clause in the Bill to which he entertained an objection on nearly similar, though not on equal, grounds. The 6th Clause pro-vided that persons declared by Election Committees to be guilty of personally giving or receiving bribes, should forfeit their right of voting. He admitted that there was much advantage in such a clause. Thus, for example, the Committee of which he had been a Member, and which sat last Session, on the Lancaster election, had declared the election to be void, on the ground that several voters had received bribes; and the Committee were in the painful position, that the writ had to issue and the election be determined by the very persons whom the Committee had to report to the House as having been guilty of bribery. But here, again, as in the former case, there was danger of party spirit intervening. Admitting that there was much advantage to be derived from such a change, he thought the new rule would be liable to abuse whenever parties in that House should be nicely balanced; and when, under the influence of party feeling, a vote or two struck off' the register in any particular borough, might turn the scale at the next election for that borough. He thought this difficulty might be obviated 1057 by such an alteration in the clause as would require the unanimous decision of the Committee that electors had been guilty of receiving a bribe. As Election Committees were at present composed, containing as they did a fusion of both parties in the House, he thought that his suggestion would preclude the possibility of a prejudiced decision. That decision would then either be not unanimous, and in that case of no effect; or else it would be unanimous, and in that case above all suspicion of partiality or injustice. It might also be doubted whether the disfranchisement of those guilty electors should be perpetual, or should be limited to the next ensuing election. He threw out these hints for the consideration of the hon. Baronet and of the House. As to the general subject of declarations by Members, he should prefer to reserve his opinion until after the Committee had sat and reported to the House. He saw advantages in the present proposal; but he also saw considerable objections. He should be glad if the difficulties at which he had glanced would be removed by the Committee; and he now gave his cordial assent to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, he should support this Bill, as its object was to suppress bribery at elections. Ever since he had sat in that House he had supported measures having the same object; but he felt bound to admit that those measures had not been attended with much success. He should give the present Bill a most careful consideration; but he must express his fears that it would prove, like those which had preceded it, inefficacious for the suppression of the evils complained of. But the Bill might be so far amended in Committee, that though it would not be useful now, it might be made useful then. He would not now go into its details, because the proper time for discussing them would be when the Bill was before the Committee; but there were one or two points, bearing upon the principle of the measure, that he could not now altogether omit noticing. With regard to the declaration to be made by every Member before taking his seat, as proposed in the first clause, he must say, it seemed to him very like a net or a trap, to catch the more scrupulous and tenderly conscientious Members of that House, but which would offer no barrier to hon. Members who were less delicate and more lax in their feelings as to matters of conscience. He was afraid 1058 the declaration would dwindle down into a matter of feeling and construction; and that many would not hesitate to swallow the declaration, while the more sensitive and more honourable would shrink from taking it. Here they were called upon to declare that they had not, either directly or indirectly, offered any reward to induce, or endeavour to induce, any person to vote for them, or against any other man, or to abstain from voting altogether. Now, he had his doubts whether many hon. Gentlemen in that House could lay their hands upon their hearts, and subscribe to all this. Many might swallow it, and perhaps they had never offerd any reward. But there was one class of rewards to which he would refer. How many of those around him could undertake to say, that they had never asked at the Treasury Office for place or favour? They might be asked by one of their constituents who supported them to find a place for his son or his nephew, and they apply to the Government accordingly in behalf of the man who had given them a generous and confiding support at the election. It was a mixed motive in such a case that induced hon. Members to apply for situations under the Government; and he must be a very strong-minded man indeed if he did not do it in order to oblige a supporter, and secure his continued support. Perhaps it would be said that they made the application out of pure motives of kindness, for situations, for instance, in the Excise or Customs; but he would put the matter to them in this way: Did they apply with equal feelings of alacrity and energy whether it was a supporter or an opponent who came to court their influence? If they were equally impartial in this respect, then he would ask, did they not act from their hopes of turning the voter who opposed them into a friend and supporter? Now, he did not shrink from avowing that he had himself applied for these places; and therefore he felt himself involved in difficulty with regard to this declaration. He had certainly never tried for very high game, where hundreds or thousands a year were to be obtained; but he had applied for places for postmen at 12s. a week, and he had very seldom got more. This was really a very serious matter, because many might shrink to take this declaration. He would not quarrel with those who should take it—some might do it very conscientiously, but many others could not. But the Bill would altogether be inoperative, 1059 independently of that difficulty. But they were not doing their duty to the country; they were afraid of shadows, they were merely frightening the people; but they must do essential service in meeting the difficulty at once. His advice was, let them openly disfranchise some, and enfranchise more. Disfranchise the freemen in boroughs. [Colonel SIBTHORP: Hear, hear!] Yes, and in the city of Lincoln, too. Disfranchise those freemen as freemen entitled to vote as electors, but enfranchise them at once as householders. He had no objection to their having votes as householders, but the old leaven ought not to be left to taint the whole constituency. If they disfranchised some classes, let them, at the same time, widely extend the privilege of the suffrage, accompanied by the ballot, and then they might hope, but not before, to cure the evils which such Bills as this professed to seek to repress. There was another class who greatly endangered the purity of election proceedings. He alluded to the publicans, few of whom could withstand temptation when it came before them on the one side, with the advantage of their family and relations on the other. He would not have them disfranchised, but he would have illegitimate inducements taken away from them, by increasing the number of voters to such an extent as that open houses could no longer be kept for so extensive a constituency. With regard to voters employed in the royal dockyards, hon. Members connected with the Government might not like to acknowledge it, but who could deny that the almost invariable feeling amongst the workmen was, that they must vote for whoever sat upon this (the Ministerial) side of the House, whether it were Whigs or Tories? And there were men seeking employment in the different departments, who, not feeling justified in changing their politics according to whatever party might be in power, yet satisfied their consciences by a compromise, and abstained from voting altogether. He again implored the House to meet the matter boldly, for the feeling of the country would be sure to go along with them; and if they extended the franchise greatly, and adopted vote by ballot, then, but not till then, they would put an effectual check upon bribery and corruption at elections.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, that nobody could be more ready than himself to give full credit to the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington), for the attention he had bestowed 1060 upon this subject, and the pains he had taken in preparing a measure which he believed would be effectual in preventing an evil, which he (Sir G. Grey) agreed with him, notwithstanding all the Acts already passed for the prevention of corruption and bribery at elections, still continued to exist to a great extent in some constituencies. And though it might be the general wish of the House not to oppose the second reading of this Bill, or refuse the Select Committee upon it, yet he (Sir G. Grey) must be allowed to mention the difficulties that occurred to his mind in connexion with the adoption of that course. As he understood the second reading of a Bill, he believed that by assenting to it the House would be agreeing to the principle of the Bill; and the object of sending it to a Select Committee was to ensure a more minute consideration as to its details, by hon. Members appointed for the purpose, who, after giving it that careful consideration which they were able to bestow upon it in a Committee upstairs, should report to the House the alterations they deemed it expedient should be made in the details, but keeping strictly to the principle of the measure. But he must protest against the doctrine of his hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), who held that it was a sufficient ground for supporting the second reading, that he agreed in the title of the measure, though he dissented altogether from its principle and details. That hon. Gentleman had said, that differing as he did from every clause, from the principles and from the details of this Bill, still, if he found a Bill upon the table of this House, purporting to have for its object the prevention of bribery and corruption at elections, he would have no hesitation in voting for its second reading, or for its reference to a Select Committee. Why, he would ask the hon. Gentleman, whether, if it was proposed to transport Members of Parliament or voters at elections who were guilty of bribery, he would vote for the second reading of a Bill brought in for the purpose stated in the title to be the object of the Bill now before the House? His hon. Friend the Member for Flint (Sir J. Hanmer) said that he objected to the Bill, and would not vote for the second reading if it were not proposed to refer it to a Select Committee; but what his hon. Friend wanted was not a Select Committee on the Bill, but a Committee to inquiry 1061 into the whole subject of bribery and treating at elections, and the decisions of the Committees on that subject; in short, such an inquiry as would destroy all chance of any Bill being passed on the subject during the present Session. He (Sir G. Grey) had not noticed, from any one hon. Gentleman who had spoken upon this Motion, any approbation expressed of a single clause of it as it now stood. The noble Lord (Viscount Mahon) had objected very much to one clause, and had expressed no approbation of any of the other clauses. He said he thought a Committee upstairs should consider, not what should be the terms of the declaration that hon. Members should be required to subscribe before taking their seats, which would be a perfectly Parliamentary object, but the noble Viscount seemed to think that the Committee ought to determine whether any declaration should be required at all. He (Sir G. Grey) did not think this the proper duty of the Committee; but the House should now determine whether, on the one hand, they ought to repeal the existing bribery oath on the allegation that it had been found ineffectual; and whether, on the other hand, it was advisable to impose upon Members, previous to taking their seats, the necessity of taking an oath or making a declaration, couched in analogous terms to the oath applied to electors, and which, as experience proved, tended more to promote perjury and deceit, than to prevent bribery or corruption. The hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) had stated the general principles of the Bill very fairly. He said there were three main points—first, the declaration to be imposed upon candidates, if required, in the manner now adopted with respect to qualification, and the declaration which was to be required to be made at the table by every Member before he took his seat in the House; second, the disqualification for ever from sitting in Parliament of any Member, on conviction of bribery or corruption before a court of law, or by the report of a Committee of this House upon an election petition, declaring him to have been guilty of these acts; and the third, the repeal of the existing bribery oath. Now, with regard to the first he (Sir G. Grey) had heard nothing to show that it was expedient to impose a declaration of this kind. He believed it would prove ineffectual against bribery, although it might prove effectual to this extent, that 1062 it might deter some of those who had not been guilty of bribery or any moral offence in obtaining their election, but who might, at the same time, have countenanced acts which they might feel a Committee of this House might hold to be bribery—it might deter such from taking their places in this House, and thereby exclude the most honest and most efficient Members from seats in Parliament; whilst be believed many Members, who would take a different view of the subject, might take the oath—he did not say dishonestly—they might not examine the subject minutely themselves, but might ask the opinion of counsel whether they could make the declaration or not. In such cases be did not think this declaration would prevent bribery or corruption whatever other result it might lead to. The hon. Baronet had deprecated, and fairly so, criticism upon the wording of this declaration. He had said, if the House consented to the second reading, he was willing to amend it in Committee. He (Sir G. Grey) thought it, therefore, unnecessary to make any remarks upon it, further than to say that serious objections might be taken to the terms of the declaration, even if the hon. Baronet's principle were acceded to. He (Sir G. Grey) was not prepared to agree to the imposition of such an oath or declaration, because he believed, for the reasons he had stated, it would be ineffectual in many cases, and prejudicial in others; and, therefore, to this part of the Bill he was not prepared to assent. Then came the second clause: and he must say he entirely concurred in the objection taken by the noble Lord (Viscount Mahon) to the provision that appeared to him monstrous and pregnant with danger—namely, that should a Member be convicted of bribery before a court of law, or be, by the report of a Committee of that House, declared to be guilty of bribery, by himself or his agents, with his knowledge or consent, he shovld for ever be disqualified from sitting in Parliament. The hon. Baronet wished, however, to modify that clause; but he (Sir G. Grey) did not know what modification he proposed; and he must say, with every respect for the fairness and impartiality that had marked the decisions of the Election Committees of that House, that he thought it would be a most dangerous thing to enact, that three Members, constituting the majority of a Committee of five—who might be unlearned and unskilled in legal 1063 matters, and not the fittest persons to decide upon nice questions of law—should be able to disqualify for ever from sitting in Parliament any man, however valuable his services might be to the country, and whatever interest his constituents might have in being represented by him. He had not been able to learn from the hon. Baronet's opening speech what the nature of his modification of this clause would be; but he must say that to the clause as it now stood, he entertained very grave and insuperable objections. [Sir J. PAKINGTON: He had intended in his speech to state that that was to be altered—he would submit another clause.] But the House did not know what the clause was, and as the Bill stood, he decidedly objected to that part of it. He had no objection to the 3rd Clause; but the hon. Baronet did not state that as one of the main points of the Bill. Then, with regard to the disqualification of electors, he entertained similar objections in principle, though not, perhaps, in degree, to those he had already stated in the case of the disqualification of a Member, on the report of a Committee of this House. With regard to the clause repealing the bribery oath administered to electors, he did not attach much importance to the retention of this oath, because he believed it rather promoted than prevented bribery, and was oftener used for creating delay than for checking corruption. He should be sorry to oppose the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, if he thought the Bill could be so amended as really to accomplish what he was sure the hon. Baronet so much desired. He would be most happy to assist him, in the endeavour to impose some more effectual check than was afforded by the present law upon bribery and corrupt practices at elections; but he must protest against sending upstairs to a Select Committee a Bill, upon the principle of which they were not agreed, for the purpose of its being changed in Committee into a measure totally different both in principle and in detail.
§ MR. G. J. TURNER
entirely differed with the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), who had recommended that the ancient freemen of our present constituencies should be totally disfranchised. Such an unjust proceeding would have the effect of taking away from an important class of their poor fellow-countrymen all that encouragement to honest industry which afforded the best guarantee 1064 for their good conduct and sobriety. Was the hon. Gentleman aware that the ancient freemen of England set just as high a value upon their privilege of freedom as the hon. Gentleman himself attached to his own seat in that House? Apart from political considerations, which in his view were adverse to any such scheme of disfranchisement, as tending to reduce the constituencies of the country to a uniform standard, he would upon the principle of justice give the most determined opposition to such a measure. With reference to the Bill now before them, he could not agree to the appointment of the Committee, except upon the understanding that the whole subject would be fully considered, and a perfectly new Bill brought in. As it now stood, it proposed to introduce an entirely new principle into the English law, for it called upon a man to say he would not be guilty of an offence before he had been convicted. The House had fallen into a very great mistake at present upon this subject. It was true they had heard last Session of a great many reports of Committees convicting Members and boroughs of bribery and corruption; but this did not arise from any increased corruption existing in the country: he was perfectly justified in denying that our constituencies had lately grown in any degree worse in this respect than they had been in former years; and he believed the House of Commons had never been more free from the taint of corruption than it was at the present time. He would tell them why it was, then, that they had heard so much of late about corrupt practices at elections. The reason was, that by the Act passed in the last Parliament, they had rendered acts, acts of bribery that never would have been considered, and never ought to be considered, as constituting bribery or corruption. Anybody at all acquainted with popular constituencies knew perfectly well that when a candidate called to see one of his voters, he was often asked to partake of some refreshment, or drink the voter's and his family's health. And yet if the candidate dared some time afterwards merely to return this simple act of hospitality, he was told by the Act of the last Parliament, for the first time, that he was guilty of bribery or corrupt treating. Then, again, why should they refuse to allow some small compensation to humble working men who could not afford to lose a day's work, as they were often obliged to do, to go to vote at the election? Let 1065 them lay down a small sum to be fixed as the rate of compensation in such cases; and then they might be as strict as they liked in all cases where the payment exceeded the limited amount. By this means they would put a more effectual check upon corrupt practices than they could establish by any other expedient. The reports of the Committees often declared that the agents of the candidate were guilty of bribery, and yet this House never directed any of its proceedings against the guilty agents. If the evil of corruption were a widely spread one, why, then, let it by all means be thoroughly eradicated, if possible; but why should the agents, who were often the only parties deserving of punishment, be always permitted to escape in this way? Either the acts done by the agents amounted to an offence against the privileges of the House, or they did not; if they amounted to a breach of privilege, let the agents be punished; if in consequence of their having been done when Parliament was not sitting, they did not amount to a breach of privilege, let a law be passed to make such conduct on the part of agents a breach of privilege. His feeling was so strong against the declaration and disqualification clauses—and he was so certain that the measure would prove abortive—that he should give his strongest opposition to the measure. Upon all the grounds he had stated, if the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department divided against the Bill, he should support him; if he did not, he certainly would feel hound himself to divide the House.
§ MR. COCKBURN
said, it seemed to him that the Bill contained so many desirable provisions, that it ought to be read a second time and sent to a Select Committee upstairs. He would not state broadly that all its enactments were deserving of the immediate adoption of the House; but he certainly thought that the declaration proposed to be taken by Members immediately after being elected, was calculated to have a most beneficial effect. He assumed for the purposes of the present argument, that bribery existed to a great extent; and as this, at all events, was the general feeling of the country, he hoped the House would not suffer itself to be led away by any doubt of the fact which hon. Members might have thrown out in the course of the discussion. They all recollected the reports of the various Election Committees last Session. They knew that Members 1066 had been unseated on the ground of bribery and corruption, and that vast numbers of petitions complaining of bribery and treating were presented and withdrawn at a most significant and important period—namely, on the eve of the Committees meeting to investigate the truth of their contents. He therefore ventured to assort that the evil of bribery and corruption—whether it existed to the degree which some asserted, or to a lesser degree—still did prevail to an extent that called for the interference of the House, and the application of any remedies that might be devised. This being so, he would proceed to consider the question whether the measure now proposed was likely to effect a beneficial alteration; and he would first take the declaration to be made by the Members. He believed that that declaration could have no other than a most salutary result; and, indeed, so strong were his convictions on this point, that if he had not been anticipated by the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington), it had been his own firm determination to bring in a Bill similar to the present. Supposing they took the most notorious case of general corruption—for instance, the one referred to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich, where in a constituency of 3,000 voters, seventeen out of every twenty-eight received bribes to the amount of 10l. a man, could any one believe for a moment, that the candidate did not find the money, and was not perfectly cognisant of the facts? Then, would not such a declaration as was now proposed meet that case? Were any man's notions and sentiments with regard to truth and falsehood so perverted, that, after having furnished the money to bribe the voters, he would come there and in the face of the House and the country make the declaration? He (Mr. Cockburn) apprehended that it would be perfectly impossible. This additional advantage, too, would be gained, that if any man dared to do so, and he was afterwards detected and convicted of the offence, the present lax and conventional morality which passed over such cases lightly, would be superseded, and disgrace and dishonour would be visited on the offending individual. They would thus bring into harmonious action the morality of society and of the law, and one of the most effectual checks against bribery would be introduced. But then it was said there were cases in which scrupulous men could not make a declaration, which was nothing more than 1067 this, that the Member bad not by bribery corrupted, or endeavoured to corrupt, any person who voted in his favour. But the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby) said it was questionable as to whether these matters came within the operation of the declaration. And why? Because the hon. and learned Gentleman supposed that there might be a reward given for a vote a long time after the election had taken place; not, as he said, for the purpose of corrupting the voter, but that such reward might be given to maintain an influence at the next election. If it was so given, he could only say it was a practice which the law ought at once to put down. It mattered not whether the practice was adopted antecedent or subsequent to an election, it ought equally to constitute bribery within the meaning of the law, and the sooner the question was brought to the test the better. He must say, that if the hon. and learned Member for Cockermouth had ever lent himself to such practices, the sooner they were done away with the better. Then the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Turner) said, that no Member ought to be called upon to make the declaration before he was convicted of the offence; and certainly, if bribery existed only to a trifling extent, the plea might be urged with some show of reason, that it would be tantamount to an insult to ask every Member to testify against it; but when it was known that the practice prevailed extensively, the making of the declaration would have the effect of separating the guilty from the uncorrupt, of severing the pure from those who could not take the declaration. It was also said, that some would be so lost to all sense of shame, that they would come forward and take it. He could not believe the assertion; for, although at the present moment the loss of a seat was all that corrupt practices entailed, yet, if they came to superadd to the guilt of an infraction of the law the dishonour which would attach to the violation of all principle by making a declaration contrary to the truth, they must see that the man so acting would be branded with an infamy which would prevent him from showing his face again in public. He, therefore, thought that the declaration would hit upon one of the most effectual means for preventing the objectionable practice. By the next part of the Bill it was proposed that the Member or candidate convicted of bribery should be prevented from sitting in the 1068 House for all time to come; and the question was, whether Parliament would enact that provision. He believed himself, that, unless it were adopted, the House would never put down bribery. He was persuaded that they were now, for the first time, beginning to legislate at the right end. Hitherto they had applied themselves to the imposition of penalties on the voters, and not on the elected—on the tempted, and not on the tempter. There was something very attractive and irresistible to a poor voter in a large money consideration. The man, perhaps, had a wife and family dependent on him for support; his interest in good legislation, as distinguished from bad, was very remote; but the immediate pecuniary advantage was of a tangible nature, and the temptation was almost irresistible. It was in vain to hold out to him the prospect of disfranchisement, in the event of his yielding to the temptation. But the temptation was immediate, and detection was remote and contingent, and thus he yielded to the offer. If the House wanted to put down these practices, they must begin at the other end, and make the man who bribed responsible for his acts; and with reference to the briber, they certainly could not make their penalties too severe. The man who set the example of violating the law of the land by corrupting a constituency, and sapping the basis of all right and justice, was not fit to be a legislator. As they punished the voter by the loss of his franchise, in common justice they ought to disfranchise the man who had led him into criminality; and, therefore, for these reasons, this provision of the Bill was well worthy the attention of Parliament. But when the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich went a step further, and proposed that perpetual disqualification of a Member or candidate should follow upon a conviction for bribery by an Election Commitee, he (Mr. Cockburn) differed from him. He would extend that penalty to the crime of bribery, if the conviction took place before the ordinary tribunals of the country. If his conviction followed upon an appeal before a judge and jury, then let his disfranchisement be pronounced; but he confessed that he was loath to put such a power as was proposed into the hands of a tribunal composed like that of an Election Committee. Not but he must say, that the improvements which had taken place latterly in the constitution of Parliamentary Committees was so great, 1069 that these bodies had entitled themselves to the confidence of the House and the country; but when he recollected that five Members taken from that House were liable to be strangely affected by party feelings, particularly in times of great political excitement, caution should be exercised in extending to them extraordinary powers. While the House maintained its jurisdiction in matters of election petitions, it must of necessity form its tribunals of such materials as it possessed—namely, its own Members; and if these Members were not kept within the limits which now existed—that of saying whether an election was valid or not—they would be placed in a very painful position, if, in addition to their other duties, they had to impose penalties. He had met many hon. Members coming fresh from party conflicts, and from debates in that House, when they were irritated by personal collisions, and when the annihilation of a particular individual might be a matter of the greatest importance to them; and if they, with such feelings, were constituted a tribunal for the purposes now proposed, and invested with the powers suggested, great injury might be committed. He, therefore, thought, that part of the Bill should not receive the sanction of Parliament. But the measure contained so many excellent provisions, and was, moreover, so very desirable a step in the right direction, that the House would not discharge its duty in the face of the public, who firmly believed that a vast deal of corrupt practices prevailed, if it were not allowed to pass the second reading.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down commenced his observations by assuming, for the purposes of argument, that there was a great and increasing degree of corruption in the constituencies of this country, and singularly enough he concluded by making the assertion that he did not know whether that impression were right or wrong. The hon. and learned Gentleman advocated the propriety of the declaration required to be taken by Members before they took their seats, that they had not been guilty of those acts of bribery. The hon. and learned Gentleman said this would give an opportunity to honest men to separate from dishonest men. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not followed the Bill, but had given his own definition of bribery. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Aglionby), could not agree 1070 with the hon. and learned Member for Southampton as to what the terms of this declaration might be; therefore if these Gentlemen took a different view upon this declaration—two hon. Gentlemen conversant with the question—if they felt they could not agree what it meant, what must be the position of the unlearned? The hon. Baronet who had introduced this Bill had himself told the House that the oath taken by the electors had wholly failed to produce any effect; and yet he proposed the same mode of proceeding at the other end of the bargain. He (Mr. Henley) believed there were many gallant Gentlemen in the House who knew what was done in the case of the purchase of commissions in the Army; but was not something given beyond the regulation price? [Sir J. GRAHAM observed that the form of declaration alluded to by the hon. Member was now discontinued.] He had just been told that the practice had been discontinued, of which he was not aware. Then he came to the question whether he should follow the course suggested by many hon. Members, who, disliking the principle of the Bill, were, nevertheless, content to take it to a Select Committee—in short, though not liking the practice of introducing a Bill the principle of which they disliked, still they hoped it might be so altered in the Select Committee as to meet their view. Now, that was a vicious principle. If hon. Members thought this declaration was not a right principle, let them vote against this Bill—if they thought it right, let them vote for it. Then as to excluding a man for ever from a seat in that House by the sentence of a Committee of that House, let hon. Gentlemen see what a premium this would hold out to conspiracy. A leader of a party in that House, by means of persons out of the House, said to be acting on his behalf, might secure the object of excluding a Member. Now the subject had been touched upon as to the promise of reward. The hon. Baronet was so shrewd a man that he would not have introduced the word unless he had felt it to be necessary for his object. But what was to be the meaning of the term reward? It might be in the shape of office; it might be a reward to the Jew to vote for his emancipation; there might be other matters of equal political anxiety. Scrupulous men might think that these were rewards. This showed how difficult it was to frame words in such a way that men would agree as to their bearing.
§ MR. HUME
said, he had often complained that the House would never probe the source of the evil of bribery and corruption. He wished to see two plain and simple provisions adopted. Let a clause be passed that any electioneering agent or other person guilty of a dishonourable act, such as contravening the laws, should be punished, and that if he were an attorney he should be struck off the rolls. Then, let every man convicted of receiving a bribe he disfranchised; and if these two clauses were passed, he firmly believed that an end would be effectually put to bribery. He would not trust to any declaration, because he had known instances in which such a form had been subscribed without the party paying much attention to its contents; and he was of opinion that, until his suggestions were adopted, all other efforts to check the evil would be useless.
regretted that he could not give his support to this Bill. It was impossible not to see that the evils which it sought to suppress, were now considerably less than they were formerly; and he believed that this beneficial change was mainly to be ascribed to the force of that public opinion which had been raised against it, and which could only effectually put an end to the practice. He felt satisfied that this measure would prove utterly inefficient for the purpose for which it would be enacted, and that it would be the means, if passed, of introducing evils almost as serious in their nature as those which it sought to redress, involving, as it would, a distinct violation of the established regulation of criminal justice. Bribery was an offence at common law, and was subject to severe statutory punishment. In addition to that, it was now proposed to punish the party by a perpetual disqualification from sitting in that House, and compelling him also to criminate himself by the proposed declaration. However desirable it might be to suppress the crime of bribery, he did not think it could be done by compelling the party guilty of the act to criminate himself. If they wished to punish the offender, they must have recourse to the ordinary tribunals of the country. He believed that if a measure were passed affixing a moderate punishment to the offence, to be dealt with by the ordinary tribunals, and a public officer were appointed to conduct the prosecutions, as in the case of the Customs or Stamp Office, they would succeed in putting an end to the disgraceful practice.
§ MR. SHARMAN CRAWFORD
expressed his cordial assent to the principle of the Bill. He could see no principle on which Members should be exempted from a declaration to which the poor electors were subjected. He did not mean to say that the provisions of the Bill were altogether the best that could be framed; but, approving of its principle, he trusted the hon. Baronet would succeed in carrying it into effect.
§ MR. F. O'CONNOR
said, the discussion showed that the measure of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich would, in the long run, be a sort of conscience refining Bill. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Southampton, in thinking that all questions having reference to the criminality of a Member of the House, ought to be decided by a court of law. The hon. Member for Montrose seemed to think that the electioneering agent or attorney ought to be severely punished; but he appeared to forget the just and truthful legal maxim. Qui facit per alium facit per se. The hon. and learned Member for Cockermouth had asked whether any hon. Member of that House could lay his hand upon his heart and say that he had never been guilty of bribery; but he (Mr. O'Connor) had stood two severe contests for the county of Cork, and he neither asked any man for his vote, nor would be go to the hustings until his electioneering expenses were paid by the voters. A deputation of publicans of Nottingham bad once waited upon him to ask whether, if returned, he would undertake to pay the expenses incurred at the previous election by a right hon. Baronet (the President of the Board of Control), which expenses, including the bribery and corruption of the voters, amounted to at least 20,000l. Of course he had declined to comply with the request. He was glad that a distinction had been drawn in the course of the debate between Nottingham as it was and Nottingham as it is, for at the last general election himself and his hon. Colleague had been returned for that borough without either of them knowing that they had even been proposed as candidates. The hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Turner) had warmly supported the freemen of this country; but the House must permit him to say that he had no confidence in the purity of that body, and he would tell them why. He remembered on one occasion, when he was addressing a crowd of electors from a wagon in the 1073 market place, when he deprecated bribery and corruption during the coming election, 500 of the freemen came down in their flannel jackets, and asked him if he was going to destroy their freedom and their inheritance. They made a fierce attack on him in the wagon, and he was obliged to defend himself from their assaults. If the cesspool of election was so muddy as described by some hon. Members, he would purify it by letting in a fresh current. He would extend the franchise, and thus render bribery too expensive a process. He would cordially support the measure.
§ MR. W. N. HODGSON
said, that when the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cockermouth was a candidate for Carlisle, some years ago, he certainly must have entertained a very different opinion of the constituency from what he did at present. They were then the most liberal and independent of men, and no men had made greater sacrifices for freedom than they had done. But now the hon. and learned Gentleman thought they ought to be disfranchised. Now he would inform the hon. and learned Gentleman, that that constituency contained men as able to judge of political events as any constituency in the country; and against the disfranchisement of such constituencies he should enter his most solemn protest. He would rather forego a seat in that House than be unable to make the declaration contained in the Bill, to which he trusted the House would give a second reading.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
, in reply to the arguments that had been adduced in the course of the debate, said, that the principal observation he had to make upon the debate was, that it appeared to him that, excepting those objections which had been made to the principle of Members being called on to make a declaration on this subject, the other objections partook of the nature of verbal criticism rather than serious objection to the Bill. The hon. Baronet then briefly reviewed the objections to his Bill, and concluded by stating that the main principle of the Bill was the security which such a declaration could give against bribery at elections, and called on the House to sanction the second reading of this Bill, reminding them that the eyes of the country were looking to them with some anxiety for a measure which would put an end to the corrupt practices at elections.
§ COLONEL RAWDON
said, that with respect to the observations which had fallen 1074 from the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), upon the subject of declarations made by officers upon obtaining commissions, he begged to state that he had purchased several commissions, but had never been required to make any declaration whatever.
§ Amendment proposed, "To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'" Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question." The House divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 80: Majority 33.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Howard, Lord E.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Hume, J.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Kershaw, J.|
|Bagshaw, J.||Lacy, H. C.|
|Bailey, J., jun.||Legh, G. C.|
|Baines, M. T.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Bass, M. T.||Lindsey, hon. Col.|
|Beckett, W.||Littleton, hon. E. R.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Lushington, C.|
|Berkeley, C. L. G.||Mahon, Visct.|
|Birch, Sir T. B.||Marshall, W.|
|Boyle, hon. Col.||Martin, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Matheson, Col.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Busfeild, W.||Molesworth, Sir W.|
|Butler, P. S.||Mulgrave, Earl of|
|Buxton, Sir E. N.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||O'Connell, J.|
|Cayley, E. S.||O'Connor, F.|
|Chaplin, W. J.||O'Flaherty, A.|
|Clay, J.||Osborne, R.|
|Clifford, H. M.||Palmer, R.|
|Clive, H. B.||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Cochrane, A. D. R. W. B.||Perfect, R.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Pilkington, J.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||Pugh, D.|
|Divett, E.||Rawdon, Col.|
|Dod, J. W.||Ricardo, O.|
|Duckworth, Sir J. T. B.||Rice, E. R.|
|Duff, G. S.||Rich, H.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Richards, R.|
|Duncan, G.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Duncuft, J.||Rushout, Capt.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Sandars, G.|
|Ellis, J.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Ewart, W.||Scully, F.|
|Fergus, J.||Seymour, H. K.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Fox, W. J.||Smith, M. T.|
|Glyn, G. C.||Smith, J. B.|
|Greenall, G.||Spooner, R.|
|Greene, J.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Grenfell, C. P.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Grenfell, C. W.||Talfourd, Serj.|
|Gwyn, H.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Thompson, Col.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||Thornely, T.|
|Harris, R.||Tollemache, J.|
|Hastie, A.||Tynte, Col. C. J. K.|
|Hawes, B.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Heyworth, L.||Vivian, J. H.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Hood, Sir A.||Ward, H. G.|
|Wawn, J. T.||Wood, W. P.|
|Wilson, M.||Wyvill, M.|
|Pakington, Sir J.||Cockburn, A. J. E.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Anson, Visct.||Hogg, Sir J. W.|
|Anstey, T. C.||Hope, H. T.|
|Archdall, Capt. M.||Hornby, J.|
|Arundel and Surrey Earl of||Howard, hon. C. W. G.|
|Howard, hon. E. G. G.|
|Bagge, W.||Jervis, Sir J.|
|Bailey, J.||Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.|
|Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T.||Langston, J. H.|
|Bannet, P.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Bernard, Visct.||Law, hon. C. E.|
|Blackall, S. W.||Lewis, G. G.|
|Blair, S.||Macnamara, Maj.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Magan, W. H.|
|Brisco, M.||Maitland, T.|
|Buck, L. W.||Meux, Sir H.|
|Campbell, hon. W. F.||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Chichester, Lord J. L.||Milnes, R. M.|
|Christopher, R. A.||Monsell, W.|
|Christy, S.||Mure, Col.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Napier, J.|
|Craig, W. G.||O'Brien, Sir L.|
|Dodd, G.||Patten, J. W.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||Plowden, W. H. C.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Prime, R.|
|Dundas, G.||Rendlesham, Lord|
|Dunne, F. P.||Robartes, T. J. A.|
|Du Pre, C. G.||Russell, F. C. H.|
|Edwards, H.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Evans, W.||Somerville, rt. hon. Sir W.|
|Farrer, J.||Stafford, A.|
|Ferguson, Sir R. A.||Stanley, E.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Stuart, J.|
|Granby, Marq. of||Tenison, E. K.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Watkins, Col. L.|
|Hall, Col.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Headlam, T. E.||Young, Sir J.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||TELLERS.|
|Honeage, G. H. W.||Turner, G. J.|
|Herbert, H. A.||Henley, J. W.|
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.