HC Deb 06 June 1849 vol 105 cc1245-50

The House went into Committee on this Bill; Mr. Bernal in the chair.

Clauses 6, 7, and 8, were severally agreed to without discussion.

On Clause 9, providing that charges of bribery or treating may be made against an unsuccessful candidate, whether the seat be prayed for or not,


stated, that the clause had his concurrence, but had been proposed by the hon. Member for Abingdon. The effect of the proviso would be to prevent the repetition of what had taken place last Session on more than one occasion, namely, that on the trial of an election petition bribery at a former election had been proved. In the similar cases of Horsham and Cheltenham, the Members were unseated on account of bribery or treating. In both cases contests took place on the avoidance of the first elections. Petitions were presented, on the trials of which charges of bribery were brought forward, referring, not to the elections in question, but to the elections of the previous year. In both cases, the extraordinary course had been taken of giving notice to the electors that their votes would be thrown away in consequence of bribery at a former election. In the case of Horsham, the Committee decided by a majority of three to two that the notice to the electors was good, and they seated Lord Edward Howard, who had the minority of votes. By a mere electioneering trick a candidate might be cheated out of his seat, to the gross violation of all justice. In the Cheltenham case, the Committee held, and properly, that they would not seat a candidate who had a minority of votes in consequence of those notices having been issued. By a majority also of three to two, that Committee came to an opposite conclusion from the Horsham Committee.


opposed the clause, on the ground that it would subject an unsuccessful candidate to an inquiry into his conduct at the election, without his previously receiving notice that charges were intended to be brought against him.


, as chairman of the Cheltenham Election Committee, begged to make a few observations. The question had come before them as to whether it was competent for them to inquire into the alleged acts of previous bribery, and they were of opinion, after hearing counsel, that it was competent for them to do so, so that a man might be called upon to defend himself against a charge of bribery committed four or five years before. The clause before them would, he considered, obviate the difficulty, and he approved of the objects of it.


announced, that it was his intention to withdraw the clause for the present, with a view of meeting the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University; but he would bring up the clause in its amended form on the report.


considered that due notice should be given to an unsuccessful candidate against whom a petition had not been presented, in case it was intended to prefer any charge against him.


would suggest, that if it were desirable that such charges should be rebutted, it should be done in the same way as if it were done under a petition.


requested the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich to reprint his Bill, as he now proposed to make a material alteration in a new clause, and there was considerable misapprehension on that side of the House as to what portion of the measure he intended to retain. Let the House have an opportunity of seeing the Bill in the shape in which the hon. Baronet intended to proceed with it.


, referring to the second Cheltenham Election Committee, last Session, said, that he had on that occasion been impressed with this consideration, that, whilst they were every Session endeavouring, by a sort of rambling legislation, to prevent bribery and corruption, they were wholly neglecting one important course of proceeding, by the adoption of which they might do much good, namely, that of settling by law those points in regard to bribery and treating which were constantly coming before them. He should be glad to see the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the actual state of the law on those subjects, and to see the points in which it required amendment. Last year, as was well known, two Committees came to different decisions on a question of this nature at the same time, and each Commit-tee by a casting vote. The clause before the House left this most important question just as much open as before; and it was possible that a candidate, being in a minority, and having, perhaps, only some thirty or forty votes, might, in the event of his opponent being unseated on the ground of bribery and treating, be declared the sitting Member in his place. If they left the law in the state in which it was, it would lead to endless petitions in future Parliaments. For his own part, he believed that the decision which had been come to in the Cheltenham case was the correct one, and that the decision in regard to the Horsham election was wrong. If he might offer a suggestion on this case before he sat down, he would say that they must decide this question in one of two ways—either declare that in no case should a Committee, pronouncing a Member disqualified from want of property, or for bribery, give the seat to a candidate who might be unable to place himself in a majority; or else declare that, in such a case, a candidate who had obtained a certain portion—to be hereafter determined upon—of the suffrages of the constituency, and whose hands were free from bribery, should be the sitting Member.


, as a member of the Horsham Committee, begged to state that they believed they were bound by the existing state of the law to come to the decision at which they had arrived; it was their opinion, at the same time, that the state of the law was unsatisfactory, and he believed that was the opinion of every one who had carefully inquired into the subject. He hoped the hon. Baronet would not be induced to abandon the two principles of his clause, and that the clause would be retained, with the amendment suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University. He also considered that the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth was most valuable, and concurred in the propriety of removing all doubt, and settling the question.


Do I understand the hon. Baronet to postpone the clause?


I propose to postpone it to meet the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University; but I will bring it for-ward again on the report.


hoped that the House would be prepared in the ensuing Session to institute an inquiry into the subject, by means of a Select Committee. He really thought the fact of bribery and treating depended much loss upon any positive enactment than upon the view taken of the matter by any particular Committee. He thought, for instance, there was a most important distinction in fact—and it might be doubtful whether there ought not to be a distinction in law—between refreshments honestly given to voters, and money and riotous entertainment supplied to voters in towns. He hoped that his hon. Friend would agree to the suggestion which had been made to have this. Bill recommitted; and he would also suggest that the title and preamble of the Bill should be modified. In his opinion they were both rather too comprehensive.


considered that the clause was one of vital importance; and he thought no other alteration was required except a provision for giving notice to the unsuccessful candidate that his conduct would be inquired into.


said, that he was firmly of opinion that the system of giving refreshment tickets was one that was absolutely necessary, and impossible to be dispensed with. The people who came great distances to vote for a person, would think they were treated in a mean and inhospitable manner if those tickets were to be withheld. He did not see, either, that there could possibly be any corruption in so doing; as, if all the can-dates did the same thing, it could not operate unfairly to the interests of any one of them. He believed the system was nothing more than a little innocent harmless hospitality.

Clause postponed. Remaining clauses of the Bill agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported as amended; to be considered on Wednesday next.